Chair and CEO Scott Streiner addresses the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on October 18, 2016
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Canada is a nation born of transportation and trade. The development of its cities, ports and railways is inextricably linked. Nowhere is this more true than in Vancouver, whose unique location at the intersection of the Strait of Georgia, Fraser River, Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound made it a place of meeting and commerce for the Indigenous nations that thrived here for millennia prior to the arrival of explorers and settlers from Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
In the 200 or so years that have passed since George Vancouver sailed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Simon Fraser travelled down the river that now bears his name, Vancouver's emergence as one of the great cities – not just of Canada, but of the world – has had much to do with both its natural advantages as a harbour and the establishment of the transcontinental railway that ends here. Even today, when the city has become a hub of the film and IT industries, transportation has remained the foundation of its success, and indeed, of the success of the country as a whole. That will become truer still, as we make our way ever further into this Pacific century.
The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade's 129-year history reflects these realities. Your first two Chairs, David Oppenheimer and the inimitably named Ebenezer Vining Bodwell, both played important roles in the construction of the BC portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. And your current Chair, Robin Silvester, is of course President and CEO of the Port of Vancouver. Throughout its history, the Board has worked to make sure goods and people move as quickly and smoothly as possible within and through this region.
That is also a key objective of the Canadian Transportation Agency, which I am privileged to lead. The Agency was created in 1904 as the Board of Railway Commissioners, rendered its first BC decision two years later in a case involving rates for freight rail and is Canada's longest-standing independent regulatory and adjudicative body.
The importance of – and challenges facing – the transportation system
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, BC's and Vancouver's prosperity.
- Over $1.7 trillion of the national economy was tied to the transportation system.
- Canadian port authorities contributed over $25 billion to Canada's GDP.
- The Port of Vancouver handled some $200 billion in goods, making it Canada's largest by a wide margin.
- Over 133 million passengers got on and off planes in Canada, including 20 million at YVR, Canada's second-busiest airport.
- 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.
But as deep as the transportation system’s roots 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 – and their ability to make their voices heard through social media – have risen.
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.
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. As many of you know, Vancouver's own 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.
Many of you will recall the winter of 2013-2014, which witnessed two significant dramas in the national transportation system. The first involved trucking at the Port of Vancouver and threatened to significantly slow the movement of goods through Canada's most important gateway. The second involved a 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 past 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've issued annotated Rules for Agency proceedings and are 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 here 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 emphasizing that my remarks today are not intended to be a one-time event. No, this is not a threat of another speech! Rather, it's meant to convey the Agency's commitment to engagement and dialogue. We have an important job to do and we do it best when we understand what's happening on the ground where you live and work.
Ours is a vast country. A flight from Vancouver to St. John's covers twice the distance of a flight from London to Moscow. 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.
The Agency is ready to do its part. I would welcome your feedback on how we can do so most effectively.