Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the message from the other place on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.
Why are we here? As I said in my second reading speech, this bill amends 13 individual acts of Parliament, which makes it an omnibus bill. As with other omnibus bills that have come through this place, there always seems to be one pressing issue that needs to be solved right away, which means trying to pass a giant bill quickly to solve that one problem, leaving no time to examine the other parts.
Of course, I am talking about the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act that makes up part of this bill. I have stated in the past, and will again today, that if the government had done that separately, grain would be moving steadily right now as we would have passed it right away.
But the government has chosen to put it in this omnibus bill. Quite frankly, I was disappointed by the attitude of the minister when we asked about this and other things in committee when he appeared, as senators will never roll over and not do our work.
I think the minister got the message.
We here in the Senate took the time necessary to study the bill. Indeed, that is what we did, and we amended the bill and sent it back to the other place for consideration. I would like to thank all honourable senators who took part in the process, especially my colleague Senator Eggleton, who helped me a great deal when I could not be here for the amendment process in committee.
Honourable senators, with such a large number of items in this bill, and indeed the very nature of the new independent Senate, there was always going to be something that we would find that would require a second look. And we did.
I would like to touch on some of the things that I felt strongly about, and still do, that resulted in my proposed amendments.
The amendment to add “directly or indirectly” to the section in clause 15 was accepted by the committee and by the other place. It was necessary to clarify and strengthen the clause by keeping it in sync with the previous section. I thank the government for accepting that amendment.
Another amendment I was particularly interested in was the one to add a review clause. After three years developing and implementing the proposed passenger bill of rights, we would have an opportunity in committee to study it and propose changes, if necessary, at that time and every five years after that. The government’s response to reject this amendment indicated that it was addressed in the bill or by existing legislation.
There are indeed sections in the Canada Transportation Act that mandate a brief review on the state of transportation in Canada every year and also a call for a comprehensive review every five years by the minister of the long-term outlook in transportation in matters that the minister deems appropriate. It would have been all the better if that was indicated to us in a message so that I didn’t have to go searching for it.
However, I am here to tell you that I will hold the minister to these reviews and will do everything I can in order to see whether the passenger bill of rights is actually working and helping Canadians through those mechanisms or any other way we can.
I will come back to the passenger bill of rights in a moment.
I’m also very pleased to see that the amendment dealing with soybeans was accepted by the other place as well.
I do caution us, though, honourable senators, that we must be diligent in recognizing that there is an ever-changing landscape in agriculture. Who knew 10 or 15 years ago that soybeans would explode into the market like today? A changing marketplace leads to growth in the agricultural and agri-food sectors. I believe we should be watching for other products that may need the same help this amendment provided.
There were also proposals to limit the amount of data that companies would have access to that would be collected by the LVVRs, or locomotive voice and video recorders. This has been a great cause of concern for many stakeholders and, most importantly, for the workers.
We must ensure the protection of privacy of Canadian workers and that the data will not be used for disciplinary purposes. The companies say it will not, and the minister believes that there are adequate protections in the bill for the workers. We shall see.
I will continue to monitor this and will also continue to ask the questions as to what happens when a train crosses the U.S. border: What will happen to the data? Will the protection of that data slow down shipments?
Unfortunately, amendments to deal with these concerns did not pass at committee.
Last, but certainly not least, is the aforementioned passenger bill of rights. The government made a big display that this passenger bill of rights was coming, and Canadians kept talking about the passenger bill of rights, and it doesn’t exist — it still doesn’t exist — but they kept talking about it.
We were and continue to be concerned that this was not actually part of the bill. The new regime will be created through regulations. The minister is confident this system will produce a robust set of rights and mechanisms to ensure those rights will work effectively.
I am still not sure that this will happen and was dismayed to see that the amendment changing tarmac delays from over three hours to tarmac delays of over 90 minutes was rejected.
We continue to be told that this will not result in people sitting on planes for three hours without the airline having to do anything to recognize safety and comfort.
If the airlines have rules in place now for 90-minute tarmac delays, why would we change it to three hours? Have the airlines begun to change their own 90-minute rules? Will they change it to three hours?
We all know that safety is of the utmost importance, and we should do what we can to ensure that happens. While I have come to the very hard decision not to fight this amendment — and, trust me, it was a hard decision — I remain steadfast in my conviction and will be watching what the regulations entail.
If I don’t like what I see, I will use every legislative and political power I have to fight for changes.
Honourable senators, this is a big bill; it was a complicated bill. But, as I previously mentioned, we did our due diligence, and I believe the Senate made the right choices.
Now that we have our message back from the other place, I would like to finally add that I was encouraged by the tone and new-found respect contained in the message. Maybe, just maybe, the other place has finally realized we are part of the legislative process in Parliament too. Maybe.
This bill is about the safety of passengers, the movement of goods, the protection of workers’ rights and privacy and much more.
Is it a perfect bill? No. Did the Senate improve the bill? Yes, but not in all the ways I would have liked.
I will, however, support the motion to accept the message from the other place, barring any amendments that may or may not be proposed.
Honourable senators, thank you for your attention.