Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the committee for asking me to appear so quickly after the release of the report by Minister Cannon. I take this as a signal that the committee, in a non-partisan way, wants to focus on improvements to railway safety, and I think that's an important signal to send to the people of Canada, the Government of Canada, the regulator--Transport Canada--and the railway industry.
I don't believe in long remarks, either as an opposition member of Parliament or as a member of government or as a minister. I prepared these remarks myself, and I guess I spent a little more time on preparing them than I did on measuring the time. So if you'll bear with me, I'll scoot through them.
I want to point out that we submitted an advance copy of our report to the minister on November 30. Once the report was submitted, I turned to other things that I had put aside in order to complete the report, such as my law practice and my responsibilities as a bencher. Three months later, I came back to take a fresh look at the report and to say what I think is the most important theme that we came upon. I think the most important theme for everybody is how we improve the safety culture of the Canadian railway industry from the standpoint of the regulator, the industry, and the public.
I used the old formula of who, what, where, when, why, how. I switched it around a little bit, and I dealt with the “what” first: an improved safety culture in the Canadian railway system from the standpoint of the regulator, the industry, and the public. Then I deal with why, when, where, and who, and I'll take you through the report with the how.
First of all, there's no question the Canadian railway industry is vital to the Canadian economy. In a country as vast as ours we have to export product to international markets and import product to consumers in Canada and the U.S. as quickly and as efficiently as possible. At the same time, we have to do it safely. Why safely? Because we care about the people running our railway operations and the people affected by accidents; because we care about environmental problems that can occur when things go wrong; and lastly, for purely business reasons, because a safe operation, as everyone knows, is an efficient, effective, and more profitable operation.
Building a railway safety culture is something that involves everybody--the regulator, the industry, the public. We should want it to happen as soon as possible, but it doesn't happen overnight. We're fortunate that we're building on a solid base that the regulator and the industry have worked at for several years. We're not starting from scratch and we're not dealing with a disaster. We sought the figures out. The Canadian railway safety record compares favourably with comparable railways in the United States. That's of comfort today, but we want to lead the U.S. tomorrow. What do we have to do to lead them? It's not good enough to just say that we lead them today, so let's just sit still.
Railways in Canada operate in all sorts of places, from ports to mountains to prairies to forests, in urban and rural settings. Terrain and weather conditions are always changing. These are the factors that challenge the maintenance and improvement of the Canadian railway safety culture.
As well, we have multi-jurisdictional issues that you don't have in a place like the United Kingdom, for example. We have a federally regulated railway, and we have the provinces and municipalities with responsibilities with respect to proximity issues. They can't advocate those responsibilities by simply saying it's the feds who run the railways.
Improving the Canadian railway safety culture involves the Canadian people as interested observers, Transport Canada and related government agencies, the industry, and the Government of Canada as the source of the resources for the regulator. Everybody has a role to play.
Now I'm going to deal with the “how”, and I'm going to refer to the chapters in the report, if I may.
The first is the state of railway safety in Canada. As we stated in the report, both CN and CP have lower accidents than comparable U.S.-based operators. We're pleased to learn that crossing accidents in Canada have shown a clear downward trend since 1989. We attributed that to outreach programs undertaken by Transport Canada, the railways, their employees, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and other interested parties.
But main track derailments and non-main track accidents—yards and spurs—are of concern to us. While everybody relates to the transport of dangerous goods, and the actual transportation of dangerous goods has risen 60%, accidents and incidents have declined considerably, according to TSB statistics. Furthermore—and this is really interesting—only 12% of the accidents occur when the dangerous goods are moving. To us, that said we have to pay a little more attention to what's happening when the dangerous goods are stationary.
Governance issues, whether or not they are labeled as such, are at the heart of many of the concerns and frustrations brought to our attention as a panel. Concern was expressed about inconsistencies from region to region in Canada, both in Transport Canada's oversight and in railway operations. This must be addressed if we are to have a seamless safety culture throughout the country. A rigorous, structured consultation process is an effective tool that would provide transparency and build confidence among all participants. You will note that the report addresses consultation issues extensively.
On the regulatory framework, the basic principle that has evolved over the last 20 to 30 years is that the railway companies must be responsible and accountable for the safety of their own operations, and the regulator, Transport Canada, must retain the power to protect people, property, and the environment, by assuring that the railways operate safely within a national framework.
Regulations that are produced and promulgated by the Government of Canada have a role to play, but the railway industry has regulations and rules. The rules are developed for an individual railway or railway companies and are approved by the minister, but we found there has to be a more clear, transparent method of developing the rules in order to avoid confusion and frustration. We suggested a regulation that governs the way rules are developed.
There's a term out there called a “certificate of fitness”. We feel it's a misnomer. The panel doesn't feel that simply by demonstrating financial stability and presenting an insurance policy and an SMS system for Transport Canada to review should qualify a railway to operate. We feel we should dealing with a rail operating certificate. We described it in the report. What it would mean is that the railway companies would have to meet baseline safety requirements in advance of operating, and that would be a condition of receiving a certificate of fitness.
Safety management systems, as you can imagine, took up a great bit of time of the panel. We support the SMS system and concept. We heard from companies with strong functional SMS, such as Air Transat, and we are convinced that this is the right approach.
Nobody has done a perfect job either of explaining to employees how safety management systems are supposed to work or making the SMS work for those involved. The whole concept of safety management systems was meant to shift management thinking to hazard identification, risk assessment, mitigation and monitoring, and away from a rules-driven approach. They were not intended to replace any existing regulations, rules, or standards, but to develop a more comprehensive way of managing safety. They didn't mean deregulation or industry self-regulation.
The railway industry has failed to achieve the maximum buy-in from the people most directly concerned about the safety of the industry, namely the employees on the front line. Similarly, Transport Canada has failed to maximize this new approach due to inconsistent implementation across the various regions and insufficient resources. The cornerstone of an effective SMS system is an effective safety culture.
The media has made reference to the panel's comparison of VIA, CP, and CN. I stand by our comments. We do not believe that you instill a safety culture through a strict, rules-based system that lays blame on employees for errors or failures, but fails to recognize the management influences or organizational situations that may be contributing to those errors or failures.
The most important person involved in an SMS is not the person who looks at it after it's been devised. The most important person involved in an SMS is the person who is at risk and participates in the risk assessment and mitigation measures. Everybody in a company then makes it work. Both functions go hand in hand, but it all has to start at the base level.
At the same time, Transport Canada has to shift its emphasis to monitoring the railway's performance rather than inspecting. The railways need to implement effective SMS systems and demonstrate to Transport Canada that they are effective. Effective SMS systems monitored effectively by Transport Canada will contribute considerably to an improved safety culture.
Reliable information is central to risk management and planning effective regulatory oversight. In this way, safety advancement becomes possible. I'm going to boil this down quickly. We want Transport Canada to be in a position to collect and use the information necessary to improve safety in a proactive manner as soon as possible. That means they control what information is collected, analyze it, and disseminate it.
This is in no way a criticism of the Transportation Safety Board. We didn't hear any indication throughout the piece that their investigations are anything but first class. But their focus is on collecting information after accidents, and in that case it's reactionary. We want Transport Canada to have more information faster. Our suggested approach would also provide a single reporting window for industry. Information should be used to prevent accidents rather than simply report on them.
Proximity issues are dealt with in the report. Everybody has a role to play in contributing to a better safety culture with respect to railway crossing accidents. Public education by Transport Canada, the railways, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and others have reduced accidents and fatalities. Funding safety improvements at crossings has also had a positive impact on safety. Whether stakeholder initiated or funded through Transport Canada's grade-crossing improvement program, continual safety improvements at crossings are important. The split jurisdiction between municipal-provincial land use planning and railway operations has led to problems that must be addressed.
On environmental protection and response, the public has a heightened interest in environmental concerns. They're more apt to view the effectiveness of the safety culture surrounding the railway system with how effectively it protects the environment. That's an important point of view.
We're satisfied that efforts have been made to improve response to environmental disasters. However, we should learn from those disasters, such as at Lake Wabamun. That disaster didn't involve a dangerous good, but it did considerable damage to Lake Wabamun.
We suggest we look beyond dangerous goods and take a look at environmentally hazardous goods. One of our recommendations is to develop a standard emergency response protocol. We're also concerned about environmental problems on the horizon with spills over a long time in rail yards.
Concerning operational Issues, I have to tell you there would be nothing worse than a panel comprised of two lawyers and a management consultant and one guy who knew something about railways coming back to you and saying, here are the following operational issues that we've solved. So we didn't get into that, but we touched on some of them with a view to identifying problems.
We are convinced that the operational issue that affects an effective Canadian safety culture the most is fatigue management. The issue cries out for an effective solution or for addressing solutions fast. It's been around far too long. There are new and innovative ways of assessing the factors surrounding the issue, such as rules, fatigue plans, and collective agreements. Finding and working on more effective solutions is crucial, and we would urge the regulator, the industry, and the unions to work collectively on this issue.
We looked at scientific and technological innovation. The railway industry has made great strides in adopting new and innovative technologies, focusing on infrastructure and equipment to improve safety, but there's room for more innovation. If our safety culture is to keep pace with the times and improve, the government must create an environment that is conducive to assessing and implementing new policies.
The government, under resources, also has to provide more financial support to the regulator. In our opinion, the regulator is doing an incredible job with the resources provided, but over the years has not been given sufficient jobs to advance railway safety.
I say this as a former member of Parliament and a former Minister of Transport: I think we have to zero in on the Minister of Finance. He probably won't be pleased to hear that, but I mean it; it has to be in the ministry. We have to demonstrate the importance of the railway industry to the Canadian economy and of the government revenues, direct and indirect, that are flowing from the railways, and give Transport Canada the funds.
The most important element that the panel dealt with that affects the safety culture is relationships. Railways are responsible for the safety of their operations; Transport Canada is responsible for a safe national transportation system. This requires a recognition of the roles and a collaborative approach.
The regulator and the industry simply have to try harder to build a better working relationship to improve the safety culture. Openness, transparency, and accountability are key elements in building that better working relationship.
Let me conclude.
Our panel spent six months travelling across Canada, listening, watching, asking, and probing people in the Canadian railway system. We started out with a common purpose: none of us wanted to spend a lot of time compiling a report that was put on a shelf; we wanted to produce something that was meaningful and useful.
So we did something different. After we decided on our recommendations and grouped them in a manner in which they appear in the report, we set up a validation exercise. Shortly after Labour Day, we fanned out across the country and sat down with the major stakeholders: Transport Canada, the TSB, provincial officials, the railways, the unions, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. We gave them a copy of our recommendations—just the recommendations, as they appear at the back of the report. We said, read them. We sat there and they read them. Then we retrieved the copy. We asked them if there were any recommendations that they thought were over the top or that wouldn't fly.
We then reconvened in Ottawa and discussed what we had heard as a panel. There were no recommendations that were abandoned because they were over the top or wouldn't fly; a few were tweaked.
That validation process assisted us in directing a narrative that explained the recommendations and how we came to them. We were able to submit the report on the deadline of the end of the fall. We put it in on November 30.
I have to say that I've been involved with the committee process for several years in various venues. I feel I was fortunate to have been involved in what I think is such a productive report.
Someone in Transport Canada or the Prime Minister's Office found four individuals from different backgrounds who got along famously. We had Sheila, and Tim Meisner, our executive director, who put together a terrific staff. We had cooperation from everyone. It was clear that improving safety was a common goal. We were well received and briefed, and we had fulsome discussions. As a result, I think we have come up with a report that will enhance the safety culture of the Canadian railway system.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman, for your patience.
I am ready to take any questions.
Thank you, to all three of you, for appearing before us today.
As is often the case, I want to correct the statements made by Mr. Julian. I can assure you that the large majority of witnesses who appeared before us on the amendments to the Aeronautics Act strongly supported SMS. The aviation industry has embraced SMS in a way that perhaps the railway system has not. In fact, the only ones who spoke against it were the inspection unions. Even Judge Moshansky grudgingly confirmed that when implemented properly, SMS considerably enhances public safety.
I'd like to refer to page 67 of the report. For me, this was perhaps the most shocking aspect as it relates to SMS.
You make the statement, and I quote:
||Railway employees largely had less to say because many told us they were unaware of SMS or had not been trained in its objectives.
I would suggest that the employees' buy-in to SMS is perhaps the most critical component of making sure SMS works. And here you have employees saying they're not aware of it, and if they're aware of it, they don't know what it means; they don't know the details of it. That's perhaps one of the failings within our railway system in Canada, that SMS isn't actually working.
I want to also refer you to a number of other comments that were made, which has to do with the culture of fear that has developed within some of our railway companies. You make the statement, on page 70, and I quote:
||With some exceptions, employees recounted a culture based on fear and discipline.
That was with reference to CN.
On page 71, I quote again:
||The Panel sees such an over-reliance as a culture where strict adherence to rules is achieved primarily through discipline or a threat of potential discipline. Disciplinary cultures have a tendency to instil fear, and to stifle employee participation and reporting.
To me, that's the critical component of making sure that SMS works. If the front-line employees, who are identifying risks within the system, aren't buying in and they are afraid of discipline, it's not going to work.
I did notice that your recommendation 18, says, “Transport Canada...and the railway industry must take specific measures to attain an effective safety culture.” But you're not specific on how to achieve that. The aviation industry has fully embraced this notion of immunity for employees when they self-report risks. You reference that in your narrative when you referred to Air Transat, but you don't make that part of your recommendation.
Is that something you would consider adding to the recommendations, that there be some kind of immunity process to ensure that employees can get rid of that fear of being disciplined for reporting risks within their sphere of operation?