Chair and CEO Scott Streiner addresses the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on October 19, 2016
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Canada is a country born of transportation and trade. Indigenous nations migrated and engaged in commerce along the country's rivers and lakes long before the arrival of the first explorers and settlers from Europe. And the population and economic growth of the Prairie provinces were directly linked to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway which is, of course, still headquartered here in Calgary.
As a recent story in the Calgary Herald noted, "from the moment that the first spikes were driven, the rails have been an economic lifeline for Calgary."
But the fact that the fortunes of the railway companies, Prairie shippers and businesses, and the Calgary region have long been deeply intertwined doesn’t mean their relationships are without tensions.
One of Calgary's legendary figures, Bob Edwards, wrote frequently about these tensions. Now, citing Edwards is not without some risk. As you know, he was a witty and savage satirist, and he did not have much good to say about government. But of course, some might suggest that if Calgary were a nation-state, a healthy degree of skepticism about the role of the state would be written into its citizenship oath!
In 1905, Edwards raised his voice against dangers of railway crossings. He even engaged in a libel battle with CPR's lawyer at the time, R.B. Bennett – who later became prime minister and even managed to get back into Edwards good books.
A year later, Edwards was at it again, this time with a sarcastic nod towards future employment prospects: "If we can only keep up slinging a nasty pen and terrifying the government into hysterics, we may yet be offered a job on the railway commission." Edwards kept up the criticism, but he never got the job.
Edward's newspaper, the Eye Opener, was a national magazine at the time, so it is no stretch to imagine his comments were read in Ottawa by the new Board of Railway Commissioners. The Board had been set up in 1904 to deal with a variety of railway rate and infrastructure issues.
The Board evolved over time into the organization I now lead. At 112 years, we are the country's longest standing independent regulatory and adjudicative body.
I'll return a little later to some of the steps the Agency is taking to ensure that its services remain relevant and effective in the face of contemporary challenges. But first, a few numbers that underscore just how vital the transportation system is to Canada's, Alberta's, and Calgary's prosperity. In 2015:
- Over $1.7 trillion of the national economy was tied to the transportation system.
- Close to 300 million metric tonnes of commodities were shipped by rail, including 54 million tonnes of iron ore, 42 million tonnes of wheat and other grains, 27 million tonnes of oil and coal, and 26 million tonnes of wood.
- Over 133 million passengers got on and off planes in Canada. Of these, almost 15 million enplaned and deplaned in Calgary, putting it neck and neck with Montréal for the title of Canada's third-busiest airport.
But as deep as the roots of the transportation system are, and as complex and important as the system is, it's facing major challenges:
- The globalization of trade and travel provides opportunities for growth – and constant pressure on both transportation providers and shippers to find efficiencies.
- Increased shipping volumes are creating pressure on existing infrastructure at a time when urban development and environmental concerns make expansion of that infrastructure ever more difficult.
- The emergence of new technologies and precision logistics are transforming how transportation companies are run and their services bought – allowing for increased automation, faster movement, shorter turnaround times, and greener operations.
- The expectations of travellers, shippers, and communities have risen, and a century after Bob Edwards used a printing press to advance his agenda, everyone has a social media equivalent of the Eye Opener to help them do so.
The Agency's role – and responses to change
These changes, by and large, are for the better – but they require adaptation. Railway companies and ports have to adapt. Airlines and airports have to adapt. Manufacturers and miners and farmers have to adapt. Retailers and shippers have to adapt.
And so do bodies like the Agency – which, after all, is a means to public policy goals, not an end in itself. The Agency is paid by the people of Canada to deliver three core mandates:
- We have an economic mandate to help keep the transportation system running efficiently and smoothly in the interests of everyone: its workers and investors, the shippers and other businesses that rely on it, the communities where it operates, and the national economy and social fabric.
- We have a human rights mandate to protect the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to accessible transportation.
- We have a consumer protection mandate to ensure that appropriate steps are taken when air travellers experience disruptions to their trips.
The Agency has three broad sets of tools at its disposal to discharge these responsibilities:
- We set and enforce rules of the game, to help create a level playing field and advance goals that market forces alone cannot produce, such as accessible transportation services and facilities.
- We resolve disputes between transportation service providers and their customers.
- We share information on the transportation system, the rights and responsibilities of transportation service providers and users, and our own services.
Alongside these mandates and tools, we have some important strengths as an institution, including deep subject-matter expertise and an abiding commitment to impartiality and evidence-based decision making. Back in 1914, the Calgary Herald praised the Board of Railway Commissioners for "the great advantage of having a permanent Board of experts on the job." I am pleased to say the Agency still has that great advantage.
But like your organizations, the Agency has to evolve to keep pace with changing conditions. It needs to be agile, engaged, and innovative. It requires up-to-date approaches that draw on the experience of tribunals and regulators from across Canada and around the world. It has to reach out to stakeholders, and Canadians in general, through the full range of channels people now use to communicate.
In short, we need to combine the competence and professionalism that come from 112 years in the business with the creativity and dynamism that 2016 demands.
Potential legislative change
In part, keeping pace may mean legislative change. David Emerson led an 18-month review of the Canada Transportation Act and submitted recommendations to the Minister of Transport late last year. What to do with those recommendations will be a decision for Minister Garneau – who undertook consultations through the spring and summer – along with his colleagues around the Cabinet table and, ultimately, Parliament.
The Agency believes proposals aimed at giving it modern tools to do its job are worth serious consideration. These include the ability to initiate inquiries on its own motion where there are reasonable grounds to believe an issue may exist, and the authority to issue general orders where a systemic problem is found. More broadly, the Agency is always ready to provide ministers and parliamentarians with whatever information or analysis would be helpful as they weigh legislative options.
Even as amendments to legislation are being considered, the Agency is taking action to ensure that it does its job as efficiently and effectively as possible. I'd like to take a few minutes to walk you through some of those actions.
Reorganization and business process streamlining
Last April, we put in place a new organizational structure that helped us reinforce capacity in key areas, improve internal synergies, and direct more resources to delivery. Together with a major exercise to review and streamline our business processes, these organizational changes will help us respond to growing demands and provide quick, accessible service to Canadians.
Last May, we launched a major initiative to modernize the full suite of regulations that the Agency administers.
Many of these regulations date back 20 or 25 years and have failed to keep up with changes in business models, user expectations, and best practices in the regulatory field. An update is overdue.
The Regulatory Modernization Initiative has three goals:
- Ensuring industry’s obligations are clear, predictable, and relevant to a range of existing and emerging business practices.
- Ensuring the demands associated with compliance are only as high as necessary to achieve the regulations’ purposes.
- Facilitating efficient and effective identification and correction of instances of non-compliance.
As it considers how best to achieve these goals, the Agency wants to hear from stakeholders, experts, and the general public. So it has initiated consultations that will use everything from traditional written submissions to crowdsourcing. These consultations will proceed through four stages. The first, now under way, covers accessibility. The second, which will start soon, will look at air licensing. The third and fourth, which will begin by early 2017, will deal with consumer protection for air travellers and with railway regulations. Our plan is to complete consultations by next summer, draft modernized regulations before the end of 2017, and move those regulations through approvals and into implementation in 2018.
This is an ambitious but achievable timetable. I encourage all of you to have a look at our discussion papers as they're released and give us your feedback. A modern regulatory framework, no less than modern legislation, is critical to the success of the national transportation system.
Improving dispute resolution processes
This brings me to our latest set of measures aimed at strengthening service delivery and overall performance: improvements to dispute resolution processes.
It's neither surprising nor inherently problematic that disagreements arise between transportation service providers, customers, and communities. The problem is when frictions build up to the point of generating so much heat that they can result in a meltdown.
Our friend, Bob Edwards, was a keen promoter of Western interests and insisted in the Eye Opener that the Board of Railway Commission address the burden of excessive freight rates in Western Canada.
Fast forward 100 years.
Many of you will recall the transportation drama during the winter of 2013-2014, with its record-breaking grain harvest, difficult weather conditions, noisy public sparring between grain shippers and railway companies, and the passage of special legislation by Parliament.
The Agency's job is to reduce frictions in the system by offering fair, effective recourse mechanisms, helping parties work towards mutually-acceptable settlements, and where that isn't possible, making binding decisions.
The sorts of transportation-related disputes we have a mandate to resolve cover a wide spectrum and include:
- Disagreements between railway companies and shippers over freight rates and levels of service.
- Conflicts over the establishment of railway crossings.
- Complaints about noise and vibration coming from railway operations.
- Disputes over the fees charged by ports or pilotage authorities.
- Complaints from persons with disabilities about the accessibility of airports, planes, passenger rail cars, train stations, or cruise and ferry terminals and ships.
- Complaints from air travellers about issues like bumping and lost luggage.
To deal with disputes, the Agency can use:
- informal facilitation;
- interest-based arbitration for conflicts between railway companies and shippers over service contracts;
- final offer arbitration for conflicts between shippers and any rail, air, or marine carrier over rates; and,
- formal adjudication, where the Agency functions like, and has the powers of, a court of law.
Informal methods like facilitation and mediation have real advantages. They allow parties to better understand each other’s perspectives, search for common ground, and test possible solutions – and as a result, they typically cost less, take less time, and do more to preserve relationships than arbitration and adjudication. That said, some cases are so complicated or contentious – or raise such fundamental questions of principle – that formal, binding approaches are more appropriate.
We have a good track record. The vast majority of air traveller complaints, for example, are resolved through facilitation. Our confidential mediation discussions often produce settlements. And our adjudicative decisions are well-reasoned and carefully-written. But we also know that there are some issues. Those for whom the remedies exist don't always know the Agency is there to help. When they do come to us, it can sometimes feel like files get stuck in the queue for too long. And when cases enter the more formal processes of arbitration and adjudication, there's concern about the cost and time required to get to an outcome.
We're taking concrete steps to address these issues.
First, we're working to raise awareness of the Agency's roles and make it easier to access our services. That's part of the reason I'm here today, and it's why my colleagues and I have met with a large number of industry and stakeholder groups over the last year. We've also produced a series of videos on the rights and responsibilities of air travellers and airlines, which have been posted on our website and YouTube page and are playing on airport screens across the country. We're undertaking a plain language review of all our guidance material. And we're putting user-friendly forms on our website, to make the process of submitting an application more straightforward.
Second, as part of the reorganization I mentioned earlier, we've created two specialized units to offer alternative dispute resolution services for rail and marine disputes and air and accessibility disputes – and we're sending mediators into the field for some close-up learning about those sectors. Ensuring appropriate levels of specialization among our mediators, particularly for complex rail cases, is something that stakeholders have been asking for and that the CTA Review recommended.
Third, we've eliminated a backlog of 200 complaints awaiting facilitation and, going forward, will introduce firm timelines for all dispute resolution processes. Each time a facilitator or mediator takes on a case, there will be a deadline – normally 30 calendar days – by which the dispute must either be resolved or moved along to more formal processes, unless discussions are making progress and the parties jointly request an extension.
Fourth, Agency experts will be available to provide increased levels of technical assistance to arbitrators appointed to deal with disputes between shippers and carriers over rates or service levels. This assistance will help reduce the cost and complexity of arbitration applications.
Fifth, the Agency will implement an expedited process for adjudicating relatively straightforward disputes, including many of those between air travellers and airlines. And for more complex files, it will convene early case management calls with the parties, which will allow for common understandings around matters like timelines and the length of written submissions to the Agency.
Finally, after a nine-year hiatus, the Agency is returning to oral hearings for selected cases. In fact, just last Thursday and Friday, we held our first oral hearing on a case involving a shipper and a railway company in Vancouver. Oral hearings are more efficient than paper submissions alone when competing arguments and evidence need to be tested. Oral hearings also enhance the transparency and public awareness of recourse processes administered by the Agency.
The Agency is confident that the steps I've described today will help make our dispute-resolution services better-known, more accessible, and more timely.
Let me conclude by citing Bob Edwards one last time: “All the speculation in the world never raised a bushel of wheat.” What he is reminding us of here is the importance of accompanying talk with action.
The Agency is committed to concrete action. And it is committed to making sure that this action is underpinned by a sound understanding of what is happening on the ground, where you live and work – understanding that comes through engagement and dialogue.
Ours is a vast country. A flight from Calgary to St. John's covers twice the distance of a flight from London to Kiev. Ours is a country blessed with natural resources, agricultural products, and manufactured goods that the world wants – and that we need to get to market to maintain our prosperity. And ours is a diverse country with a population that has roots in every corner of the globe. For all these reasons, transportation has been at the heart of Canada's success, and it is incumbent on all of us to help ensure that the national transportation system continues to function effectively in the years and decades to come to the benefit of Calgarians, Albertans and the country as a whole.
The Agency is ready to do its part. I would welcome your feedback on how we can do so most effectively.