Mr. Speaker, it would be remiss of me not to mention the great hockey win last night by the Winnipeg Jets. It is good to see that team move on. Las Vegas will be an interesting challenge.
In recognition also of today, I dug deeply into my closet and found my railroad tie, which I am proud to wear today. My closet of ties is very extensive.
I rise today to speak to the government's second motion regarding the Senate's amendments to Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act.
It has frankly taken too long. It is ridiculous that the Liberal government has taken so long to pass the bill. Just like the first response by the government to the Senate's amendments, this second motion by the government will further delay the bill's passage.
It might be a little strange for me, a Conservative opposition MP, to say I want the government to pass its own bill, but that is exactly the case. The Liberals had another opportunity to do it this morning. It is the Liberals who are delaying the passage of Bill C-49, as they voted against doing it this morning.
This message that the Liberals are delaying the passage of Bill C-49 is going to be the theme of my speech this morning, because it is the truth.
I would like to go back in time to September 2017. I had the opportunity to join the House of Commons transportation infrastructure and communities committee for a number of full days of witness testimony on Bill C-49 in the week prior to the House returning for our fall session. During the days of witness testimony, we heard from many witnesses that the bill needed amending. These calls for amendments were frequent and, in many cases, repetitive among certain stakeholder groups.
My Conservative colleagues on the transportation committee and my NDP friend the member for Trois-Rivières heard these calls and put forward a number of small reasonable amendments as called for by the stakeholders, whose industries and businesses represent billions of dollars to the Canadian economy. Had the Liberals not been so politically stubborn, they might have accepted those amendments that my Conservative and NDP colleagues put forward at that committee.
They would have been better off to do so because once the bill made its way to the Senate transportation and communications committee, many of those same amendments were introduced at the Senate committee. It is worth noting that many of these amendments were supported by senators of all political stripes, including hon. senators from the recently formed independent senators group.
The first delay of Bill C-49 by the Liberals was the rejection of the very reasonable opposition amendments at the House of Commons committee, recommended by the many witnesses.
The second delay by the Liberals to Bill C-49 was how long they took to decide what they would do with the Senate's amendments. The Senate sent its message to the House of Commons on April 16. Farmers, agriculture groups, as has been mentioned by the parliamentary secretary, and Canada's manufacturing, mining, and forest industries had to wait two weeks to find out what the government would do with these amendments. For two whole weeks it dithered on what to do.
The third way the government delayed passage of the bill was by rejecting many of the Senate's amendments. When the government finally revealed its position on the Senate's amendments, shippers in these important industries were very disappointed with what they saw, not just because the government weakened or rejected amendments they felt were important but because they knew this move by the government would cause further delays to the passage of Bill C-49.
Instead of agreeing with all the Senate's amendments, which would have resulted in quickly sending the bill off for royal assent, the government chose to do a mixture of accepting a few amendments, amending a few others, and rejecting the majority of them.
My colleague the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, who is doing an excellent job of holding the transport minister to account, proposed an amendment to the government's motion to accept all the Senate's amendments. Had the House adopted my colleague's amendment, the bill would have gone immediately for royal assent thereby speeding up the passage of Bill C-49. However, shock of all shocks, the Liberals delayed their own bill one more time and voted against my colleague's amendment.
I think that brings it to four times that the Liberals have delayed the passage of Bill C-49 in the last six months. Should I say that the Liberals are not done? Here we are again. The Senate has dealt expeditiously with the government's motion, and members of the other place have voted to insist on two of their amendments, which the government previously rejected. Today, we are debating a motion by the Liberal government to once again reject amendments that the Senate has been insisting on.
Who is causing the delay in passing Bill C-49? It is the Liberals. If they would simply accept these two Senate amendments, we could pass this bill today and send it for royal assent, as was proposed earlier in this session. However, that is not going to happen, because of the Liberals. Bill C-49 will have to go back to the Senate, and we do not know what is going to happen in that other place. This situation is entirely the Liberals' own fault. It is the Liberals who are causing the delays in the passage of Bill C-49.
The delays to the passage of Bill C-49 that I just highlighted are only the ones that have happened since September 2017. For a minute or two, I would like to jump back further in time and briefly discuss the delays caused by the Liberal government that started years ago. Conservatives know that the rail transportation system is vital to the economic well-being of our country's economy, and one of the founding principles that got Confederation to work. However, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport have been dragging their heels in addressing the serious needs of our country's economy.
Back in 2014, then minister of transport, the member for Milton, launched a statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act, a year early, following what was a very trying year for Canada's shippers, particularly in the Prairies. The report that came from this review is known as the Emerson report, after David Emerson, the head of the commission. Mr. Emerson spent over a year consulting with industry stakeholders before writing his report, which is a lot of consultation. After the Emerson report was presented to the current Minister of Transport in December 2015, the minister took an additional year to consult on the consultations before finally introducing Bill C-49 in May 2017, over 14 months later. From the very start of the Liberal government, the transportation needs of our country have not been a priority.
At this time, I would like to switch my focus and talk about the substance of the two amendments being rejected by the Liberal government.
The first amendment I would like to discuss is the Senate's amendment regarding final offer arbitration. The laws and regulations governing the relationship between the railway and the rail shipper are quite complex, so I would like to quote from an analysis prepared for the Mining Association of Canada with respect to the final offer arbitration amendment. This analysis was done after the government unveiled its first motion regarding the Senate's amendments, but the points it makes are just as valid now, as we are dealing with the same amendment.
The motion tabled by the Minister of Transport not only rejects the Senate amendment, but further enhances railway market power over captive shippers. Rather than retaining the status quo, the motion asks the House to give credibility to an interpretation that (a) contradicts what Canadian courts have said about the FOA remedy and (b) further tilts the current imbalance in the FOA remedy in favour of the railways. The Minister's support for Class I railways inflicts additional harm on those few shippers who are permitted to access final offer arbitration (FOA). The Senate amendment would have entitled a shipper to obtain a determination of the railway's cost of transporting its goods to assist an arbitrator in FOA to determine whether to select the offer of the carrier or the shipper. Now, the Minister has publicly declared that FOA is not a cost-based remedy but “rather a commercially-based process to settle a dispute during a negotiation of a confidential commercial contract”. There are at least four things wrong with this statement:
First, the Federal Court of Appeal (and the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench) declared FOA to be a form of rate regulation and an arbitrator appointed under FOA to be a regulatory authority. Ignoring the courts, the Minister has adopted the losing position of the railways before the courts.
Second, railways can now quote the Minister in support of their position, that costs have nothing to do with rates. While the average businessperson will understand this statement to be incorrect, arbitrators will be asked to take it into account. Shippers who are already exposed to daunting odds in the use of FOA, will face yet another hurdle.
Third, nothing in the FOA remedy requires the outcome to be a negotiated confidential commercial contract. Whether a railway accepts a contract on the terms set out in an FOA award is 100% up to that railway. Because it can transport the goods under tariff, a railway does not have to enter into a contract.
Fourth, by failing to accept the Senate amendment, the Minister is condoning the railways' efforts to undermine the viability of the FOA remedy as a means of challenging rates and conditions of service that railways can impose unilaterally. The Senate amendment would have allowed a shipper to compare rates offered by the railway to rates that would prevail under conditions of effective competition. Instead the government motion will entrench the railways' market power or dominance over shippers who must use the railway to which they are captive for all or part of their shipments to domestic markets.
That is strange. What a process this is.
Thousands of Canadian jobs rely on the mining sector. The mining sector relies on a stable, reliable transportation system to get its products to the customers or to the coast.
I could include other quotes from experts and stakeholders regarding the importance of this amendment, but for the sake of time I have left them out.
Canada needs a fair and balanced relationship between its rail shippers and its class I railways. It is sad that the government is deaf to calls for a better balance in this important relationship.
I would also like to take a minute to talk about the second amendment the Senate is insisting on. This amendment would allow captive shippers in the Maritimes access to the long-haul interswitching remedy that this bill would make available to shippers in other parts of Canada.
Why are the Maritimes being excluded? If this remedy is needed in other parts of Canada, as the government insists, why is it not needed in the Maritimes? To phrase the question another way, why must captive Maritime shippers be forced to pay higher shipping costs? Treating Maritimers as unequal partners may be the Prime Minister's definition of co-operative federalism, but it is not ours.
I hope that some of my hon. colleagues on the other side of the House who come from the Maritimes will ask the Minister of Transport why their constituents and the industries that support their communities are not worthy of this same remedy.
I will close by reiterating a point I made earlier in my speech.
The Conservatives know that the rail transportation system is absolutely vital to the well-being of Canada's economy, and that it is these two rails of steel that hook our country together and have made our economy strong. Regrettably, I am not sure the Liberals do. Despite what the Liberals say, their actions do not match their words.
Stakeholders we are hearing from are not pleased with this bill. Some stakeholders say that this bill would make things even worse. Others say it would make things a little better, but it could have been much better.
This morning, we are discussing a government motion to reject reasonable Senate amendments to Bill C-49. This move by the government is delaying the passage of its own bill one more time, as it did this morning.
In 2019, Canadians will have the opportunity to judge the Liberal government and replace it with a Conservative government that will listen to stakeholders and respect the important role transportation plays in the Canadian economy.