Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for St. Catharines. I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered today on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabe peoples.
I am very pleased to be speaking about the topic we are discussing today, enhancing transparency and accountability for port fees. I will be talking about that.
Canada's ports are vital hubs in our country, in our supply chains and in all aspects of the transportation system. They are a vital part for my home province of British Columbia and our port network, which contributes over 30% of Canada's economy.
The transportation system is in some way connected to the operations that happen at ports every day. Ports help grow our economy, create good jobs for Canadians, deliver goods and support Canada's growing export industry. When our port system works well, it plays a crucial role in helping keep life affordable for Canadians and stores full of consumer products.
There are 17 Canada port authorities that manage our country's most strategic ports. While these port authorities are federal entities, they operate at arm's length from the government in a commercially oriented and financially self-sustaining manner. They also fulfill important public policy objectives, such as supporting national economic development and performing many regulatory functions relating to safety and environmental protection.
An independent board of directors is responsible for managing port activities. This includes ensuring that port planning and operations are made firmly within the public interests, meaning that the projects they embark upon and the decisions they make help ensure affordability for Canadians. Port authorities provide port facilities and offer services to port users; acting as landlords, they lease out port operations to private terminal operators.
For over 20 years, this governance model has served Canada well. It has provided Canadians with world-class services while ensuring that capacity grew in support of Canada's economy in a gradual and financially sustainable manner.
Ports are key gateways in the transportation system, and Canadians rely on them to get the goods they use and consume, as well as to get their products to domestic and international markets. However, as inflationary pressures strain Canadian pocketbooks and make life more expensive, Canadian companies and transportation industry stakeholders are concerned about the rising costs to move goods and do business, including fees that are charged by service providers, such as ports, as well as lease arrangements for the operation of terminals.
As Canada port authorities are part of the federal family and manage key public assets, there are opportunities to improve, to strengthen the governance framework, to make these entities more transparent in their operations and decision-making, and to make sure port users have a voice. Ports need to modernize approaches to enable them to thrive in an increasingly complex environment and be able to align their national mandate with local realities.
As we know, our government tabled Bill C-33, the strengthening the port system and railway safety in Canada act. This would amend the Canada Marine Act, among other acts, to promote transparency in port planning and operations and to position the ports for success well into the future.
The Canada Marine Act amendments in Bill C-52 would provide a framework to reinforce port authorities' due diligence and foster more responsible planning and decision-making, building on the reporting and transparency measures put forward in Bill C-33. Enhancing public engagement, accountability and oversight is a key objective at the core of the government's approach to ensuring greater transparency at Canada port authorities.
It is with this perspective that Bill C-52's reforms to the Canada Marine Act would establish new processes focusing on port fee setting and establishing recourse mechanisms for those impacted by port decisions. These new measures would build on what already exists under the Canada Marine Act and expand the provisions to foster greater accountability and consistency in the marine sector.
The first proposal in the bill aims to establish a modernized framework to govern how the port fees are developed and implemented, and establish a complaint process. There is a need to ensure a stronger connection for port users, and for Canadians more generally, on how a port sets a fee. Just as important, when there is a concern about how fees are set and charged, that a process is in place for raising a complaint.
Amendments would establish fee-setting principles to provide port users and stakeholders greater clarity and better understanding of how port fees are set, which would support a consistent and standardized approach across all Canada port authorities. Some stakeholders have raised concerns about a lack of clarity when it comes to how port fees are established and this provision would directly solve the problem.
While I understand there may be some initial concern about how this standardization could impact the ability of ports to continue to pursue transportation infrastructure projects off port lands or even to advance community-based initiatives that are vital to helping ports be good neighbours to the communities in which they operate, I am confident that the measures I am bringing forward for the consideration of members today are sufficiently broad so as to enable ports to fix their fees and spend some of the revenues on these types of initiatives. It is not the intention of this government to constraint the ability of the ports to do the work they do for our country's trade and economy; it is about principles of fairness, transparency and accountability.
The port authorities would need to adhere to these principles, as well as an explicit methodology established and published by the port authority, when setting their fees. To support the capacity of ports to generate revenues, the principles would require that port fees be set at levels that allow the authority to operate on a self-sustaining financial basis and be fair and reasonable.
In addition to the new fee-setting principles, an associated public notice requirement would be established that would provide a formal public consultation process for any port user or stakeholder to raise concerns with a port authority. This would ensure their views are acknowledged in the entire process and provide greater accountability for fee-setting decisions made by port authorities.
In addition, the bill would establish a process where people who made written representations during the consultation process may file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency if they believe a port authority did not comply with the fee-setting principles or the public notice requirements. If the complaint is well founded, the proposed amendments would then enable the agency to order a Canada port authority to cancel the establishment or revision of the fee in question, reinstate the previous fee, provide refunds, reconsider the fee or take any other measure it would consider appropriate. This would help ensure that corrective measures are in place to respond to complaints when necessary.
This will reinforce the rigour and integrity of how fees are set by Canada port authorities. It will maintain the key principle of financial self-sufficiency for port authorities and their ability to generate revenues needed for future developments and investments that support port operations, including those outside the ports, while reinforcing their need to be responsive to users and transparent in the conduct of their activities.
The proposed approach to fee setting is not new for transportation services providers. It is consistent and aligns with the processes already established for pilotage authorities and Nav Canada, which are two entities that also have significant transportation public policy goals in the government's portfolio. The processes have provided both the entities and their users with more clarity in how fee-setting decisions are made as well as clear grounds for objections.
The second proposal in Bill C-52 would enable the government to make regulations establishing an alternative dispute resolution process for lease disputes that might arise between a port authority and port user with respect to leases for the operation of terminals at ports. This would help build fairness and transparency into the relationships shared by ports and their tenants. This may include a role for the Canadian Transportation Agency to administer and oversee the processes.