Mamidosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Second reading of Bill C-49, Transportation Modernization Bill

Second reading of Bill C-49, Transportation Modernization Bill

Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals): 

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

In reality, the bill should be called an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act, CN Commercialization Act, Railway Safety Act, Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Act, Coasting Trade Act, Canada Marine Act — honourable senators, it doesn’t stop there — Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, Competition Act, Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, Air Canada Public Participation Act, Budget Implementation Act, 2009 and the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act. That is 13 individual acts of Parliament, 67 pages long, an omnibus bill like we haven’t had here for a while.

Let’s have a look at timing now, because the government seems to have a little problem with timing and dates and what’s been going on. The bill was introduced in the other place on May 16, 2017. That was approximately seven months ago. The Senate received the bill on November 2. Let us talk about some more numbers now.

The sitting days in the other place that were used to dispense with this bill, six over a four-month period, not including the summer break. Number of days the committee studied the bill, five. Amount of time spent in committee was over 40 hours. Witnesses heard were approximately 83. Number of sitting days the bill has been discussed in the Senate, six, including today. Number of meetings with stakeholders that I’ve had, on my own, so far, 17. Far be it from me to lecture my colleagues here or in the other place on how the legislative process works, but I think it is worthy to note that after hearing that summary of the bill so far, the process is indeed working as it should.

Our job as senators is to read the bills, study the bills, question the contents of the bills and possibly amend the bills to improve them. The undue pressure being applied with regard to this bill and other bills in the Senate is unwarranted, unnecessary and quite frankly disrespectful.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Mercer: The simple fact of the matter is that this bill is quite large, amending 13 acts of Parliament. What would have happened if each one of these items had appeared as separate pieces of legislation? One has to wonder if we would have dispensed with some of the provisions contained in the bill already. For example, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act probably would have been dealt with quickly.

Honourable senators, let us briefly examine some parts of the bill now before us at second reading. The bill aims to do many things, but I will focus on the following today: initiate an air passengers bill of rights, changes to the interswitching rules, and the installation of locomotive voice and video recorders.

Bill C-49 will add a new section to the Canada Transportation Act to establish an air passengers bill of rights through regulation that will be done by the Canadian Transportation Agency.

What will the regulations be? We will not know until sometime in 2018. But the minister has said the new rules will protect Canadians from such things as flight delays, cancellations and denied boarding. But the bill really does nothing to protect passengers’ rights as we must wait to see what the actual regulations will be. It’s a nothing bill to protect airline passengers really.

Will these new rules be strong enough? Will they prevent the situation that passengers face on those Air Transat flights held up on the tarmac of the Ottawa airport? Eventually the airline was fined a few days ago. I truly hope so, because if not, what would the point of this exercise be?

Ask yourself this question: Why is it not being done through legislation rather than regulation? It is not as though they didn’t know there was a demand for this change. It’s been ongoing for years, and I’m sure somebody paid attention.

Honourable senators, for those of you who do not know what interswitching is, I’ll try to explain it in simple terms. It is complicated. It is an operation performed by a railway company where one railway picks up railcars from a customer and transfers the cars to another carrier that actually performs the shipment. Customers require this in cases where there’s only one railway near them. It gives them access to other railways in order that their businesses remain competitive.

The bill replaces temporary, extended interswitching with long haul interswitching. In the previous bill, the former government had a number, and this government has brought in and changed the number to a significantly larger number.

While on the outside this looks like a good idea, there are some concerns by stakeholders that this change could potentially allow too much access for U.S. railways into the Canadian market. This threatens Canadian sovereignty, Canadian jobs and Canadian investment.

Why this is being done while NAFTA negotiations are ongoing has also been raised. It is beyond me that, while we are renegotiating NAFTA, we are giving away access to American railways with little or no guarantees for Canadian railways, no reciprocity. It makes no sense. Anybody in business 101 will tell you not to give away a negotiating point like that at the beginning of the negotiations.

Perhaps the most troubling part of this bill is the installation of locomotive voice and video recorders, or LVVR. Proponents of this clause say that this is about safety and preventing accidents. Opponents say it is a serious violation of privacy and could be used for disciplinary purposes.

Could we potentially alleviate privacy concerns in a way that satisfies both sides of this argument? We shall see.

Privacy is a real concern, especially when you consider whose rules will apply. As I asked Senator Lankin the other day, when a Canadian train goes into the United States, after a certain distance they have to switch to an American crew. So now we have Americans in the Canadian train. If they’re being recorded by video and voice, whose privacy rules are we going to follow, the Americans or the Canadians? Whose rights are being affected? All very important questions.

Lastly, honourable senators, I would like to comment on grain. If the government is or was so concerned about the movement of grain, why did they not extend the previous legislation, like they did once already, to help get the product to market, rather than put it in this omnibus bill that has so many changes that the concern over the movement of grain gets lost?

We need to ensure that grain can get to market, and I’m happy to support the parts of the legislation that do that. But the sheer size of the bill means that it has to be studied as a whole and that takes time.

New data shows that the crop this year has been fruitful. I’m very pleased for western farmers, and indeed all Canadians, that they’ve had a great year again despite some bad weather in the early going. So yes, let us help farmers get their crops to market, but let us not do so by overlooking other parts of this bill that may not be good for other stakeholders.

Bring in a separate bill in the House of Commons today or Monday and pass it quickly. Send it down here and I can assure you it will have my support to get it through here quickly if it deals with that subject matter.

Honourable senators, all of these questions and more need to be asked and we will ask them. We will do our jobs and the legislative process will persevere despite the best efforts of some to rush this bill through the Senate. I would rather get it right than do it quickly, as I’m sure all of us here would agree. I would remind those who want to see this bill rushed through quickly that we are doing our duty in this chamber for all Canadians.

I do commend the government for some very important work that has been done on these files, and I look forward to hearing from the minister and officials.

I also look forward to hearing from railways, airlines, a number of unions and other stakeholders as we move the legislation to committee. Honourable senators, thank you.

Hon. André Pratte: Would the senator take a question?

Senator Mercer: Yes.

Senator Pratte: On the LVVRs, there are really three parts in the bill. There’s access by the transport agency after an accident, there’s access by the railways after an incident that’s reported to the agency and there’s access through a sample process. Are there parts of it that you would be more agreeable with — for instance, after an accident — and others that you are more uncomfortable with, or would you reject the whole LVVR system?

Senator Mercer: To answer the last part first, I wouldn’t reject the whole thing. I think there’s a compromise here. If the information were to go to the Transportation Safety Board exclusively, for them to manage, hold and secure and they have access to it post-incident if there’s an incident on the railway, they can go to that record, see what might have happened that could be fixed or could have been avoided and use that to help manage the process.

The major objection I have is that this should not be put in the hands of the company to be used for disciplinary purposes. Sometimes a crew gets on a train and they’re running for upwards of 13 hours. A lot of things can happen in 13 hours with people, and if this was available to the companies for disciplinary matters it would be of great concern to me. This should be used for managing better safety on the railways. It should not be used by the management of the railways to discipline workers.

Senator Pratte: What if there was — maybe there is already; it’s not clear — an iron-clad guarantee in the act that the companies could not use these recordings for disciplinary purposes?

Senator Mercer: I’d be happier if there were an iron-clad guarantee that the company shouldn’t have access to it, period, that the Transportation Safety Board had access to it, and there should be a provision that at some point in the future if the Transportation Safety Board were to review it and determine they’ve got a problem with railway X or railway Y or maybe both, to say, “Look, here’s a problem we need to fix.” The railways will ask, “How do you know that?” Well, we know that because we’ve observed it on the video recordings that happens on various trains, without giving them access to the actual employees involved. It’s the privacy issue. Perhaps we should have the Privacy Commissioner back and have him review it. My major concern is the privacy of the individuals but it is important and it could be helpful for safety reasons.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Would Senator Mercer take another question?

Senator Mercer: Yes.

Senator Plett: Thank you, Senator Mercer. As we do so often, I again find myself entirely agreeing with everything you said. Thank you for your speech. I have a couple of questions.

I’ll make a comment first. We have all been lobbied, as I’m sure you have, by government, both on this side and in the other place. For somebody like myself, who is quite passionate about the western grain farmers, I certainly endorse simply extending the act already or bringing in a separate bill. However, we are now being kind of browbeaten and told that the western grain farmers are going to suffer if we don’t pass these 13 bills here.

I got a call from the minister the other day. The minister was very kind and suggested he would make himself available Monday if we would want to meet Monday and then by Monday evening or Tuesday we could have 13 bills passed here. He saw no reason because they, of course, had given it every consideration over there and we should trust him.

I will quickly ask my question. And yes, we will give him five more minutes, Your Honour, if the honourable senator asks for it.

My question, Senator Mercer, is the fact that this is the equivalent of 13 bills, would it not seem fair that we give this at least 13 hours of discussion, one hour per bill or maybe two hours per bill, and that would give us from 13 to 26 hours of committee time and, of course, then do whatever amendments we need to do to make this a reasonable bill and then bring it back here? Would that possibly be an appropriate amount of time?


Senator Mercer: Senator Plett, you started off by saying you agreed with me. Where were you when you sat over here and omnibus bills were coming in and we asked similar questions? The road to Damascus is pretty short.

I think you’re right; we should do our job here, we should study the bills and take the time. It is a complicated bill. There are some complicated things in it. I didn’t go through the 13 different acts that it amends and go piece by piece, but we should look at all 13. I don’t know that they all require a full hour before the committee, but they could. When we get into it, as you know, Senator Plett, having served here for quite some time that one question often leads to another and to another. It’s important that we have open and solid hearings and bring in the witnesses. Let’s be prepared to amend the bill, if that’s what’s required to make it a better bill to serve the transportation industry better in Canada.

Hon. Pierrette Ringuette: Would Senator Mercer take other questions?

Senator Mercer: Yes.

Senator Ringuette: Senator, with regard to the recorders for locomotives in the bill, two weeks ago we all received from the minister a copy of the letter that was sent to railways and railway associations trying to clarify this issue.

Has that satisfied your concerns with regard to the use of video recorders?

Senator Mercer: No. I’ll tell you why. It was a nice letter. It was nice to get a letter from the minister. I’m sure everybody enjoyed it, and I’m sure the railways enjoyed getting a copy of it too, but it’s not legislation. If you want to guarantee that, put it in the bill.

You should have thought of that first, minister. You should have thought of that beforehand. You should have thought about protecting the workers. You should have thought about their privacy. You should have thought about the fact that the trains cross the American border on a regular basis.

You should have thought of these things. Somebody didn’t think of them, and I don’t think we should allow this to proceed without some further protection of Canadian workers.

Hon. Michael Duffy: I’m following up on Senator Plett’s comments and Senator Mercer’s speech.

Senator Mercer, I’m getting email and phone calls, as I’m sure everyone is, especially across Western Canada on the grain issue. What should we tell those people about when we’re likely to see something?

The message coming in is, “Why are you guys so interested in getting off on a Christmas break that you won’t do something for western farmers?” How do you suggest we answer those emails?

Senator Mercer: Give them Minister Garneau’s email and suggest they ask why he took this very important message about the movement of grain and put it in an omnibus bill instead of a separate bill and address the issues. Farmers anticipated the problem. Railways anticipated the problem. Guess who didn’t anticipate the problem? The Government of Canada.

Senator Plett: Good answer.


The Hon. the Speaker: One question, Senator Ringuette.

Senator Ringuette: One question. I better make it good, then.

I’m going to my previous question to you, Senator Mercer, as a follow-up. The question is as follows: In regard to the letter, in that letter I recall distinctly that the minister said he would consult the industry and employee groups in regard to those video recordings when making the regulation.

My concern, and I would like your opinion on this, is that letter was sent to the railway companies and sent to all of us, but that letter was not sent to the principal concerned parties in this issue, and a copy of that letter was never sent to Unifor nor to the Teamsters.

How do you interpret such a letter?

Senator Mercer: I’ve had so many visits from Unifor and the Teamsters. I asked my staff to check to see if the lobbyist from the Teamsters was now on staff since he was here so often.

I think telling people you’re going to consult with them and consulting with them are two different things. He said he was going to consult with them. It looks like in the legislation he may have consulted with the companies, but from my discussions with Unifor and the Teamsters, there was little or no consultation going on there. So don’t tell us you should consult if you already haven’t, and don’t tell us don’t worry about it, I’ve written a letter to the companies and they’re not going to have access.

If you don’t want them to have access, put it in the legislation. Protect the workers’ interests. Protect the privacy of Canadians and protect Canadian interests above all.

Full exchange: