Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be a part of this debate today on Bill C-33, which would make amendments to several different acts. Supposedly, based on the press release from the government, this was going to have a profound impact on supply chains and rail safety. Having spoken to dozens of stakeholders over several weeks, they do not see it.
Quite frankly, this is a missed opportunity. This is after four years of government consultation. As the minister said, opportunities do not come along very often to change the way our ports and rail systems operate, and this was a missed opportunity to actually make a difference and improve the supply chain in this country.
The general feedback we received is that this is actually heading in the wrong direction. We heard a lot of stakeholders who said this will do nothing to improve supply chain efficiencies, while others have said it will make them worse. The best the minister received from the feedback I heard is indifference. That is certainly not a ringing endorsement of what has been touted as being a major change to supply chain systems and a major answer to the supply chain problems we have seen plaguing the country for the last number of months and years.
My colleague referenced the national supply chain task force report, which explained the urgency of this situation and proposed several changes that should be made on an immediate basis. We just do not see enough of that urgency. We do not see enough of what was in the supply chain report in this bill. This is the first opportunity the government has had to show it was listening to that report, and we just do not see it.
There is nothing in this bill about rail service reliability or the relationship between shippers and rail companies. In fact, it simply seems to indicate that the status quo is just fine. There is nothing in this bill about what would happen to our supply chains and our international reputation when there are labour disputes that impact the supply chain either at the ports or on our railways. There is nothing here about how we would to reconcile concerns with loading grain in the rain, for instance, in Vancouver. All of these were missed opportunities.
In fact, as the minister indicated a couple of times in his speech, the ports are at arm's length. He just indicated in his answer to my question that, in fact, that arm is getting shorter and shorter. The government is extending its arm into the ports to impose its will on what are supposed to be independent authorities. It is quite shocking to hear the minister openly admit that the problem clearly is that the ports do not do what Ottawa wants enough and that it needs to exert more control over the ports. The ports are supposed to operate in the best interest of the national economy and the best interest of the supply chain, not in the best interest of the government in Ottawa.
Some of our primary concerns revolve around the changes that have been made to the governance system at the ports. The independence of the ports should start with the ability of the board of directors to elect its own chair. That is the current way the system operates. I have certainly not heard that this has been a major issue that has impeded the operation of the ports, but we see an “Ottawa knows best” or “Liberal government knows best” approach when it says the local port boards cannot be trusted to select their own chairs, as they currently do, and that the minister himself needs to make those selections.
I will also note that the port users, the port tenants, the shippers, the grain companies, and so on, have had their influence on the boards diluted. There have been additional board positions given to local representatives. There are two additional board positions, both given to government entities, and no additional seats given to compensate for the people who actually run our ports and get our goods from our farms to the customers overseas.
I think that is an oversight. I also think that the overly prescriptive and bureaucratic red tape nature of imposing a “made in Ottawa” solution on consultation is going to prove very difficult to manage in many of the ports across the country.
Bill C-33 seems designed to be imposed on big ports, like the Port of Vancouver. There are 17 port authorities in Canada and some of them are very small. There are no provisions in the bill to allow for any flexibility for the smaller ports, which may not have indigenous communities in their proximity or which may not have the capacity to set these things up without significant new costs, which will be passed on to port users and to Canadian consumers. These are imposed costs that will be passed along at a time when we are already dealing with record inflation. These are going to be inflationary costs that will impact the costs of the goods that Canadians need.
The Port of Vancouver, for instance, already has robust indigenous consultation, robust community consultation and robust local government involvement. As for creating advisory boards, I have heard some feedback from folks who have maybe one first nation in their entire province. How would they set up an indigenous advisory board to deal with that situation?
As for the Port of Vancouver, in my home province of British Columbia, who would be on this board? It certainly would not just be the handful of first nations that are in the Vancouver area. It would be communities who are up the Fraser River. It would be communities that are along the shipping routes.
Now that it would be an official consultation board mandated by law, there will be questions about who would be on it, who would be part of it and what role they would play. If there is nothing in the legislation that indicates what the role of that board would be or what the powers of that board would be, would they simply give advice that can be ignored? Would they have the power to actually prevent the ports from exercising their authorities? We just do not know.
I think that is what we have heard a lot of in the stakeholder feedback we have received, which is that there are a lot of changes that have been made where the Ministry of Transportation or the minister says, “Oh no, do not worry about it. That is not what we meant when we put those changes in the legislation. We will find a way around it. We did not mean that the minister would appoint the board chair. He would just consult with the ports and then take their advice.”
That is not what the legislation says. I think that this is poorly drafted legislation that leaves an awful lot to interpretation and will actually create greater uncertainty for the ports at a time when they need more certainty.
I want to touch briefly on the active vessel traffic management portion of the legislation.
I think, obviously, that there is some need to give the port the authority to manage vessel traffic within its jurisdiction. I think that there is, again, a lack of certainty about what this will mean. How far out will the ports be given the authority to manage the vessel traffic? Is it just in their jurisdictions? Is it hundreds of kilometres offshore? These are things that need to be clarified.
It also needs to be said that, by focusing solely on the marine vessel side of things and not on the rail side of things, the government has missed an opportunity again. It has not talked about rail service reliability, service levels, ensuring that shippers are well served by the rail sector, or that there needs to be reliable data so that the ships know when products are coming by rail. It seems to be focused entirely on the marine side.
We also have concerns about what the government means by allowing the ports to manage anchorages. In British Columbia, there are significant concerns about what that means. Some want anchorages to be removed from certain areas altogether. Others would like to see the anchorages better regulated, and still others would like to see the efficiency of the ports brought up to a standard such that there would not be the need for so many anchorages.
It has been difficult to deal with this issue in a post-COVID context, because there was such a backlog as a result of supply chain collapses around the world and therefore anchorages that had not been previously used were being used more often. What does it mean that the board would have control over these anchorages? Does it mean they would be able to remove them? Does it mean they could limit the number of days ships can dwell there?
These are all questions that are very concerning to port users if we want to expand the ports. The Port of Vancouver has indicated it wants to expand and is looking to increase capacity. We cannot increase capacity at the port and reduce the ability for vessels to safely anchor to await their turn at the port.
Would we simply remove these anchorages without consultation and without any plan as to what would happen when ships show up and have nowhere to berth or to safely anchor? Are they simply going to circle around burning fuel and wait for their turn to enter the port? That needs some clarity.
Overall, on the rail safety side, we support the clarity on the fact that blockades of rail lines are illegal. I suspect most Canadians would have thought that was already the case. In fact, it already is illegal to cause a disruption to rail service. However, the problem is not with the rules; it is with the enforcement of the rules. I think increasing the clarity is a good thing, but if it does not result in increased enforcement activity, I do not think there will be much of a change on that front.
There are concerns about the increased red tape and regulatory burdens. We want transparency at the ports, but we need it to be reasonable. I think there are concerns about whether the reporting requirements would simply be publishing data that the government already receives or whether they would be imposing a new burden on the ports, which, again, would all be passed down throughout the supply chain and ultimately onto consumers. Would quarterly financial reports, for instance, be a new requirement or would that simply be making public what the government already gets?
I think these are questions that have not been answered. That also needs to be looked at in terms of the environmental reporting. The big ports are already doing this work. Would this be duplicative? Would this simply take the work that is already being done at the ports and put it into a format that is more universal? If we are burdening the ports with more reporting requirements when they are already doing this work, that is ineffective and inefficient and we need to make sure we are not duplicating the work.
We also fundamentally disagree with the government here on what the role of the ports is. The port has to have a national lens on protecting the national supply chain; serving our international markets; and getting the goods of our farmers, shippers and creators to our markets. We heard from the minister here today that the government wants to impose a different set of rules. It wants a different focus for the ports and to increase the local perspective on that. The local residents are absolutely impacted, but the primary focus has to be on delivering goods for Canadians and our customers.
We cannot get into other focuses for the ports. I think the government has done that by making these changes to the board of directors. By making those changes to these advisory boards, it is certainly increasing Ottawa's involvement, as well as local government involvement. It is increasing local interests that I think need to be heard but cannot divert the ports from their primary responsibility, which is to serve the national Canadian economy.
When we hear the minister say that the port boards must align with the government's agenda, that does not sound like arm's-length governance to me but an arm of the government. There are just too many cases in this bill where it is imposing its perspective on the ports. It is imposing its agenda on the ports and doing so in a way that does not consider the different ports. Those in Saguenay, Thunder Bay, St. John's and all over the country have a different reality than the ports of Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax. This is a one-size-fits-all approach that will not improve our supply chain but instead increase the burdens on everyone in the supply chain. Most of all, it will increase the power of Ottawa at the expense of the independence of those port authorities.
We believe the bill should go back to the drawing board. It does not do enough to address supply chain concerns. It imposes too many Ottawa-knows-best solutions and too much of the minister's authority on our ports. It does not do enough to improve the situation. Therefore, we will not be supporting Bill C-33. We think it is a missed opportunity. The governance changes cannot be supported. The additional costs that will be passed on to everyone throughout the supply chain as a result cannot be supported.
After four years, the government should have done much better. We hope it will go back to the drawing board and come back with a bill that will strengthen our supply chain and allow the ports to do the job they are mandated to do. We hope it can do that without the heavy hand of the Ottawa-knows-best approach that, unfortunately, this legislation would impose.