Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying that this intercession is being delivered on behalf of my colleague, the Reform transportation critic, the member for Kootenay West-Revelstoke. Reform supports the intent of Bill C-44. However, there are several areas with which we have concerns and I would like to expose those in the next few minutes.
The motion before us is to refer the bill to committee before second reading. We will support that motion but I believe it is in order to state the reasons for that support and the reservations we have.
The first time this procedure was used on a transport bill was the legislation dealing with the privatization of CN Rail. We supported the Liberal argument that this process would allow the bill to be dealt with better in committee and that it would make it more amenable to amendments. Those assurances were false.
The bill was debated at length and our transport critic brought forward several amendments designed to improve the bill that we had already generally agreed with. Although several Liberal members of the committee expressed words of agreement with some of those amendments, when it came time for the vote every amendment was defeated by the same Liberal Party that asked for our support for the new streamlined procedure.
Interestingly, after the bill was passed in the House and implemented it became very clear that the Liberals would have been wise to have accepted some of those Reform amendments.
The next transport bill to come before the House with a motion to send it to committee before second reading was the Canada Transport Act. This time, based on the false promises issued by the Liberals on the previous transport bill, the Reform Party did not support the motion. When the bill ended up in committee our critic once again went to work exposing numerous flaws with a bill that we generally supported. Once again he brought forward numerous motions designed to improve a bill that we did want to support.
Unlike with the previous bill, the Liberals listened and then supported the majority of those amendments. Although there were a couple of rejected amendments which we felt were deal killers, we do acknowledge the Liberals' improved attitude in dealing with our amendments. Because of this improved attitude we are willing to give them another chance to act as they promised when they first introduced this procedure.
Having given our reasons for supporting the motion to refer the bill to committee before second reading so as to make it more amenable to amendments, I will now place the government on notice as to some of the aspects of the bill we have difficulty with.
However, before I do that there is one other item that needs to be brought out. This bill was introduced in the House last spring. The intent of doing so was supposedly to allow the appropriate people to have the summer to study the bill in order to be prepared to study it again upon the reconvening of Parliament in September.
One of the instruments utilized by members of Parliament is a briefing book on the bill supplied by the appropriate department, in this case transport. Our transport critic, the member for Kootenay West-Revelstoke, did not receive the briefing book until the afternoon of September 25. That is not acceptable. I hope this disregard for proper and timely action is not an indication of how this bill will be dealt with.
During summer our transportation critic studied this bill and made notes of his concerns. He then went on the road to discuss the bill with various port operators and users. He began his meetings by asking for their reaction to Bill C-44. He found in virtually every case that many of the concerns of those he visited were identical to his own concerns.
Those areas of common concern include the size and the make-up of the board of directors. Section 6(2)(f) stipulates that the number of directors be between nine and eleven. Most port operators do not need nor do they want that large a board. Of those operators our critic visited, the desired number indicated ranged from three to five. One operator who did support five stated that he could live with seven but would prefer the lower number.
The Reform Party had previously expressed its opinion of board of director make-up in its minority report in the marine study completed by the Standing Committee on Transport last year. We believe in government participation but not government control.
Section 6(2)(f)(v)) of the bill states that one director is to be appointed by concerned municipalities and one by the province, two specifically in the case of the Port of Vancouver, and all other directors are to be appointed by the Minister of Transport. In the case of some of those appointments, the minister is to consult with the users. But no obligation is placed on the minister to appoint those who are chosen by the users.
The government may argue it is its intention to appoint directors selected by the users but if it does not say that, it is not likely to happen. If the minister does indeed plan to appoint those elected by the users, why not just let the users appoint their own directors, but not in the numbers stipulated in the bill? No one group, be it the government, the municipalities or the users, should have in itself a majority on the board.
Section 9 and others within the bill set out a provision that cancels any right that current office holders might have to compensation, damages or indemnity.
Section 11(2) goes further by clearing stating that neither the port authority nor Her Majesty in Right in Canada is bound by any severance agreement entered into between a predecessor of the port authority and any of its officers after December 1, 1995. Given that transport is the same department that gave us the Pearson cancellation bill, we should not be surprised that it would do something like this.
Section 24 restricts the right of a port authority to operate any form of business which may provide needed cash flow revenues for the port. For example, Fraser port does partial assembly of vehicles upon their arrival. That is good business and aids in the
financial viability of the port. The government should not be restricting this activity, it should be encouraging it. Fraser Port is an example of how we should set up the new port authorities. I am glad to see the nod across the way from the parliamentary secretary to go in that direction.
Section 27(3) states that a port authority may not mortgage any property that it holds in any manner. Does this restriction apply only to the crown land turned over to the port to operate or does it include other properties which have or may in the future be bought by the port authority? This we think is overly restrictive and creates serious financial problems for the ports.
Another problem section is 36(5). This either stops a port authority from acquiring a new property or at a minimum requires an amendment to the letters patent each time there is a purchase. The idea of the bill is to get rid of bureaucratic red tape, as stated by the parliamentary secretary, not create more.
Section 45 states that the Official Languages Act applies to a port authority as if it were a federal institution. That is absolutely without merit. Why would the Port of Prince Rupert on B.C.'s north coast need to be bilingual? Why would small ports at other west coast locations need to have this unnecessary expense and hiring restriction placed on them? It is not a matter of not wanting to provide a bilingual service, it is simply that no one would ever use it. Let us be practical.
Section 56 sets it up for the minister to gouge money for little or no service out of certain ports like Kitimat. Considering that the Minister of Transport is also supposed to be the Liberal cabinet representative for B.C., he should be ashamed of allowing such an unfair provision to remain in the bill.
Section 63 is little better and is also likely to cause undue hardship on Kitimat.
While there are some other areas of concern, these are the most contentious. We are giving the government fair notice as to where our concerns lie. I hope it will remain open minded and work with us to make Bill C-44 one which all parties can support and one which will benefit all Canadians.