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Speech at Third Reading of Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (railway transportation)

Hon. David Tkachuk: Honourable senators, there will be several brief speeches today on Bill C-8, a bill that improves the shipper protection provisions of the Canada Transportation Act with respect to railways. I will make the first intervention.

I want to thank senators on the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications for dealing with this bill so expeditiously. I thank Senator Bacon for her cooperation and leadership during the meeting last night.

This is a bill that shippers have been waiting a long time for and that railways do not oppose. Only politics could have held this bill up. However, it has been my experience on the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications that, from time to time, good sense triumphs over politics. That has been the case with Bill C-8. Due to the nice relationship we have between the deputy chair, Senator Oliver, and Senator Bacon, the business of the day with Bill C-8 was done expeditiously. After the questions were asked, the matter came to a vote although not without a passionate reminder from Senator Dawson of our duty to provide due diligence.

Honourable senators, this bill will give the shippers leverage in their negotiations with railways and should lead to better rates and services. This is something we, in Western Canada, think is extremely important.

This is not to say that shippers have to protect themselves from railways across the country, per se. For the most part, free enterprise operates as it should. There are some areas, however — Vancouver, Prince Rupert and in the Maritimes with Canadian National Railways — where the railways have a monopoly. It is for those situations that this bill is designed to protect the interests of the shipper.

The issues Bill C-8 addresses have been the subject of extensive debate and consensus-building dating back to the statutory review of the act, completed in 2001. The review examined the wide range of economic issues related to transportation, not only the provisions in the act related to shipper protection provisions.

The recommendations of the statutory review panel were discussed with stakeholders, and eventually led to Bill C-26, which was a comprehensive bill to deal with all the issues arising from the statutory review. That proposed legislation was tabled on February 20, 2003, and died on the Order Paper when an election was called.

Following the election, a successor, Bill C-44, was tabled in March 2005. That was another comprehensive bill to amend the Canada Transportation Act. It, too, died on the Order Paper. One of the main problems with Bills C-44 and C-26 was that they were lengthy and somewhat complex bills. Therefore, the current government decided to package the amendments into three separate bills to make the process more manageable and to expedite approval. I believe this strategy has been successful.

The first bill was the International Bridges and Tunnels Act, which received Royal Assent February 1, 2007. The second, Bill C-11, received Royal Assent on June 22, 2007. Bill C-8 is the final bill amending the Canada Transportation Act. Bill C-8 has taken longer because it deals with controversial issues related to shipper-carrier relations. As such, it was more difficult to develop a consensus.

Transport Canada worked with various shipper groups in the spring of 2006. Some of the groups had different positions on many of the proposed changes to the shipper protection provisions. Transport Canada officials encouraged them to resolve their differences and to reach a unified position.

In fact, the bill has virtually no opposition from anyone. Even the railways acknowledged the bill will inevitably be passed and have made it clear that they were not interested in coming before the committee.

As such, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications was able to deal with the bill in one session. It is now subject to third reading. Honourable senators, as I noted earlier, the issues dealt with in this bill have been the subject of extensive consultations and consensus-building, including a statutory review.

When the previous version of the bill was tabled in May 2007, the government announced a commitment to conduct a review of railway service commencing within 30 days after the passage of this bill. This is something all of the stakeholders want and is an extremely important initiative to shippers.

Bill C-8 and the review of the railway services are major initiatives to address complaints. I thank honourable senators for dealing with Bill C-8 so quickly. I also thank the officials, shippers and other industry stakeholders. Their efforts have paid off. We have an excellent piece of legislation that has support from industry and all parties in Parliament. Let us get on with the implementation.

Hon. Rod A. A. Zimmer: Honourable senators, as critic of this bill, I am pleased to stand in support of Bill C-8, an Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act. In a speech that I delivered on February 12, I explained the events that led to Bill C-8 in its current form. I also spoke of the tremendous consensus that exists in both Houses as well as between shippers and railways to pass the legislation as is, as quickly as possible.

While it is easy to become caught up in the urgency to pass a long-overdue bill before a potential election is called, it is our place as members of the upper chamber to reflect on the significance of this bill and its role in modernizing the relationship between shippers and railways. This bill is motivated by recommendations contained in a report called Vision and Balance, issued on July 18, 2001, by the panel conducting the statutory review of the Canada Transportation Act.

Yesterday, Senator Dawson told us that four transportation ministers had made various attempts to implement its recommendations. In that same 6.5-year interval, 34 new senators, including myself, have taken their seats in this chamber. As well, there have been five new members of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. The clock does not restart with the 2001 CTA review panel. It began with section 53(1) of the Canada Transportation Act of 1996 that requires a statutory review.

Thus, the issues that provoked the recommendations of the 2001 CTA review panel were mature and well known when stakeholders raised them with review panel members. In practical terms, the evolution from ideas to legislation that marks the passage of Bill C-8 is nearly 12 years, not just 6.5.

That it has taken so long to implement these recommendations speaks, perhaps, to the difficulty of trying to get railways and shippers on the same page. It is rather like getting foxes and chickens to agree on common practices while not consuming each other. However, as difficult as it might seem, it is precisely this agreement which is the basis of Bill C-8.

As the opposition critic of this bill, I found little to criticize. I confirm the total support of this bill. For my own peace of mind, I have personally called shippers and a former colleague who is now a vice-president of Canadian National Railways. Both parties were in favour of the quick passage of Bill C-8 as written. No one is opposed. The bill before us now is a compromise, supported by every party in the House. It is a modernization of the relationship between shippers and railways that is supported by both.

It is a bill that had a gestation period of over five years and a maturation period of 6.5. Like fine wine, its time has come.

I invite honourable senators to enthusiastically support quick passage of this bill and to realize that, in doing so, we are partaking in a long-overdue process that will influence the history of relations between shippers and railways.

Finally, honourable senators, I take this opportunity to thank Senator Bacon, Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, for her vision, guidance, wisdom and her fair treatment of all members of the committee. She ensured that members of the committee fulfilled our responsibility of due diligence and scrutiny. In turn, she ensured the constitutional process was followed and that proper balance was maintained between not unduly delaying the process while adhering to the urgency of this bill.

I thank Senator Oliver, the deputy chair, and all the members of the committee for their wisdom, contribution and cooperation to this legislation which will benefit all the citizens of this country whom we are all so proud to serve.