Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I want to start by thanking all the members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for convening a week early, before Parliament was scheduled to resume, to allow for intensive study of Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act.
I would also like to thank all the witnesses who appeared before committee, along with the many other stakeholders who have shared their views. This includes the feedback provided by Canadians, industry stakeholders, provinces and territories, and indigenous groups, as part of the government's extensive consultation process undertaken last year leading up of the announcement of transportation 2030, our strategic plan for the future of transportation in Canada.
While there were some differences of opinion during the committee's proceedings, we also heard on a number of occasions how important this bill, as a whole, is for Canadians, the transportation system, and the economic prosperity of our country.
It is important for this bill to strike the right balance, which is why the committee adopted some important amendments in response to concerns that were raised during its in-depth study of the bill. This balance is a reflection of the collaboration that was achieved during the committee’s study.
The minister, and I also, was happy with the progress and the review of this bill and the extent of collaboration, which demonstrates the importance accorded by committee members to this bill.
Bill C-49 promotes transparency, system efficiency, and fairness. It is an important legislative step towards delivering on concrete measures in support of transportation 2030, our government's vision for the long-term future of Canada's transportation system.
Canada is a vast country with a very complex transportation network. It is therefore critical to ensure that our laws and regulations position our country to thrive as a high-performing economy that can respond to changing conditions and to Canadians' expectations when they travel.
This proposed legislation aims to provide a better experience for travellers and a transparent, fair, efficient, and safer freight rail system to facilitate trade and economic growth. In particular, the bill would strengthen air passenger rights; liberalize international ownership restrictions for Canadian air carriers to provide travellers with more choice and encourage greater competition; develop a transparent and predictable process for authorization of joint ventures between air carriers; improve access, transparency, efficiency, and sustainable long-term investment in the freight rail sector; and enhance the safety of transportation in Canada by requiring railways to install voice and video recorders in locomotives.
Together, these proposed initiatives advance a strategic and integrated plan for the future of our country’s transportation system.
Our government's focus on inclusive growth for the middle-class and greater safety and security for Canadians led to the introduction of some key amendments to the Canada Transportation Act in Bill C-49 specific to the air traveller.
What does this mean for Canadians?
Bill C-49 would mandate the Canadian Transportation Agency to develop, in collaboration with Transport Canada, a set of clear regulations to strengthen air passenger rights that would apply consistently to all carriers. The regulatory process would allow broad consultation with Canadians and industry stakeholders to develop world-leading regulations, which is what Canadians expect and deserve.
Canadians and passengers travelling to, within, or from Canada would be provided with rights that address current irritants faced by air passengers. These rights would be easy to understand and uniform across all airlines and all flights, domestic and international.
Canadians understand that in certain circumstances airlines do not have full control over events, such as weather, emergency, and security incidents, or even medical emergencies, but even then Canadians have a right to a certain level of protection when they travel. In other circumstances, when the carrier makes commercial decisions that may have an impact on the passenger, Canadians expect fair compensation for any inconvenience they experience.
Should Bill C-49 receive royal assent, the minister has received assurances from the agency that they are committed to establishing the regulations on air passenger rights as soon as possible.
Bill C-49 specifies that the regulations would include provisions addressing passengers' most frequently experienced irritants: providing passengers with plain language information about carriers' obligations and how to seek compensation or file complaints; setting standards for the treatment of passengers in the case of denied boarding due to overbooking, delays, and cancellations, including compensation; standardizing compensation levels for lost or damaged baggage; establishing standards for the treatment of passengers in the case of tarmac delays over a certain period of time; seating children close to a parent or guardian at no extra charge; and requiring air carriers to develop standards for transporting musical instruments.
The minister has been clear that the regulations would include provisions ensuring that no Canadian is involuntarily removed from an aircraft due to overbooking after they have boarded the aircraft. He has also been clear that airlines will be expected to fulfill their obligations to the passenger and, in cases where a passenger cannot fly as a result of overbooking, the air carrier would be obligated to fulfill its contract with that passenger.
We intend to monitor the air passenger experience. This bill proposes requiring data from all parties in the air sector. This data would not only allow for monitoring of compliance with the proposed air passengers' bill of rights framework, but also inform any future policy or regulatory actions to ensure that the air travel experience to, within, and out of Canada is efficient and effective.
Bill C-49 also proposes to increase the foreign investment limit from 25% to 49% in Canadian air carriers, with associated safeguards. No single international investor would be able to hold more than 25% of the voting shares of a Canadian air carrier, and no combination of international air carriers could own more than 25% of a Canadian carrier. The ownership restrictions at 25% would remain for specialty air services, such as heli-logging, aerial photography, or firefighting.
Liberalizing the international ownership restrictions would allow Canadian air carriers, including all passenger and cargo providers, access to more investment capital, which they could use for innovation. We expect this to bring more competition into the Canadian air sector, providing more choice for Canadians, and generating benefits for airports and suppliers, including new jobs.
By allowing higher levels of foreign investment, Canadians would have access to better connectivity, and more frequent access to air travel.
Another improvement proposed in the bill is that it would allow the Minister of Transport, in consultation with the commissioner of competition, to consider applications for joint ventures between two or more air carriers. As it now stands, joint ventures are only subject to review as collaborations between competitors under the Competition Act.
Joint ventures are an increasingly common practice in the global air transportation sector. They enable air carriers to coordinate functions, including scheduling, pricing, revenue management, marketing, and sales. This would benefit Canadian passengers, giving them access to more destinations without needing to book separate tickets with different carriers.
This bill would open a process in Canada to both competitive and public interest considerations. This transparent and predictable assessment process would take into account the characteristics of the air transportation sector, as well as the wider public interest and competitive factors. It is expected that this approach would lead to better connectivity, less process, and a better overall passenger experience.
In Canada and around the world, airports are investing large sums of money and resources to simplify and improve the air travel experience for their passengers. Municipalities and businesses are also seeking new or additional passenger screening services as part of their economic development plans.
The proposed amendments to the act of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, CATSA, would create a more flexible framework whereby industry stakeholders could enter into agreements with CATSA on a cost-recovery basis. This flexibility would allow airports to increase screening services at their facilities, strengthen their competitiveness, and attract new commercial routes, which would enhance the traveller's experience without compromising aviation security.
Bill C-49 also proposes significant measures to strengthen the safety of Canada's rail sector. Proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act mandating the installation of voice and video recorders in locomotives across Canada's railway industry would provide a clear safety benefit and improve rail safety overall. Locomotive voice and video recorders would provide essential information to better understand the causes and contributing factors leading up to an incident or an accident relating to human factors, which are often impossible to obtain by other means. The proposed regime does raise complex issues regarding the rights of employees to privacy. This is why the proposed framework carefully balances the safety benefits derived from locomotive voice and video recorders with the privacy rights of employees. This approach builds on 10 years of careful studies of the technical and privacy-related implications, and would address the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's recommendation in this regard.
Bill C-49 advances historic measures to promote transparency, fair access, efficiency and investment in the rail sector.
First, major new data requirements on the railways' service and performance would come into force more quickly. Railways would begin reporting specific service and performance metrics 180 days after royal assent, rather than one year. As well, the amendments would require that this data be reported more quickly. Railways would be required to report their service and performance metrics five days after each reporting period, rather than the 14 days originally recommended.
Finally, the Canadian Transportation Agency would have to publicly post that data within two days of receiving it, rather than the original seven days. Together, these measures would ensure that shippers have access to more timely data. Bill C-49 already provides the agency with the power to require even more data if needed, underscoring our commitment to a more transparent rail system.
Second, captive shippers in British Columbia, Northern Alberta, and Northern Quebec, in sectors such as forestry and mining, would have better access to the proposed new long-haul interswitching remedy. These changes reflect the spirit and intent of this new remedy.
The committee’s amendments would still maintain a critical balance by minimizing congestion in the Quebec-Windsor and Vancouver-Kamloops corridors. Extensive congestion could ultimately slow down the rail system to everyone’s detriment.
Third, another amendment at committee reinforces the point that a railway's removal of an interchange for interswitching would not affect its service obligation toward a shipper. Railways would also be required to notify the agency of their intent to remove an interchange and provide more advance notice to shippers, namely 120 days rather than 60 days. These amendments speak to a concern we heard that interchanges could be closed without any recourse for shippers.
Finally a technical amendment made by the committee would allow the new majority shareholder ownership limit for Canadian National Railway to become effective upon royal assent. This amendment would simplify the process for Canadian National and help ensure investment in a network that is critical to Canada's economic performance.
Bill C-49 would establish the right conditions for our rail network for years to come. The amendments the committee proposed would help advance our goal of a transparent, efficient, and safe Canadian freight rail system that meets the long-term needs of users and facilitates trade and economic growth.
Bill C-49 also addresses marine-related infrastructure. The legislation proposes amendments to the Canada Marine Act that would allow Canada port authorities and their wholly-owned subsidiaries access to loans and loan guarantees from the newly created Canada infrastructure bank.
The bank will invest $5 billion for trade and transportation related priorities. Allowing port authorities to access the bank would support investments in Canada's trade corridors and the infrastructure needed for our long-term economic growth and the creation of good, well-paying jobs for the middle class.
Bill C-49 would change the Coasting Trade Act by allowing all shipowners to reposition their owned or leased containers between locations in Canada without a coasting trade licence. Removing the licensing requirement for foreign vessels to reposition empty containers is expected to help improve the competitiveness of Canada's supply chain in support of Canada's exports, and enhance the attractiveness of Canadian ports as gateways to the North American market.
A strong and modern transportation system is fundamental to Canada's continued economic prosperity. All Canadians benefit from a competitive, reliable, and efficient transportation system.
The committee has proposed important amendments to ensure the bill achieves a fair balance. Collaboration helped in finding solutions that will contribute to modernizing our laws and regulations in order to increase investment in Canada and promote the long-term growth of our transportation system.
The proposals included in Bill C-49 are designed to achieve tangible improvements to our national transportation system that will serve and benefit Canadians for decades to come.
I would like to again thank the members of the committee for working together to ensure that Bill C-49 achieves a fair and balanced approach in fostering a more efficient and safer transportation system.