Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and add my remarks to the debate on Bill C-49.
Before I begin, I would like to take a second to acknowledge a very poignant moment today in the House. I was here when the Clerk, Marc Bosc, arrived for his last shift here in the House of Commons as Acting Clerk of the House, as we have heard from a number of sources.
Mr. Bosc was the person who welcomed the members who had been newly elected in 2015 to the House. It was a very emotional time for us. To us, Mr. Bosc is the Clerk of the House, because he is the only one we have ever known. Mr. Bosc has always been there for us and has always shown the utmost professionalism. He was respected by all, at least by everyone on this side of the House. Mr. Bosc has always served with enormous professionalism, and we have always respected him.
For me, Mr. Speaker, it was a very poignant moment to see him enter the chamber this morning and take his place before us, to begin his final sitting day in the House of Commons. I trust that Mr. Bosc will always hold a place of honour here in Parliament.
In closing, we found out about this rather suddenly. I would have liked the opposition parties to be consulted more on the process to replace the Clerk. No offence to the incoming Clerk, but I just wanted to take a few moments on behalf of my colleagues, myself, and my family, who shared in all the emotion that we experience when we first arrive here, to acknowledge Mr. Bosc's excellent work.
Mr. Bosc has been here much longer than I have, but like me, he has seen his share of governments and their different approaches to ensuring that their bills get passed.
Bill C-49 is another example of the government using closure to prevent giving the opposition opportunities to speak to this bill or criticize it. By the minister's own admission, this bill is quite complex, and it will make significant changes to Canada's transportation industry. Even so, we will have just a few of hours of debate to discuss it and raise what I think are some very important points.
Why is this especially troubling in the case of Bill C-49? It is because this bill does not amend just one or two sections or one or two acts. It amends 13 pieces of legislation.
For the past two days, I have been listening to the arguments given by the Minister of Transport who says that the opposition is overreacting, since 80% of the changes proposed in Bill C-49 will amend just one law, and therefore the opposition has no reason to protest so loudly. What? How is that an argument? It is as though one section of an act were more important than another. If the 20% of Bill C-49's clauses that amend 12 other laws are not all that important, why bother including them? Why are we talking about them? If they are not that important, if everything is focused on just one law and the opposition is outraged, why keep the other 20% of the amendments? Why not remove them and create another bill with those amendments and consider it separately? It does not matter, because everything is in the same bill.
Clearly, this argument simply does not hold water. It is particularly troubling. As members know, I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities since I arrived in this place. Obviously, transportation affects all Canadians in every field. Transportation has an impact on the daily lives of all Canadians, whether we are talking about the transportation of goods or people.
They say this is a complex bill, that they will not give the opposition much time to talk, and that, since 80% of it is specific to one act, there is no need for us to protest so loudly. I think the minister should go back to the drawing board, take another look at what is in his bill, and think carefully about the repercussions that each amendment in Bill C-49 will have on the day-to-day lives of all Canadians.
Here is the lowdown on Bill C-49. The Liberals' omnibus transportation bill will establish a new air passenger rights regime; liberalize international ownership restrictions for Canadian air carriers; enable the Minister of Transport to consider and approve joint ventures by two or more airlines; update the Canadian freight system; require railways to install audio-video recorders in locomotives; expand the Governor in Council's powers to require major railway companies to provide rate, service, and performance data; and amend the Canada Marine Act to allow port authorities to access Canada infrastructure bank loans.
However, there is nothing there. According to the Minister of Transport, a few hours of discussion are enough to address all of these issues, since he did not think that the opposition had anything relevant to say during the first hours of this debate. Why would the government want to continue listening to opposition members provide supposedly irrelevant information when it can simply expedite the process by muzzling them? At least, that is what the minister seems to think.
Since when are opinions that differ from the government's irrelevant? The big problem with the Liberals is that, when we do not agree with them, on this or any other issue, they feel threatened and under attack. They think that anyone who does not share their opinion and does not think like they do is irrelevant, and so they have no reason to take any interest in what those people have to say in the House. That explains a lot.
It explains a lot, such as Motion No. 6 and the many time allocation motions that have been imposed on us since the beginning of this session. It explains the infamous discussion document that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons tabled to supposedly improve the way the House operates. When we read that document carefully, we learned that the Liberals' intention was once again to avoid hearing what the opposition parties had to say.
It is not complicated. When things do not sit well with the government, it decides to muzzle dissenting voices that cast grey clouds over Liberal sunny ways. Well, I have news for the Liberal government. The official opposition and all the other opposition parties, I am sure, have no intention of staying quiet. We have no intention of letting changes slip through. We have no intention of completely agreeing with everything the Liberals put in front of us. We have no intention of being the people who enable the Liberal Party to push through their entire election platform. That is not our role here. Our role is to present criticisms.
As an aside, let us talk about the Liberal platform. It did not take long for the Liberals to realize that much of what they wanted to do is simply impossible. They promised big spending and small deficits. They kept only one of those promises. They are spending big, but they have come to realize that that requires huge deficits. That is something the government does not want the opposition to criticize. They would like us to keep quiet and just watch them and applaud them because they really like applause. That is not what we are going to do. That is not our role.
Let us come back to Bill C-49 because it seems like we are off topic, that we just keep providing an overview, and that we keep talking about everything but Bill C-49. Let us talk about Bill C-49 and what it amends. As I was saying, it significantly amends 13 different laws and has repercussions on three modes of transportation. This legislative measure will weaken legislative protections for shippers and western Canadian farmers.
We want to concentrate on proactive measures to make travel less expensive and more convenient for all travellers. This would include abolishing the carbon tax, instead of the Liberals’ plan to establish reactive compensation that will benefit only a small segment of the population.
This bill provides very little detail about the proposed air passengers’ bill of rights, and it does not have the support, in its current form, of many passengers’ rights advocates. Also, port authorities and their wholly owned subsidiaries will have access to loans and loan guarantees from the Canada infrastructure bank. There is an inconsistency here. That does not make any sense to me, since this bank does not exist yet. It remains a proposal for now, and it is held up in another house, for very good reasons.
Like us, the senators think that the infrastructure bank warrants its own bill, given the impact it will have and the $15 billion that the government intends to provide to it. That is $15 billion from Canadian taxpayers to be given to a board of directions to manage on our behalf without any accountability to Parliament.
These points alone justify our opposition to the passage of Bill C-44, which is currently being studied on the other side in its current form and includes all these budget measures as well as creating the infrastructure bank. I hope that people will get the message.
In Bill C-49, they already assume the outcome. Port authorities are being given approval to access loans from the non-existent infrastructure bank. What I do not understand is that the government, ever since it began telling us about the infrastructure bank, keeps saying that it will be an independent bank. As an aside, the process to find the president for this non-existent bank has already started.
Therefore, the infrastructure bank, which does not exist, will be made up of a so-called independent board of directors who will manage the money given to them by the Liberal government. At the same time, these supposedly independents will be told that they have to invest $1.3 billion in Montreal’s Réseau électrique métropolitain and provide loans to port authorities. To sum up, here is an independent infrastructure bank that will not be independent and does not yet exist. However, we are being asked to approve a clause of the bill that will allow port authorities to secure loans from this infrastructure bank that will be created in the near future.
It is clear that something is not working, that they are improvising, and that the minister wants to move quickly. We do not understand why he insists on moving so quickly. Some will tell us that it is because they want to settle the matter of Bill C-30 before it expires on July 31 in order to protect western grain producers in their rate negotiations with the railways. That could be the case, but that is not what is going to happen, since even if Bill C-49 is rushed through today or Monday and is referred to committee, the committee meetings are scheduled for September.
The committee was prepared to meet in July if the government agreed to hive off all the measures concerning Bill C-30. That would have allowed us to study them quickly in order to avoid having a legal vacuum for western grain producers. These meetings could have been held before August 1. The committee was prepared to meet in the middle of summer, during vacation—at least, the opposition members of the committee were. That would have been a major sacrifice for some of us to show up and study a bill to help western grain producers.
Why was the official opposition prepared to do that? Because we get that this is important. Right now, grain producers are concerned about what is going to happen this fall if there is a legal vacuum. We do not know exactly how the market will react. These people are negotiating right now.
We see another problem here. I myself am not a grain producer. However, several of my House of Commons colleagues represent western Canadian ridings, and they know a lot about grain production. From what I understand, grain producers usually harvest their crops in the fall. What time of year is busiest for grain producers? The fall, when they are bringing in the harvest.
The government is going to ask grain producers to testify on Bill C-49, which will have a major impact on their future, in the fall. The government is going to ask them to leave their machinery and their fields so they can come testify in Ottawa in September. That is when they should be in their fields doing their work, doing what we support them doing, and making their contribution to Canada's economy by producing and working. This makes no sense.
That is why the opposition was prepared to agree to move quickly on that part of the bill. We were prepared to let many things slide in order to move quickly. Why? Canada's grain producers are far more important to us than adding another number to our legislative record. The farmers need us to come to Ottawa to protect them, stand up for them, and help them succeed. That is our role.
If we are not taking extraordinary measures to get Bill C-30 passed before the deadline, then there is no urgency to justify speeding up the process and muzzling the opposition. The government probably does not want to let the opposition speak because it does not want to hear arguments like mine in defence of western grain producers.
I want to talk about another initiative that was very well received by the public, I admit. This was the main point in the message from the Minister of Transport. Indeed, he wants to create an air passengers' bill of rights. This is urgent. Like all of us, all Canadians who have flown over the past few months have seen the coverage of some of the dramatic incidents that have taken place in the U.S. Since the bill announced the creation of an air passengers' bill of rights, we thought we would get some information. We thought we might be told what to expect, but no, all the minister did was mandate the Canadian Transportation Agency to begin consultations that will eventually lead to regulations and, at some point, the air passengers' bill of rights.
Do we really need a bill to ask the Canadian Transportation Agency to begin consultations on a bill of rights? It makes no sense. There is no need for urgency when it comes to Bill C-49, apart from the legislation protecting western Canadian grain farmers; on that, we agree.
We believe that the only way to go and the only explanation or justification to make this measure acceptable, to make this gag order acceptable, would have been to split the bill and immediately pass the measures in Bill C-30, in order to make certain temporary measures permanent. We were ready to go ahead with that, but everything else could have waited; there is no need to panic. The only emergency here for this government is to silence the opposition. The government is not ready. It is improvising and presenting measures that just do not make sense.
For all these reasons, and despite a few good measures in the bill, the official opposition cannot support Bill C-49.