Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to what is essentially the government's omnibus transportation bill. Unfortunately, I will not be able to hit on all the points of what is contemplated in the bill because, frankly, there is too much. It changes laws having to do with everything from shipping to railways to the airlines. It changes a number of different acts, and with a number of different purposes in mind. It would have been better to break the bill up into its component pieces so that they could be studied properly and on theme, rather than trying to rush it all through at once.
I would remind members of the House that debate in this place is not just for the sake of opposition politicians, or even backbench MPs on the government side, wanting to talk a lot. When we are talking in the chamber, and during the time it takes to pass the bill, Canadians and civil society are also learning about the bill and forming a judgment about whether they think it is a good idea or not, and having the time to be able to mobilize, either in support or against aspects of the government program.
When we talk about criticizing omnibus bills, it is not just for the sake of members in the House who want to go on talking. While we talk about that bill, Canadians are talking about it too, and they are getting a chance to weigh in. They are able to contact us, and become, through us in this place, part of the debate. Therefore, when governments lump a whole bunch of significant changes together and ram them through Parliament, they are not just cutting out parliamentarians from that debate. That is the time it takes in order to have a meaningful, civil engagement with respect to changes.
Bill C-49 contemplates many significant changes in a number of different areas of transport within Canada. As someone who comes from a rail town, I am particularly concerned about the provisions that purport to be about railway safety. Actually, what they are about is supervising workers in the workplace and tramping on their right to privacy in the workplace. We know that in terms of railway safety, the predominant issue has to do with fatigue management. What we hear time and again from people who are working on the trains is that railway companies in Canada are doing a very poor job of fatigue management. We know that is having real consequences for Canadians and the extent to which they feel safe in their own communities.
A government that was genuinely sincere about wanting to do something about railway safety in the country would be taking action on the issue of fatigue management. However, that would require getting involved in telling the railway companies something they do not want to hear. What we have seen from the government is that it is not willing to stand up to big companies and tell them what they do not want to hear. That is certainly true of railway companies.
It is not only true of railway companies. It was true when Bay Street corporate magnates came to Parliament Hill and told the Liberals to break their promise on closing the CEO stock option loophole. It was true when Air Canada came knocking and said it wanted to be off the hook for when it broke the law and exported the maintenance work on its planes, which rightfully belonged to Canadian maintenance workers. The government retroactively changed the law, and shame on certain members of the House. I am thinking of some colleagues of mine from Winnipeg, particularly the member for Winnipeg North, who stood with those workers and said the previous government should enforce the law and then became part of a government that changed the law and pulled the carpet out from beneath the feet of those workers who were successfully challenging Air Canada in court.
It is a theme of the Liberals to play pushover to big companies. The provisions around railway safety in the bill are no different. The railway companies came to them and said, “Let's not talk about fatigue management. Let's talk about putting video and audio surveillance in the cabs of trains so that we can watch the workers”.
If the Liberals were sincere about making it a safety issue, there would be provisions in the bill that would say only the Transportation Safety Board would have access to those recordings, and only when something happened, so it could go back and find out what was the root cause of an incident and rule on that. Instead, the legislation would give that 24-7 surveillance material to the companies, any time they like, for whatever purpose they like. Therefore, it is hard to believe that this is really about railway safety when the government is silent on the real issue facing railways and railway communities when it comes to their safety, and is giving unfettered access to that material to employers who we know will be able to use that information for other purposes.
The other thing about omnibus bills is that, for as much as certain things that require more legislation and more study do not get that study, by mingling issues, some things where there is widespread agreement, for instance some of the provisions in the bill for grain producers on the Prairies, who in part because of the elimination of the Wheat Board now need a legislative fix in order for them to be able to get a fair price for shipping their grain, do not get passed as quickly as they might.
The problem with the legislation is that the Liberals took so long to take action on that particular issue, which was not a surprise and did not have to wait on developing. To the extent that the government was putting all these issues together, and it is not a very fulsome air passenger bill of rights, because it wanted to present it in an omnibus bill, the Liberals took far too long to address a real problem on the Canadian Prairies for grain growers.
Now we are going to have a gap between when the old rules were in place, as a bit of band-aid solution to be able to help those grain producers on the Prairies, and when these new rules come in. If the Liberals were not so committed to omnibus legislation, they could have introduced those measures separately. They would have found that there was enough agreement to be able to expedite passage of those provisions. On this side of the House, we care about western grain growers and we want to make sure that they can get a fair price for shipping their grain.
However, the Liberals wanted to tie all these issues together in order to be able to conflate the issues and say that opposition parties are opposing good pieces of legislation, or were supporting bad pieces of the legislation. It is all tied together. In other words, in order to cover their political behinds, Canadian grain producers are the ones who are going to suffer.
It is wrong of the government to ask Canadian grain growers to essentially pay for political cover for the government. That is a big part of what is going on here.
I just want to take a moment to thank the member for Windsor West, not only for sharing his time with me today but also for the work that he did on the air passenger bill of rights. He actually helped to develop a substantive air passenger bill of rights. I will also recognize one of my NDP predecessors for Elmwood—Transcona, Jim Maloway, who did good work on an air passenger bill of rights. He paved the way and presented a bill in the last Parliament that the now Minister of Transport actually supported. It took forever to produce and the changes that were necessary to actually protect consumers were spelled out in that legislation, a bill the Minister of Transport supported.
However, do we see the substance of that bill represented in this omnibus piece of legislation? No, we do not.
This is just how complicated omnibus legislation gets. Canadian grain growers were waiting for legislation to fix a legitimate problem the government knew about since it took office. The Liberals came up with a lame phantom version of an air passenger bill of rights that was already developed while they were really just having discussions with the railway on how to institute 24-7 surveillance, so that the railway companies could know about the issues that were being discussed in the workplace between workers who were members of the union and who wanted to file grievances or take up other issues with their employers.
That is how muddled it all gets when things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other are all rammed into the same bill. That is really what is going on with the bill. It is kind of a big tossed salad of different legislative measures, some of which the government probably could have found widespread agreement on and would have been able to advance quickly, and some of which is just sort of a hollow version of previous legislation that the Liberals have no excuse for having taken this long to get around to. Had they adopted more substantive provisions, they probably would have found more widespread agreement.
All of that is going on so that the Liberals can work with certain companies, and in this case I would say particular rail companies, in order to do something that has nothing to do with rail safety and everything to do with employers at the railway being able to put employees under their thumb. It is a travesty.