Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.
I would first like to commend my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his excellent work. He has worked very hard on this file. He wanted to bring this issue to the forefront in Parliament. We have been trying to pass these vital measures in this Parliament for about 20 years. The member has done excellent work by proposing these very important changes.
I would first like to comment on why this bill is so important. Many Canadians across the country must use the services of VIA Rail, and the NDP believes that Canadians deserve rail services that are shared, adequate, safe and efficient. We know that most MPs have used VIA Rail services. We know just how essential this service is, but we also know that there is a great deal of room for improvement.
It is time for Canadian passengers to have priority over freight, as is the case in the United States. Later, I will talk about Amtrak, which Canada could really look to for best practices.
My colleague also introduced this bill because we believe that VIA Rail has a duty to provide a minimum level of service and that it should not cancel routes without consulting the public and Parliament. This bill has a number of measures and I will talk about a few of them. This bill essentially provides a legislative framework for VIA Rail's mandate. It requires VIA Rail to maintain service and to maintain the frequency of certain routes that must be served. Later, I will also talk about some essential routes that have been abandoned by VIA Rail in recent years.
The bill also provides for a transparent and democratic assessment mechanism if VIA Rail wishes to cancel service. It provides a framework for VIA Rail governance and funding. We know that these two priorities are important if we want VIA Rail services to work. This bill ensures that municipal representatives have a say in VIA Rail services.
The bill also gives priority to passenger trains over freight trains. It imposes fines on rail companies for failing to comply with regulations that favour VIA Rail. It demands transparency with respect to the fees paid by VIA Rail to rail companies. Lastly, if VIA Rail wishes to cancel service, it must first seek approval from Parliament.
I would like to digress for a moment to also talk about Canada Post. We know that this topic has been debated in the House and there is a lot of talk about it in my riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. The people of Rosemère have already lost their home mail delivery and people in Boisbriand will lose it this year. Of course they oppose this reduction in service, but we know that the Conservatives' approach, which involves cutting services and increasing prices, is not the right way to run a business. That is not the right thing to do to ensure that Canada Post remains a profitable business.
The government keeps repeating that people are sending fewer letters, for one thing. That may be true, but they are sending more parcels, they are doing more online shopping and they still receive bills by mail. Furthermore, municipalities still need to send their correspondence related to municipal taxes to their residents by mail. The reduction in Canada Post services is affecting a large segment of the population, as well as municipal budgets, which are already very tight.
I mention Canada Post because, similarly, it is not by reducing VIA Rail's services or access to it that the crown corporation will become more profitable.
Since 2011, VIA Rail has dropped major routes. The Victoria-Kootenay line was dropped in 2011. In December 2012, VIA Rail also stopped its passenger service on the Matapédia-Gaspé line, despite the fact that a major part of that line is now safe.
In 2012, VIA Rail announced that it was reducing its Ocean train service between Montreal and Halifax. I would like to mention that a number of my colleagues here in the House defended that train service and travelled from one end of the country to the other to mobilize people in order to protect VIA Rail services. I am talking about the hon. member for Halifax and other NDP members from the Maritimes. Following the derailment of a freight train in June 2014, VIA Rail stopped operating the Winnipeg-Churchill line indefinitely.
It is important to talk about these lines because Canada is a very diverse country and remote municipalities do not have the same needs as major urban centres. VIA Rail's service is very important to these remote regions.
Passenger rail service in remote areas is in free fall. Furthermore, in more urban areas, freight trains cause significant delays in passenger service. This is very inconvenient for people who use these services.
Basically, the bill supports the concept that management of passenger rail service must comply with section 5 of the Canada Transportation Act and section 5 of the Federal Sustainable Development Act, especially when it comes to the principles of accessibility, economic growth of urban and rural communities and sustainable development.
When I was researching this bill, I looked at Amtrak, a U.S. passenger train company. Amtrak, which serves our neighbours to the south, decided to increase frequency rather than reduce it, as a result of a study that showed that decreasing the frequency of passenger trains does not result in significant savings.
Quite the opposite is happening in Canada. In the case of the Halifax-Moncton-Montreal train, there was a reduction of almost 40% in ridership in 2012, while there was only a $1 million savings in fuel and operating costs.
Furthermore, the increased frequency of Amtrak trains in the United States has resulted in a significant increase in ridership and revenue.
I would like to comment further on the case of Canada Post. We know that if there is good management, more service and some guarantee of quality service, people will use the services available and the number of users will grow. Cutting services will not make an organization profitable. There are some interesting comparisons to be made with the case of VIA Rail.
We want VIA Rail to have a clear mandate to provide safe, adequate, efficient service. During question period in the House, NDP members have often called for VIA Rail to reinstate all of the routes that have been cancelled since 2011. We also want all changes to its network to be subject to public consultation and debated in Parliament. This is an important issue, particularly for my NDP colleagues who live in areas served by VIA Rail.
For example, the member for Churchill knows her community's needs. She is in an ideal position to understand the impact of service cuts at VIA Rail on her community and the ability of her constituents to travel and be mobile.
I see that my time is up, so I would like to conclude by inviting all of my colleagues to support a wonderful bill, Bill C-640.