moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present to you today for second reading Bill .
I believe this is the first time I have ever had the honour of presenting a bill that is as finely crafted, broadly applauded and widely supported as Bill S-4.
This legislation has been in development for more than three years, with constant consultation and input from all levels of government, industry and labour stakeholders. It has also been commented on by witnesses, dissected clause by clause by standing committees on two separate occasions, and approved unanimously by all parties both times.
Clearly, the debate is over. It is now time to pass this important bill as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of Canadians.
Bill is clearly a progressive and forward-looking bill, and the amendments it contains will mean better safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, better protection for our fragile environment, and a stronger Canadian rail industry in a stronger national economy.
All of these things are priorities for our government, and I believe that they are priorities for all members in the House.
There is nothing more important than the safety and prosperity of Canadians.
As many members may know, the bill has quite a bit of history. For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, which originated at the turn of the century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for an older era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open up new territories to encourage settlement.
In 1989, the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of the national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in recent years. The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport, to be administered by Transport Canada where the responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides.
Following a review of the Railway Safety Act in 1994, the act was amended in 1999 to further improve the legislation and to make the railway system even safer. Those amendments were designed to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system. They were also designed to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely and to give the general public and interested parties a greater say on issues of railway safety.
These changes were commendable, but there was a problem. A number of high-profile train derailments in 2005 and 2006 across the country—in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and in other provinces—resulted in fatalities, serious injuries, significant environmental damage and negative economic impacts for railways and communities.
These tragic accidents caused concern for the public and the government and focused national attention on rail safety. They also provided the impetus, in part, for the Minister of Transport to launch a full review of the Railway Safety Act in 2007. The objective of the review was to identify possible gaps in the act and to make recommendations to further strengthen the regulatory regime.
The seriousness of those derailments also provided the incentive for the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to begin its own railway safety study. The Railway Safety Act review was led by an independent panel of experts who commissioned research and held extensive public consultations across the country. Interest in the consultations was high and all key stakeholders participated, including railway companies and associations, labour organizations, national associations, other levels of government, municipalities and the public.
The panel's final report, “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, was tabled in the House by the Minister of Transport in March 2008. In the report, the panellists noted that although the Railway Safety Act and its principles are fundamentally sound, more work is needed and a number of legislative improvements are required. The report contained 56 recommendations to improve railway safety in Canada.
The standing committee, which also conducted extensive stakeholder consultations, accepted the panel's recommendations and tabled its own report in the House in May 2008. The committee's report also made 14 recommendations, many of which built on those that came from the Railway Safety Act review.
The authors of both reports identified the main areas that required improvement and recommended increasing Transport Canada's resources in order to increase its ability to monitor compliance and enforce the legislation and take new rail safety initiatives.
Transport Canada agrees with the recommendations made in both reports and has taken steps to implement them through a variety of government-industry-union initiatives and through these proposed legislative amendments to the Railway Safety Act, which are required to address key recommendations and enable many safety initiatives.
In fact, Transport Canada took action to address these concerns almost immediately after receiving them.
In March 2008, following the publication of the report on the review of the Railway Safety Act, we established the Advisory Council on Railway Safety in order to get the process of consultation started again and to consider future directions in railway safety, the development of rules, regulation, policies and other matters of concern. The advisory council is made up of representatives of the main stakeholder groups, including Transport Canada, railway companies such as CN, CP and VIA, short line and commuter rail companies, the Railway Association of Canada, shippers, suppliers, other levels of government, and unions. The council has met three or four times per year since it was established, in order to work collaboratively on the strategic matters of railway safety that were raised in the report.
Additionally, working with the railways and the major unions, Transport Canada has established a steering committee, made up of representatives of Transport Canada, the industry and the unions, to oversee the development of action plans for implementing the recommendations in the report on the Railway Safety Act review and the report on the study conducted by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The committee has been supported by six technical working groups in addressing ways in which to implement the recommendations of concern not only to the regulatory body, but also to the industry and the unions, and in keeping the ACRS informed of their progress.
These joint technical working groups included teams devoted to the rule making process, safety management systems, information collection and analysis, proximity and operations, environment and new safety technologies. Together, those groups were assigned 24 recommendations by the steering committee. All of them have completed their work. Their recommendations have been, or are being, implemented. In addition to the work of these groups, Transport Canada implemented eight internal recommendations. Industry implemented three recommendations that pertained to the companies. The final 21 recommendations are related to legislative changes which we are discussing today. In short, these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are the final component of a well-orchestrated and well-funded drive to make our railways safer.
In budget 2009, the government affirmed its commitment to a safe, reliable transportation system by earmarking $72 million over five years to implement important rail safety measures and legislative initiatives. These amendments to the Railway Safety Act that we see before us today are the fruit of that commitment. This initiative also shows how important these amendments are to the government, and it reflects the government's commitment to seeing these amendments implemented as soon as possible so that Canada can reap the benefits from them immediately.
In March 2010, the government introduced Bill , An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act. It contained essentially the same range of changes as the bill before us today does. Bill C-33, which all the parties in the House supported, was considered in detail by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and then approved unanimously by all hon. members after some minor changes were made.
Unfortunately, Bill died on the order paper after many consultations, analyses and a very favourable reception, because the opposition chose an unnecessary election over the safety of Canadians. Knowing how important these essential amendments are with regard to safety, we reintroduced the same bill in the Senate, with the changes that everyone had agreed on.
Since then, a number of witnesses representing stakeholders have expressed their views and the bill has been reviewed and discussed at length in the standing committee of the other place. I am very pleased to say that the Senate committee, like ours, unanimously approved the bill with a slight change that was essentially administrative in nature.
There is clearly a lot of support for this bill from all parties. There have been thorough consultations over several years. The bill has been agreed upon in its various formats by all key industry stakeholders, as well as members of both the House and the other place. It is our responsibility to end this long debate and expedite the passage of this important legislation for the benefit of all Canadians. The safer railways act is acknowledged as the blueprint for the future of rail safety in this country. It would directly address the safety challenges that have been identified by two national reviews with innovative legislative solutions that would help make our railways and communities safer for years to come.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to highlight some of the key amendments included in Bill . Each one is an important part of a comprehensive safety package.
In accordance with the recommendations arising from the Railway Safety Act review and the study by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the amendments under review will improve Transport Canada's oversight capacity by conferring on the Governor in Council the authority to require railway companies to obtain a railway operating certificate, attesting that they have met basic safety requirements, before commencing their activities.
The operating certificate, which will demonstrate that the company complies with baseline safety requirements, will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction. Existing companies will have a two-year period from the coming into force of the amendments under review in which to meet the requirements for the certificate.
The amendments in Bill will also strengthen Transport Canada’s enforcement capacity in order to ensure better railway company compliance with safety rules and regulations. To that end, the department will apply monetary penalties to improve rail safety. The maximum amount of the penalties will be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.
The new act will also strengthen Transport Canada’s enforcement powers by increasing fines to levels consistent with those for other modes of transportation. Maximum fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would be $1 million for a corporation and $50,000 for an individual. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would be $500,000 for a corporation and $25,000 for an individual.
One of the most important benefits of Bill is the increased focus on the importance of safety management systems. As members may know, a safety management system is a formal framework for integrating safety into day-to-day railway operations. During the Railway Safety Act review, stakeholders were supportive of the SMS approach to safety, but some felt that improvements were required before SMS could be considered fully implemented.
The amendments we are discussing today address those concerns. For example, under Bill all railway companies would be required to appoint an accountable executive responsible for all matters of safety. The legislation would also require all railway companies to implement whistleblower protection so that employees felt encouraged to report safety violations without fear of reprimand.
Railway companies would also be required, through the auditing process, to demonstrate that they continuously manage risks related to safety matters through the use of safety management systems. Changes like these would encourage the growth of a true culture of safety at both the corporate and operating levels of railway companies.
I noted earlier that the Senate committee had unanimously approved this bill with one minor change related to safety reporting. Although this bill originally called for the development of a new safety reporting process with the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada, all parties agreed that a reporting system already exists—the Transportation Safety Board—so that clause was struck. The rest, as mentioned, was agreed on unchanged.
The Safer Railways Act is clearly a step forward in terms of oversight, enforcement and the implementation of a safety system in the industry. It also advances safety in the administrative area by clarifying the authority and responsibilities of the minister in respect of railway matters. For example, these amendments will clarify that the legislation applies to all companies operating on federal track and will ensure that those companies are subject to the same high safety standards.
Bill is about safety. It is also about protecting our environment. By expanding regulation-making authorities, this legislation will allow Transport Canada to request an environmental management plan from all railways for federal review.
It will also allow a requirement for increased environmental information collection and railway equipment labelling related to emissions. These amendments plus an additional amendment to provide regulatory authority to control and prevent fires on railway rights-of-way are critical to strengthening environmental protection in the industry.
And that is what the amendments to Bill are basically all about: better oversight tools to ensure safety; enhanced safety management systems to build a stronger rail safety culture; and additional authority to help protect our environment from unnecessary degradation.
It is hard to argue with the importance of these amendments. Railways are an integral part of our infrastructure now, and they will be so in the future. We need them to be strong. We need them to be dependable. And we need them to be safe. All Canadians can benefit from that.
We believe that these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are essential and timely. Bill modernizes the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry, and I believe that we can all agree to the important safety amendments contained in this bill both quickly and unanimously.
The bill is a step forward for Canadians, for safety and for the rail industry. With the agreement of the members today, we can take these steps together today, for a safe, reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system in Canada. The bill has been extensively debated over several years and has received wide support. I recommend that it be submitted to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for further discussion.
I urge all hon. members to give this important bill their unanimous support.
Mr. Speaker, with its far flung population centres, Canada has been compared to a string of beads and an island archipelago. This is as true today as it was 176 years ago when the first railway was built in our great country.
Railways are not just a means of transportation; they tie us together at a much deeper level. Without them, Confederation would not have been possible. One of the few things that the separate colonial governments could agree on when they founded our nation was the desire to be linked and to thrive through the railways.
The Maritimes only joined Confederation because the building of an intercolonial railway was promised. Likewise, British Columbia only acceded because it was promised it would be connected to the rest of the country through a transcontinental railway.
The fathers of Confederation grasped the immense importance of railways for such a vast and sparsely populated country. This is why Canadian governments in the past have been supportive and involved in railways since the inception of our nation.
Depending on the types and location of railway projects, different approaches were taken by the government. The Intercolonial Railway was built under direct government supervision. Other railway links were established because loans were underwritten by the state. The most famous and important of the nation shaping railway projects was the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was made possible by private and public funds, as well as through massive land grants in the Canadian Prairies. The railway, the longest in the world at the time, was completed in 1885 to great fanfare.
Creating a coast to coast railway connection was not only an economic imperative to string the provinces together, but it was also an act of nation building. The construction of railways created the economic basis for large parts of Canada. It also made our nation a diverse and striving one by bringing in immigrants from around the world as railway workers. Fifteen thousand Chinese workers built the most challenging and dangerous portion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Long after the transcontinental links were built, a strong sense of federal responsibility remained, especially when times were tough. When the economy was down and the supply of immigrants had dried up during World War I, the government salvaged the assets of the three railways and merged them to form the Canadian National Railway.
After World War II, the slow decline of passenger railway services began. The large duopolists did not have a serious interest in passenger lines, as they focused on freight. Again, the federal government acted to protect national interests. Instead of letting passenger services disappear altogether under private sector management, VIA Rail was established in 1978 to ensure that passenger services would continue to connect Canadian cities. Yes, it was important to celebrate that year.
Unfortunately, more recent federal governments have tended to ignore the vast potential that rail services, both for freight and passengers, hold for our great country. Under the Conservatives, railways were largely deregulated in 1987. Railway lines that were built to serve public needs with public money and land were now allowed to be abandoned by rail companies. As a result, Canada has lost over 10,000 kilometres in active rail lines since then, a loss of almost 20% of our rail network.
Another deliberate setback took place in 1995 when the Liberals and the Liberal government privatized the Canadian National Railway. In order to cash in on the coveted national asset, the government at the time sold CN on the stock market.
The benefits of railways are clear. Trains are substantially more fuel efficient than motor vehicles when it comes to moving passengers and cargo. By electrifying railway lines, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.
Despite the shortcomings of federal safety regulations, travelling by train is roughly five times safer than using a car and it is still the main mode of transportation for our Canadian goods, with 70% of all freight in our country shipped by rail. Rail lines provide crucial links to our southern neighbour and its important markets for Canadian companies around the world.
In large urban centres, commuting by rail is vital in getting millions of Canadians to their workplace every day. VIA Rail connects our country's most vibrant cities, carrying more than four million passengers a year, and it can do a lot more if it has government support.
Despite the impressive numbers, the picture is not so rosy. What used to be our nation's prime mode of transportation and springboard for our national aspirations have been relegated to a back-row seat. The changes that the advent of air travel and cars have brought about cannot be denied or reversed. However, we are foolish to believe that we are helpless and that the only modern way to move goods and people is through airports and highways. Railways can—
Mr. Speaker, railways can be competitive and highly successful commercially. CN, for example, made billions of dollars last year. It takes the right government mindset and political will.
Countries in Europe and Asia, and lately even the United States, are showing us how efficient, fast and profitable railway passenger services can be. Instead of high-speed trains that run on their tracks, Canadians are stuck with slow diesel trains that roll on bumpy tracks that are owned by the monopolized CN and CP Rail. It is their tracks, their train-controlled centres and their trains that take precedence over any passenger train, a situation unheard of in countries like France or China.
Via Rail is forced to lease essentially all its tracks, as it owns close to none of them. By allowing the big private rail companies to abandon Canadian rail lines, both the passenger and freight customers, they are freer than ever to expand elsewhere, which means the lucrative U.S. market. CN has gobbled up various railway companies with its network stretching all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. CPR has made similar moves, purchasing thousands of kilometres of tracks in the United States to the tune of several billion dollars. No wonder Canadians are left behind.
The lack of attention from both large rail companies results in underserved rural areas with farmers who cannot ship their agricultural products, logging and mining companies that become uncompetitive as they cannot ship on time and car manufacturers whose sophisticated supply systems are upended by dismal rail services.
I have met many of the farm lobbying groups, whether it is Pulse Canada, Canadian Soybean or the wheat farmers. They have all said that they are losing millions of dollars because of unreliable rail service. Unfortunately the Conservative government has only made token efforts so far to address these issues.
To make the situation worse, passengers in Canada are left out in the cold as well. The government is slashing funding to VIA Rail by $200 million this year, according to its estimates. Crucial investment in overhauling aging cars and engines, as well as safety upgrades, cannot be made. The combined neglect of railway companies and the federal government has reached an unprecedented level of under-investment across the country.
A crucial link from Vancouver Island, and my colleagues know this very well, was recently shut down as it had become unsafe after years of pent-up maintenance. Likewise, the rail connection between Montreal and the Gaspé has been severed, leaving passengers stranded and a whole region cut off after 150 years of rail history.
The overall service levels have decreased so much that various train connections in 2012 are slower than they were in the early 1990s. The connecting Winnipeg-Churchill train has seen its schedule lengthened by about five hours since 2008. The Halifax-Montreal train is now almost three hours slower than it was in 1993. Not surprisingly, ridership has gone down from 279,000 in 1996 to 127,000 in 2010, which is more than half.
Even the service on the connection between Canada's two largest cities, Montreal and Toronto, is slower than it was in 1992. Back then the train ride was just below four hours. Now it takes close to five hours.
The current state of Canada's railways is made even harder because of government policies that favour air and road travel over trail. For the financial year of 2009-10, all levels of government, taken together, spent $1.2 billion on subsidizing air travel. This number is more than twice the amount that was spent in 2001-02. Likewise, government support for marine transportation increased by 90% over the same time span, now reaching $1.8 billion.
What about roads? They are our government's pet projects. All levels of government spend close to $30 billion a year on highways and roads. Again, this amount has more than doubled since 2001.
Judging by the public discourse, transit is the ugly duckling when it comes to government support, but not quite. With almost $6 billion in government support, that is still light years away from passenger rail services. The rail service is treated as an afterthought. This is evidenced by the dismal amount of $430 million in government spending in 2009 and 2010. That is only a small increase of 12% over the 2001 levels, barely enough to keep up with inflation.
The new federal budget will put an X through that number, making it even lower, and more than a third of VIA Rail support is expected to be chopped, along with cuts to overall rail safety programs. Without a doubt, rail transport needs to be put on the national agenda again, not just for economic reasons but also to improve the safety and give Canadians the confidence they need when they make their travel arrangements.
As the transport critic, I welcome Bill and the step forward that it represents for Canada's rail safety. I am joined in my appreciation of the safer railways act by my New Democrat colleagues. However, it can be argued that it has taken far too long to get this bill to the current stage. By the time the bill receives royal assent, it will be over five years since an independent panel made 56 recommendations to Transport Canada on how to make our railways safer. It is in the interest of all Canadians to make the bill a reality as soon as possible.
The tragic VIA Rail collision in Burlington last month shows that we need to do more to prevent future derailments, fatalities and injuries. It is time for the Conservative government to take action and satisfy long-standing demands from the independent experts on the Transportation Safety Board. The agency has been calling for voice recorders on locomotives since 2003 and they are still not in place. More talk is not what we need; it is action that we want. Likewise, the Transportation Safety Board has been calling for automatic safety back-up measures, in the case of equipment failure or human error, to prevent tragic accidents.
In 2008 the United States acted after a horrendous crash in California. By making positive train control mandatory, the U.S. is ensuring that an automatic safety system is in place, just like the one the Transportation Safety Board has been requesting for more than 10 years. Seeing the life-saving value of this technology, the experts on the board have refined the cause and have specifically demanded the introduction of mandatory positive train control in Canada since 2010.
The New Democrats urge the Conservative government to heed the Transportation Safety Board's request to make our railways safer for passengers and rail workers alike. To enable VIA Rail to make its operations safer and to improve service levels, we also call on the federal government to reverse its funding cuts. Only by giving VIA Rail the financial resources that it needs, can we increase safety levels and restore confidence of Canadian confidence in rail travel.
Our demands are clear. We need Bill to pass. We want to ensure the Transportation Safety Board's recommendation for voice recorders and positive train controls are implemented as soon as possible. We have to make passenger rail services safe and reliable again by restoring VIA Rail's funding. The time to act is now. By taking those measures, we continue to build on the legacy that was accomplished by our predecessors. Without the vision of this honourable House, that famous last spike would not have been driven into the transcontinental railway in 1885. Let us have similar foresight in making railways a national priority again.
Mr. Speaker, as the member for and on behalf of my party, I would like to start by commending the work that was done in the other chamber. Obviously, we all remember that this bill is a revival of former Bill and that a good job was done with the amendments. People did a great job.
At the time, the hon. member for was on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and the work done there was quite outstanding. Since the work was well done and everyone decided to work together to ensure everyone's safety, the bill deserves our support today. We most definitely have to send it to committee as soon as possible in order to look into certain aspects and see if we have to make some improvements.
In the other chamber, Senator Mercer, together with the other hon. senators—from both the government side and our side—have already done a thorough job. All players had a chance to speak their minds. We realize that there is already a lot of support and a series of amendments has been moved as a result of the work accomplished on the former bill.
It is only fair to say that we must support this bill and find the proper way to do so. Obviously, pulling on a flower does not make it grow faster. However, we certainly want to make sure that things will be done as quickly as possible. The bill has to be sent to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities so that we can do a proper job and quickly address the issue to determine whether adjustments have to be made. The will agree with me in saying that Bill is a good bill and that, as a result, we should support it, given the significant work that was done in the other chamber.
I want to explain to the thousands of television viewers watching us today what Bill is all about. It is intended, of course, to amend the Railway Safety Act, specifically to improve the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport, to strengthen that department’s enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing fines, to enhance the role of safety management systems by including a provision for a railway executive who is accountable for safety—and the word accountable is important here—and to implement a confidential non-punitive reporting system for employees of railway companies. It also seeks to clarify the authority and responsibilities of the with respect to railway matters.
It is important that, as the representative of the people, the minister have those powers and, clearly, the regulation-making powers must be expanded, including those dealing with environmental management. The process for rule making by railway companies must also be clarified.
What I find interesting about this approach is that, for the most part, all partners support this bill. The unions, as well as the Railway Association of Canada, are generally in favour of this legislation. Naturally, the RAC is not in a position to say at this time if the industry will support the bill without reservation because, after appearing twice before the parliamentary committee that studied Bill and Bill —the predecessor to the bill we are studying today—the RAC had proposed seven amendments to improve safety, all of which were rejected.
It is fair to say that our system is quite safe, but we need to make the necessary changes to make it safer. Naturally, I acknowledge my colleague from , who had that tragic accident in his riding. We will let the investigation take its course, but we must ensure that we develop the necessary tools to guarantee safety.
I truly believe in rail transportation. We all know that this country has been built on that vision. It is a great way to bridge rural and urban Canada. However, I think we need to provide better tools to make sure that citizens from coast to coast to coast feel that they are first-class citizens with that mode of transportation. Bill would provide that and some problems would be prevented.
Let us take a look at infrastructure. Certain areas may have some situations, such as the one my colleague for spoke about in eastern Quebec. Of course, we would promote specific programs on infrastructure to make sure that we have the capacity for the track to be accurate. We must make sure we are providing the service which, in certain areas, is an essential service. It is important that we take a look at that.
We would not play with security. At times it might be used in partisan ways, such as on Bill , but for the railway I think it is a non-partisan issue. I think that all sides believe in security.
However, this bill needs to be quickly sent to committee. I think that we need to look further at the bill. My colleague suggested that the Canadian Urban Transit Association, in approaching the committee, was concerned about how the provisions of the bill would affect the operation of light rail transit that operates on federally regulated rail lines. There are only a few examples of this in the country. For example, the Lakeshore line of GO Transit moves an incredibly large number of people each day. Therefore, the committee concerns must be twofold.
First, overly large increases to the administrative burden on authorities like GO Transit would negatively impact ridership and fares. However, considering the volume of riders and the number of level crossings on the Lakeshore line, it is also important that the Government of Canada ensure that these trains operate with the highest level of safety possible.
Second, the Railway Association of Canada made a request that the bill be amended by adding to subclause 24(1) the following:
Respecting notices to be given to railways regarding any proposed local plan of subdivision or zoning by-law or proposed amendment thereof in respect of land that is located within 300 meters of a line of railway or railway yard.
This amendment would require municipalities to notify and consult the railway if they made any zoning amendments on land within 300 metres of a railway or railway yard. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities was understandably concerned about this measure. At the heart of its concern was this requirement for communities to inform railways of changes from adjacent land to proximate land. As it was explained to the committee, municipalities across Canada already inform railways when their zoning plans affect land adjacent to the railway's right of way.
The FCM's objection to this change was twofold. Primarily there is a concern that the 300 metre limit is overly burdensome on municipalities that already inform railways of land use changes on property adjacent to the rail line. There is also a concern about the federal government mandating a provision that directly interferes with how provinces legislate municipal power and zoning laws. As these laws and powers vary drastically across the provinces, it would be inappropriate for the federal government to simply override them all. It could also create needless red tape for the local transit association.
These are just some of the issues that the transport committee could consider taking up at its hearings. However, I think everyone has done a great job in the other chamber.
I believe it is a good idea to pass this bill very quickly in order to provide the minister and the department with the necessary authority to enact regulations, and to ensure better safety and greater consistency of the regulations. Partners must be heard quickly one last time by the Standing Committee on Transport to ensure, as we all wish, better safety for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I think it is best to start our remarks in the House of Commons on this or any subject by addressing first principles.
I believe the first principle is the government should only do what only government can do. Public safety is one of those areas that the citizen or the enterprise cannot simply manage all by themselves. As a result, protecting the security and the safety of the individual is a primary responsibility of government. Thus, we have Bill , which deals in particular with railway safety and the statute assigned to that goal.
I will go into the history of this statute and the framework of legislation that has existed and continues to do so. Before I do that though, I will state my full support for the bill. It is a bill to amend the Railway Safety Act. It furthers our government's agenda to ensure a safe, reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system.
The amendments proposed in the bill will increase the public safety of Canadians, enhance the safety of our communities, and contribute to a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment.
The Railway Safety Act came into force in 1989 during a period of significant transformation in the Canadian rail industry. It was a time of privatization and restructuring, supported by a new federal policy that separated economic and safety legislation to provide the railway companies with flexibility so that they could grow and prosper.
I should mention in passing that Conservative and Liberal governments in the last two and a half decades have moved toward greater privatization and less government control in all areas of transportation, including ports, railways, airports, airlines and a whole series of other specific areas within the country's transportation system. That decision by both Liberals and Conservatives to move toward privatization has been a resounding and unmitigated success for Canada and for Canadians.
Today, economic regulation of the rail industry is guided by the Canada Transportation Act, which provides an overall framework to ensure a national transportation system that is competitive, economic and efficient. The act, which came into effect in 1996, also established the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation of all modes of transportation under federal jurisdiction, including rail.
Rail safety regulation on the other hand is governed by the Railway Safety Act, which was developed in the spirit of co-operation between industry and government. This act moved away from a fully prescriptive regulatory approach to one that recognized the responsibility of railway companies for the safety of their own operations.
At the same time, the federal government through Transport Canada retained the responsibility and the power to protect people, property and the environment by ensuring that the railway companies operate safely within that national framework. Once again, we liberated the market to find the best ways to achieve safety, but we created a legal framework to ensure that people and property and the environment are protected as the industry does its work.
Transport Canada undertakes its responsibility to maintain a safe national rail system through a policy and regulatory development, through outreach and education, through oversight and enforcement of the rules and regulations it implements under the Railway Safety Act.
Applied in tandem, the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act have successfully guided the growth of Canada's rail sector since the 1990s, but there are issues and challenges. As it stands today, the interrelationship of these two acts has created a notable gap in railway safety oversight that must be addressed if we are to ensure the continuing safety of our national railway system.
Currently under the Canada Transportation Act a new railway company is allowed to begin operations immediately upon receiving a certificate of fitness from the Canadian Transportation Agency. This certificate indicates that the railway is under federal jurisdiction, has sufficient financial capacity to operate, and has obtained appropriate third party liability insurance coverage. This is in keeping with the economic mandate of the Canadian Transportation Agency. It is not, however, fully in keeping with the national safety mandate of the Railway Safety Act.
In accordance with the Railway Safety Act, a new railway must comply with all safety regulations in force at the time it begins operations. It is important to recognize that there are no regulated requirements in the Canada Transportation Act to verify the safety capacity of the company before a certificate of fitness is issued and the company's operations begin.
As the Railway Safety Act does not currently specify minimum baseline safety requirements for a new railway company either, a gap in oversight is created and a new railway could theoretically operate for a year or more before the effectiveness of its safety systems was formally verified. This is an important safety issue which the government is striving to correct through these amendments.
The introduction of a railway operating certificate is a key component of this bill, and will continue to resolve this long-standing safety issue in our railway system. The amendment represents an important step in the right direction to strengthen the safety of our vital rail industry. Anyone who likes to eat food, consume retail goods, drive a car, basically perform any function as part of a modern society requires the use of goods that are brought by rail. We cannot underestimate the importance of this industry to the operation of the Canadian economy.
When the Minister of Transport appointed the independent advisory panel to lead the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, he provided them with a clear mandate to identify steps in the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations to strengthen the regulatory regime to ensure the changing nature of the railway industry and its operations were protected.
Following extensive consultation with stakeholders and careful consideration of these consultations during the year-long course of review, the advisory panel specifically recommended in its final report in 2008:
A railway should be required to obtain a Rail Operating Certificate (ROC ) as a precondition to obtaining a Certificate of Fitness (from the Canadian Transportation Agency) and to commencing or continuing operations.
The intent of this recommendation is clear. This government emphatically agrees that the implementation of railway operating certificates is an optimal solution to improve regulatory oversight and ensure that new railways have met clearly defined baseline safety requirements before they begin operations anywhere in the country.
Bill the safer railways act which we are discussing today, will give the Governor in Council, that is the cabinet, the authority to require railway companies to apply for and receive a railway operating certificate. Bill will also give Transport Canada the power to establish the baseline safety requirements for the certificate by regulation. Establishing these requirements by regulation will provide Transport Canada with the authority to undertake a comprehensive safety review for every new railway to determine whether it complies with the regulatory framework proposed.
Once the regulator is satisfied that all baseline safety requirements have been met, an operating certificate will be issued. It is important to note that this requirement for railway operating certificates will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction, including those already in operation, such as CN, CP, VIA Rail and numerous other short lines. It is obviously impractical and economically unviable for these companies to cease operations until a certificate can be issued. As such, existing railways will have a grace period of two years from the coming into force of the new regulations to meet the requirement for the certificate.
Should there be instances where the railway operating certificate is refused, suspended or cancelled, the applicant will have the right to appeal by requesting a review by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. That being said, it is critical to add that this government is committed to ensuring that the introduction of railway operating certificates will be developed and implemented in the same spirit of co-operation between government and all stakeholders which guided the creation of the Railway Safety Act nearly two decades ago. Once this bill is passed, Transport Canada will consult stakeholders on the development of regulations that relate to this important new initiative to improve railway safety in this country.
In summary, I will say that the safety benefits of this proposal for the introduction of a railway operating certificate are clearly evident. An important regulatory gap will be effectively and efficiently addressed. Transport Canada's railway safety oversight powers will be enhanced to meet the changing nature of the industry over the long term. Canadians from coast to coast will reap the personal and economic advantages of a safer and more secure Canadian rail system.
When the Minister of Transport launched the Railway Safety Act review, Canada had recently suffered a series of devastating train derailments. These derailments caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses and the serious pollution of trackside lakes, rivers and communities. During the course of extensive inspections and audits undertaken by Transport Canada following these incidents, the regulator identified numerous deficiencies that contributed to the decreased safety levels, including non-compliance by the railway companies with various safety requirements.
There was a general concern with the level of the railways' compliance with the regulations. Accordingly, the terms of reference for the Railway Safety Act review specifically directed the independent panel to examine the adequacy of Transport Canada's enforcement powers and to consider whether administrative monetary penalties should be added to the range of enforcement powers available to the department. Upon examination, it became clear that Transport Canada's enforcement powers under the Railway Safety Act needed to be strengthened to encourage better regulatory compliance, increased safety and help to prevent further incidents like those that originally triggered the review.
The independent panel's final recommendation on the issue, as detailed in its report of March 2008, plainly stated that an administrative monetary penalty scheme should be included in the Railway Safety Act as an additional compliance tool to enhance safety in the rail industry. This government fully agrees with the panel's assessment, and the introduction of a scheme for administrative penalties has been included as an important and integral part of this plan.
Administrative monetary penalties are certainly not new in the transportation sector. They were successfully introduced in the air industry back in 1986 and were subsequently introduced in the marine sector in 1991.
Penalties of this nature have been introduced in the transportation industry because they work. In the simplest terms, administrative monetary penalties are similar to traffic tickets for car drivers. When a company or individuals break the rules or do not comply with the regulations, the department can impose a pre-established administrative monetary penalty or fine to help encourage compliance in the future.
Administrative monetary penalties have other safety benefits as well. With these penalties in place, there is a perception of fairness because the operator knows in advance the cost of non-compliance and it is applied uniformly. Penalties can also be applied more uniformly as there is less discretion for giving warnings and therefore less opportunity for inconsistency.
Under the current Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada's options for enforcing non-compliance are very limited. When a violation is found during the course of an inspection or audit, an inspector will normally issue a letter of non-compliance and follow-up in a given time frame to confirm that corrective action has been taken. If the situation has not been corrected, the regulator has only one option, prosecution, which is both costly and time consuming. Therefore, it is ineffective for a large number of violations. This is a significant weakness in the current enforcement scheme of the act.
We believe administrative penalties should be implemented as an additional enforcement tool under the act to provide an efficient, effective and less costly alternative to prosecution, particularly in the cases of persistent non-compliance with the act and its safety requirements. This is consistent with the principle of minimizing the regulatory burden for Canadians, while at the same time promoting regulatory certainty and compliance.
In the interest of fairness for all parties, the proposed administrative penalty scheme will allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. This scheme will also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of the decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance and infractions. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties will be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.
In addition to the implementation of an administrative penalty to improve railway safety, we propose, through these amendments, to raise existing judicial penalty levels, which were established 20 years ago and are no longer consistent with other modes of transportation. Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for a contravention will increase from $100,000 to $250,000 for corporations and $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual.
Implementing these penalties, as proposed in the bill, is clearly an important step in the development of an effective railway safety regime with sufficient scope and strength to ensure that our railways are safe and that they remain safe for the long term as the rail industry continues to evolve and to grow.
I began today with basic principles: that government should only do what only government can do. Public safety is an example of one of the things that only government can enforce. That is why we are creating a legislative framework in which free enterprise can operate in a manner that is safe, efficient and fair for the Canadian people.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
First, I am very happy to see this bill before this House, but it is a pity that it has not been a priority of this government in this 41st Parliament. On a number of occasions, the government has boasted that it champions the safety of our fellow Canadians, but let it try to say that to the families of the victims of the derailment in Burlington or to the families who lost their houses in Saint-Charles-de-Bellechasse in 2010. I know very well that the government is going to say that I am playing politics by bringing up a tragedy. We know the government never does that.
The safety of Canadians is important, and this bill is needed in order to protect railway workers, passengers in the trains and people who live near railway lines.
The government, the minister and his parliamentary secretary in particular like to advocate for smaller government, for getting the government out of everyone's business. Large rail companies, shippers that use the rail lines and citizens who live near the railways see that the government does have a role to play. It has a role to play as a regulator, as a protector. All the groups I mentioned want to see this involvement.
Unfortunately, in the ideological zeal of the government, safety and well-being are often left to free market forces to decide. When bad things happen, such as rail accidents and conflicts between land users and railways, we see that the government likes to sweep under the carpet its role when the industry has not regulated itself.
There are examples where the industry does not regulate itself, but as my time for debate is limited, I would like to focus on some propositions we have made since the bill was introduced.
The first proposition from our party is that the government should not cut safety from its budget. The upcoming budget will cut money that could go toward safety. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that the amount of money we spend on something should not be the measure of how effective it is. People who enforce these regulations and develop new systems need to be paid. They need to be remunerated for their work. It is not work that anybody can do. It takes experts to do the work and we have to pay them. We cannot shortchange experts, nor can we cut corners. When corners are cut on safety, we see the results. People working in the transport sector say that when corners are cut, it jeopardizes safety. The government cannot say it defends safety on one hand and then cut it on the other.
We have also asked that the proposed cuts of $200 million to VIA Rail be reversed. VIA Rail has challenges and it needs to implement certain systems. The NDP would like positive train control implemented in Canada. It was done in the United States. In California there was a very tragic accident in 2008 and the leaders decided that positive train control should become part of the system. There are positive benefits to implementing it. Yes, it is costly, but there are companies in Canada that contribute to this technology. Investing in this technology to improve safety would also improve our economy. It would stimulate the innovators who are contributing to positive train control and other technologies that make our railways safer.
We would also like to see voice recorders in locomotives. This would help to find out what happened when things go wrong, when an accident happens. It is in the interests of everyone to find out the full story of what happened during a rail accident so that things can be improved in the future. A key benchmark to improve safety is to figure out what went wrong, to understand what went wrong and to improve things. It is common sense.
There were five amendments submitted to the Senate, two of which were taken off the table. Those two amendments had to do with land use consultations and exemptions to conduct testing. The government's argument is that railways are a federal jurisdiction, but municipalities are the creatures of the province. I agree. I understand the constitutionality of it. However, the government has a role to play in facilitating the communication between a municipality and the rail companies and those parties involved in the railways. An analogous situation would be waterways which are federal entities whereas riparian corridors are provincial entities. It would be in the best interests of everyone to ensure the health of the water system in this case, the rail system in the other, that the two parties have increased communication and that a mechanism is provided for the two parties to communicate.
There is a citizen in the town of Saint-Lazare who lives close to the railway. Her house vibrates whenever a train goes by. People who live near a railway know that their houses will probably vibrate. She is very frustrated that she cannot find a public entity to whom she can complain. She has gone to the private entity and the public entity, but there is no real mechanism to sort out these problems and nip them in the bud once they occur. The problems tend to get larger and larger. Citizens feel helpless. They feel that they cannot do anything about the problem.
We have to invest in railway safety. We have to put our money where our mouth is. The parliamentary secretary said that we can get improved results from spending less money. I would challenge him to cut his salary by $110,000 and try to do his job on $40,000 a year. I would like to see how happy he would be about that. If he thinks he would be just as efficient, why does he not save the taxpayers some money and cut his own salary?
This is an important bill for the NDP. We will support it. We believe it is time the government brought this legislation forward. We would have preferred to see it earlier. We do not think that Canadians should have waited so long for the government to bring these important safety measures to the House. We have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning.
I have heard from members on the government side that they are interested in safety. I hope their vision of safety includes not only the safety of citizens and people living near railways but also the safety of railway employees. Their safety will be increased through the measures in the bill. We also think that individuals will be protected when they report wrongdoings on the part of their superiors.
The other aspect we are glad to see is with respect to the safety of passengers and motorists, of citizens travelling on the trains, on the roads, and in the surrounding areas. Railway crossings will be enhanced by the higher operational safety standards laid out in the bill.
I hope we can work together with the government to ensure that Canadians are safe when using the railway system as well as in the communities surrounding the rail lines.
Mr. Speaker, this bill is long due for its amendments and I am glad we are doing this.
However, I want to give some historical context of how these kinds of things have come about. I was witness to the Mississauga train derailment in November 1979, and saw out the front window of my house rail cars rising 200 feet in the air as they exploded, three of them, and then fall back to the ground. I was also part of the largest peace-time evacuation anywhere in the world, as the community of Mississauga was evacuated for fear that a whole railcar of chlorine was going to escape into the community.
I raise this because some of the safety regimens that we now have in place were created as a result of horrific accidents, rather than the other way around. Rather than preventing horrific accidents with safety regulations, we wait until there is one and then we bring in regulations. I think that is a little backwards.
The other piece of this puzzle that was created as a result of the Mississauga train derailment was the question of why we were transporting huge quantities of very dangerous goods through residential neighbourhoods. We should not have been doing that. Therefore, the Liberal government of the time put forward something called the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act, and suggested that the government would help railroads move their operations out of heavily built-up areas and into more rural areas. In fact there was a lot of money spent by that Liberal government moving CN Rail's big yards out of the city of Toronto and into an area quite a ways north, whose surrounding area is now completely devoid of housing.
However, the Conservative government of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney then withdrew the funding. The act is still on the books; there is just no money attached to it.
We have this notion that it may be a bad idea to have freight trains running through densely populated areas, but we are not prepared to do anything about it. As the recent derailment of the VIA train shows, anyone or anything that was anywhere near that set of rail cars as they collided into buildings was in grave danger. That is still the case. Even after we pass this railway safety act, we still have the spectre of huge, two-mile long freight trains rumbling through cities like Toronto, and right through our communities and neighbourhoods. In my neighbourhood, it has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The GO Transit folks are building an underpass under a couple of roads for their trains. Their trains are right next door to a CP Rail corridor. In order to protect their trains from a possible CP Rail derailment, they are building a crash barrier wall between the two sets of tracks. Now the houses are closer, but no one is thinking of putting a crash barrier wall anywhere along the corridor between the rail cars and the houses. The view is that we have to protect our infrastructure, this little trench that we are building. GO Transit has to protect that by building a crash barrier wall.
That makes the residents of my neighbourhood realize just how dangerous it is when a big company like GO Transit says it has to protect its investment by building a wall to keep freight trains from hitting its own trains. However, those people who live right alongside that corridor, whose land was expropriated in order to put the corridor closer to their homes, are now quite reasonably worried. They worry about their personal well-being and safety, the safety of their children and their houses.
A couple of years ago a train from Montreal derailed, and that train actually levelled a house. Luckily, no one was in it and no one was injured. However, we are not actually pretending that we are going to pass any regulations in this bill to protect people from that consequence.
This bill actually gives the government considerable power to pass regulations, and those regulations are in fact what will determine how safe our railroads are. The bill actually does some very good things in determining how those regulations will be put into place. However, it is the regulations themselves that we must hold the government's feet to the fire on, to make sure that these regulations are actually effective and administered properly by the government.
I will give the example of the recent derailment of the VIA Rail train in Burlington. Had there been a positive train control system on that train, that accident would not have happened because the train would have been slowed automatically if the driver or the driver's assistant had not paid attention to the signals. That system is in full use in Europe now and is how all trains are managed there.
It is being implemented in the United States starting in 2015, but the operators have been given notice since 2009 that this is coming. As of 2015 all rail systems, particular passenger rail systems that share space with freight, must have positive train control.
CP and CN travel into the U.S., as does VIA Rail. Are they going to have to retrofit their vehicles to be capable of positive train control because they are operating in the U.S.? Therefore, why are we not doing it here in Canada? It makes no sense. That is available through regulation; the government could in fact pass that regulation.
I will cite the bill. The Governor in Council may make regulations respecting “the implementation, as a result of a risk management analysis, of the remedial action required to maintain the highest level of safety”.
Well, the highest level of safety is positive train control. The highest level of safety is what we should be striving for. We should not be striving for something below the highest level of safety. Worldwide, that level of safety is what has become standard. We are the outlier; we are not at the highest level of safety. As was proven unfortunately by the deaths of three VIA Rail employees two weeks ago, that highest level of safety does not apply to Canada. The consequences were tragic.
The parliamentary secretary commented on the fact that rail companies have to get a certificate before they can actually operate. I am aware of at least one rail company starting up in Canada that was given an exemption by the Canadian transportation authority and will not require a certificate and not therefore be bound by this legislation. That is the air-rail link being built from Pearson Airport to Union Station. Why it was given an exemption from having to have a certificate, I really cannot answer, because the Canadian Transportation Agency sometimes acts in mysterious ways. It is a private company. Again, the parliamentary suggested that private companies should be free to run their businesses. However, as a public duty, we have to make sure that we implement safety regulations that protect the public. One cannot do that if one gives them exemptions. If one exempts them from being a railroad under the Canadian Transportation Agency, who then provides the safety? How does that happen?
The other piece of the puzzle, of course, is voice recorders in train cabs. They are not a piece of safety equipment per se but are an effective way of determining exactly what happened so that we can make the system safer later.
The train cabs currently have speed control recorders. In the conversations I have had with drivers they all know that those recorders are there and that drivers can be fired for violating the effective speed control on the pieces of track they are on. It is clear that their bosses can figure out exactly how fast they were going at any given time, so they pay close attention to what their speed should be as a result of there being a speed recorder.
The same would be true of a voice recorder. They would pay much closer attention to what is said and done in the cab and focus on their job more.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about our government's efforts to improve the safety of Canada's national railway system through the safer railways act. For my riding of Elmwood—Transcona, the name Transcona comes from “transcontinental“ which is one of the CN line's main facilities that was put into my riding many years ago. So the background of my riding is very much historically involved with the rail industry.
These amendments have been supported from the outset by all stakeholders. The government introduced a similar bill, an act to amend the railway safety act, on June 4, 2010. Also known as Bill , it was studied by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. It was approved unanimously by the committee, with minor changes, on March 10, 2011 and reported to the other House on March 11, 2011. However, the opposition prioritized politics over the safety of Canadians. This bill died on the order paper on March 25, 2011, with the call of an election.
During the second reading debate on Bill , members in the other place shared personal stories concerning the economic and environmental damage and personal tragedies that had resulted from rail accidents in their own jurisdictions. Their reactions to the proposed amendments were very positive. I believe our shared support of this important safety legislation reflects a common desire to ensure our national railway system, which is one of the most important components of our economic infrastructure, remains one of the safest in the world for the long-term benefit of our economy, our communities and our environment. The safety and prosperity of Canadians is of paramount importance to us all.
Bill , was introduced in the other place on November 1, 2011. This bill was studied by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications and approved unanimously by the committee with one amendment. It was reported to the other place on November 24, 2011. By reintroducing proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act, the government is reiterating its commitment to a safe and secure national rail transportation system, not only to communities across the country but also to Canada's economic well-being and its vision to further improve rail safety and environmental protection.
Before going further, I would like to remind hon. members of the origins and purpose of this bill. For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, originated at the turn of the century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for an older era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open up new territory and to encourage settlement. In 1989, the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of the national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in recent years. It was a time of privatization and restructuring, supported by a new federal policy that separated economic and safety legislation to provide the railway companies with the flexibility they needed to prosper.
The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the , to be administered by Transport Canada where responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides. Today, economic regulation of the rail industry is guided by the Canada Transportation Act, which provides an overall framework to ensure a national transportation system that is competitive, economic and efficient. That act, which came into effect in 1996, also established the Canadian Transportation Agency which is responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation of all modes of transport under federal jurisdiction, including rail.
Rail safety regulation, on the other hand, is governed by the Railway Safety Act which was developed in the spirit of co-operation between industry and government. The Railway Safety Act moved away from a fully prescriptive regulatory approach to one that recognized the responsibility of railway companies for the safety of their own operations.
At the same time, the federal government, through Transport Canada, retained the responsibility and the power to protect people, property and the environment by ensuring that the railway companies operate safely within the national framework. Transport Canada undertakes its responsibility to maintain a safe national rail system through policy and regulatory development, outreach and education, and oversight and enforcement of the rules and regulations it implements under the authority of the Railway Safety Act.
Applied in tandem, the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act have successfully guided the growth of Canada's rail sector since the 1990s. But there are issues. As it stands today, the interrelationship of the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act has created a notable gap in rail safety oversight that must be addressed if we are to ensure the continued safety of our national railway industry.
Following a review of the Railway Safety Act in 1994, the act was amended in 1999 to further improve the legislation and to make the railway systems even safer. Those amendments were designed to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system. They were also designed to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely. They gave the general public and interested parties a greater say on issues of rail safety.
The fundamental principles on which the regulation of railway safety in Canada is based are: to promote and provide for the safety of the public and personnel, and the protection of property and the environment in the operation of railways; to encourage the collaboration and participation of interested parties in improving railway safety; to recognize the responsibility of railway companies in ensuring the safety of their operations; and finally, to facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory scheme that will ensure the continuing enhancement of our railway safety.
The 1999 amendments to the Railway Safety Act aimed to help achieve these objectives by providing for the safety of the public and personnel and the protection of property, and the environment in the operation of railways; and by providing the regulator with the authority to require railway companies to implement safety management systems.
In 2007 the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities launched a review of the Railway Safety Act following a series of devastating train derailments that had caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses, and the serious pollution of trackside lakes, rivers and communities.
An independent panel conducted a review of the existing Railway Safety Act. This review was intended to identify possible gaps and make recommendations for improving railway safety. The panel of experts commissioned research and held extensive public consultations across the country.
Over the course of a year that panel travelled from coast to coast gathering input from a full spectrum of concerned stakeholders, including the railway companies and their association, the railway unions, shippers, suppliers, municipalities, other national organizations, other levels of government and the public. Interest in the consultations was high and all key stakeholders participated.
The panel's final report, “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, was tabled in the House by the Minister of Transport in March 2008. In the report the panellists noted that although the Railway Safety Act and its principles were fundamentally sound, more work was needed. A number of legislative improvements were required. The report contained 56 recommendations to improve rail safety in Canada.
The standing committee, which also conducted extensive stakeholder consultations, accepted the panel's recommendations and tabled its own report in the House in May 2008 with 14 recommendations, many of which built on those of the Railway Safety Act review.
Both reports identified key areas for improvement and recommended increasing Transport Canada's resources to allow it to strengthen its oversight and enforcement capacity and to implement new safety initiatives.
Transport Canada agrees with the recommendations of these reports. It has taken steps to action them through a variety of government, industry and union initiatives, and through the proposed legislative amendments to the Railway Safety Act which are required to address key recommendations and enable many safety initiatives.
The proposed amendments would significantly modernize the current Railway Safety Act to reflect changes in the industry and provide for higher levels of oversight and enforcement. The key elements and advantages of the bill are clear and would include: a stronger oversight and enforcement capacity for Transport Canada through the introduction of safety-based railway operating certificates and monetary fines for safety violations, as well as an increase in existing judicial penalties to reflect the levels found in other modes of transport; a significantly stronger focus on the importance of railway accountability and safety management systems, which both industry and labour applaud; a clarification of the minister's authority on matters of railway safety to bridge existing gaps in the act; and, an expansion of regulation-making authorities which have particular importance and would enable Transport Canada to require annual environmental management plans from the railways as well as a requirement for railways to provide emissions labelling on equipment and emissions data for review.
In sum, these proposed amendments to the act would improve rail safety in Canada for the long term. They are the culmination of two important studies and extensive consultations. They provide increased safety for Canadians and Canadian communities; economic benefits to the industry by decreasing the likelihood of costly accidents and delays; a variety of benefits to external stakeholders, including provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public; and last, but far from least, support for a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment for all Canadians.
The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the same committee that launched its own review of rail safety and made many of the recommendations reflected in this bill, has examined the contents of these proposed amendments thoroughly. It has given the bill its unanimous blessing with only a few minor adjustments.
During this examination, the committee heard strong support for this bill from a number of key stakeholders, including railways, the unions and municipalities. Clearly, this bill has been analyzed and consulted on exhaustively. It is our responsibility to move forward with the passing of this legislation.
This bill has already gained widespread support. Witnesses before the committee expressed strong support for the implementation of safety-based railway operating certificates for railways that run on federal track. These certificates would significantly strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity and ensure that all companies have an effective safety management system in place before beginning operations. Companies that are already in operation would be granted a two year grace period to meet the requirements for their certificate. This would include all federally regulated railways as well as several of our largest national transit systems that use hundreds of miles of federal track and carry millions of Canadians to and from work daily. Increased safety for these travellers would be a significant benefit for businesses, communities and families.
Witnesses before the committee also expressed their support for the introduction of monetary penalties and an increase in judicial fines for serious contraventions of safety regulations. Monetary penalties already exist in other modes of transport. They serve as a complementary enforcement tool to existing notices and orders and provide additional leverage on companies that persist in safety violations. The proposed increase in judicial fines, established 20 years ago, would also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement options and bring those fines to a level currently found in other modes.
Witnesses before the committee also spoke of the significant improvements contained in the bill, particularly for the implementation of safety management systems. There was strong support for the introduction of a requirement for a designated executive legally responsible for safety issues.
There was also strong support for an introduction of whistleblower protection for railway employees who raised safety concerns. In fact, support for this was sufficiently strong that the committee approved an amendment to the bill that would provide additional safety reporting options for employees, including direct reporting to Transport Canada. Amendments such as these will help the growth of a strong safety culture in railway companies.
I would like to point out that the expansion of reporting options for safety violations was the only significant amendment made by the committee to the original version of the bill that was referred to it after second reading. There were seven other amendments made by the committee, all of which were minor technical adjustments and clarifications of definitions.
Personally, this is a very impressive achievement, as very few bills make it through committee with such overwhelming accord.
Finally, the committee heard strong support to move the bill forward as quickly as possible so we could begin implementing an enhanced railway safety regime that would clearly benefit industry, benefit labour, benefit communities and benefit the Canadian public.
Without these amendments, the government's ability to effectively regulate railway companies in an environment of continued growth and increasing complexity would be sorely diminished. Improvement to Transport Canada's regulatory oversight and enforcement programs would be limited. The pursuit of new safety initiatives, with respect to safety management systems and environmental management, would be badly constrained. The legislative framework for railways would remain inconsistent with other transportation modes, which have a broader range of enforcement tools. Regulation-making authorities could not be expanded to allow for the creation of safety-based operating certificates and increased environmental protection.
Members' support for the bill will result in fewer long-term costs for the government and Canadians, due to reduced fatalities, serious injuries and damage to both property and the environment. There is no controversy over the intent or the content of the bill. We all want better railway safety in our country. This bill is the blueprint to ensure that we can achieve that.
The legislation would strengthen the national rail system that is so vital to our economy. By reducing the risk of accidents, we would enhance the competitiveness of our railways, increase the public safety of Canadians and add an additional layer or protection for our natural environment.
These amendments are a priority for the government. Canada's railways are vitally important to the national economy and are the most fuel-efficient form of transport for the movement of goods in our interdependent transportation system. Our railways have 73,000 kilometres of track stretching from coast to coast, more than 3,000 locomotives and handle more than 4 million carloads of freight. They operate more than 700 trains per day, moving nearly 70 million passengers and 75% of all surplus freight in the country. The railways were the foundation of our national growth in the past. They remain integral to our prosperity in the future.
Since the launch of the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, Transport Canada has worked continuously with stakeholders, through an advisory council on railway safety, joint technical working groups and individual consultations across the country to ensure the bill will meet the needs of all parties engaged in the rail industry.
We believe these proposed amendments are essential in timely. They respond directly to the recommendations of two important studies on rail safety that involved the high level of participation from all key stakeholders in the rail sector.
The bill has been exhaustively debated and analyzed for several years. It has received widespread support from all interested parties. It is now time to move forward with the passing of this important legislation for the safety of all Canadians.
We are modernizing the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry, and these are changes all Canadians can agree upon.
That this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
It is a pleasure to speak to Bill , the safer railways act. I would like to reiterate the comments I made this morning. Very often the opposition stands in the House and criticizes the government, as is our job to do and as is very often necessary in this place. However, it is also important to give credit where credit is due. I want to congratulate the government and the minister in particular on bringing forward a piece of legislation which is much needed, well crafted and will accomplish a great deal on railway safety in this country.
Our party's late leader, Jack Layton, used to talk about it being necessary to propose as often as oppose. The corollary to that is it is important to compliment and criticize when each is due.
The bill has been 20 years in the making. The reason the bill is in as good a shape as it is the approach that was used on this legislation. All Canadians would like to see more of that approach. The government sat down and consulted with industry, labour, and stakeholders of many different stripes. Government members sat in committee, listened to expert testimony and worked with the official opposition and all parties to make improvements to the legislation. Once again I want to thank the government and point out that its good work has resulted in a piece of legislation that is improved because of that approach. I might suggest that the government follow this procedure more often. I think it is something Canadians want to see.
The bill seeks to modify the Railway Safety Act to do a number of things. It improves the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport. It requires railway companies to obtain the safety-based railway operating certificate that indicates compliance with regulatory requirements.
The bill strengthens the department's enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing court-enforced penalties. It enhances the role of safety management systems by including a provision for the identification of a railway executive who would be legally responsible for safety, and a whistleblower protection system for employees of railway companies who raise safety concerns. I will talk about that very important aspect in a moment.
The bill clarifies the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters. It expands regulation-making authorities and clarifies the process for rule making by railway companies.
By way of background, Bill was introduced on October 6, 2011 in the Senate by the leader of the government there. Bill S-4 is virtually identical to former Bill , which was introduced in the House of Commons during the third session of the 40th Parliament.
Bill was studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and was reported back to the House of Commons with amendments in March 2011. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper when the general election was called later that month.
The text of Bill incorporates the amendments adopted by the standing committee and otherwise differs from Bill only by the addition of one new paragraph and some minor changes in wording.
The bill was reported back to the Senate by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications with that one amendment in November 2011. The bill was sent back to this House where it received first reading in December of last year.
The Railway Safety Act was implemented in 1989. The act sets out a regulatory framework for railways under federal jurisdiction to address matters of safety, security and environmental impact. Transport Canada notes that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since the act was amended in 1999 and operations have become increasingly complex and traffic is growing rapidly. Therefore, this bill is timely.
I mentioned earlier that labour supports the bill. I want to mention a couple of things which I think labour was instrumental in achieving.
Labour made several key important points.
It wanted to see better fatigue management. That aspect is addressed in the bill.
It wanted to see greater whistleblower protection. In particular, it wanted to see a process of non-punitive reporting whereby railway employees could report their safety concerns directly to Transport Canada and not to a company manager. If workers identified any defects or safety problems, they could without fear go directly to Transport Canada. There had been a problem. Some railway workers feared being disciplined. Some had been disciplined by companies for nothing more than reporting their safety concerns. This is a positive legislative change.
Some railway workers say that they do not want to rely on good luck and gravity for railway safety. They want to rely on careful attention to detail, and swift and accurate reporting of problems so that accidents do not occur and problems can be identified before something happens.
Bill Brehl, the president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, maintenance of way employees division, did stand-up work in pushing for the amendments to this bill and for the overall concept of railway safety to be included in the legislation. Rex Beatty, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, locomotive engineers, and Rob Smith, the national legislative director of that same body, also played pivotal roles in this piece of legislation.
This also shows how important it is to involve experts and Canadians from coast to coast, to bring to bear in this House their experience, knowledge and expertise. It helps make better legislation. This will make life safer not only for all Canadians, but for the thousands of women and men who work every day on the trains, tracks and rolling stock to keep them in shape.
There are some areas that need improvement. At-grade crossings are a problem in this country. Greater control of trespassing is still a problem which I do not think this bill fully addresses. The issue of track and metal fatigue is not fully addressed by the bill.
In terms of at-grade crossings, approximately 100 people per year are killed in railway accidents. Accidents happen frequently at the at-grade crossings. There are several ways to address this. We could raise the crossings, which is an expensive but effective way to go. We could bring in an automatic train stopping mechanism, as Sweden has done. There are automatic metal detectors and if a vehicle is on the tracks at an at-grade crossing, the train will automatically slow and stop in advance. That is something I would encourage the government to look at and implement as soon as possible.
With respect to trespassing, we need to fence off tracks especially in urban areas, which are places of death and injury. People trespass and get on the tracks, even though they should not.
Last, in terms of track maintenance and metal fatigue, there is no requirement to establish the fatigue life of rails. There are no common industry standards for rail life based on tonnage, defects or steel quality. For a country that relies so heavily on rail, we should be ensuring that we have state of the art world-class standards in this area. We can do more and better in this area.
In 2005 there was a derailment of a train near Wabamun Lake in Alberta. A report pointed out that the railway track safety rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there any common industry standards for rail life based on the state of the metal used on the tracks. A clear recommendation of the Transportation Safety Board was to establish those standards to ensure that the tracks upon which our trains roll are in the best shape possible.
I would like to conclude by thanking members of the committee on all sides of the House, and in particular the good work of our member for . He did such great work in pushing productively, proactively and in a non-partisan way for greater standards in the act.
I congratulate the government on bringing forward a piece of legislation that has the support of all parties of the House. It is a testament to a non-partisan, co-operative way of working together to get the job done which results in good legislation that every Canadian wants to see.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill . My riding has an abundance of train tracks that are used by CP, CN and commuter trains. I think it is very important that we take the time to debate this bill, which is a very good bill, as my colleague said. I would like to talk about it a little more, so that the people of my riding really understand what it is all about.
The purpose of the bill is to improve the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport by, for example, requiring railway companies to obtain a safety-based railway operating certificate indicating compliance with regulatory requirements; strengthen the Department of Transport’s enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing fines; enhance the role of safety management systems by including provisions for a railway executive who is accountable for safety and a non-punitive reporting system for employees of railway companies; clarify the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters; and expand regulation-making powers, including in respect of environmental management, and clarify the process for rule making by railway companies.
Allow me to provide some context for what we are talking about today. In 1989, the Railway Safety Act was born. Seven years later, the Canada Transportation Act was passed. Consideration was subsequently given to re-examining the Railway Safety Act, but the idea was abandoned at the time. Then, in 2000, we started seeing many railway accidents. From 2000 to 2005, there was an increase in the number of incidents, deaths and damage caused by railway accidents. In 2006, the government decided to begin a review of the Railway Safety Act. In May 2008, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities made a number of recommendations after studying the issue. In 2010, Bill , which was more or less the same as this one, unfortunately died on the order paper. Finally, there was a Senate bill, which reproduced roughly everything that was in Bill .
All members of our party support this bill. The NDP has often promoted railway safety. We are talking about lives and injured people. We will definitely support a bill that will improve rail safety.
The NDP fully supports the fact that the bill would provide additional powers to more closely regulate the rail system in Canada. However, we find that the bill does not contain concrete measures to achieve that. We are putting pressure on the government to make voice recorders in locomotive cabs and positive train control systems mandatory.
I will explain how a positive train control system works. If a train is going too fast, this system makes it possible to slow down the train remotely. On February 26, there was a train accident in Burlington, Ontario, that killed three people and injured 42. This should never have happened. We know that speed was a factor, but unfortunately we do not know much more than that. We do not know why or who decided this train was travelling too fast. An automatic safety system would have made it possible to control this train and reduce its speed. This accident killed three Canadians—VIA Rail employees—and could have been prevented.
Voice recorders are mandatory for planes and ships, but for some unknown reason they are not mandatory for trains.
Basically, if there had been a voice recorder in the locomotive, we would know what really happened on February 26 and we might be in a position to prevent this type of accident in the future.
In my riding, the train tracks are very close to the houses of my constituents, within a few metres. There are laws about that, and the houses are built at the minimum distance required by law. That worries me.
The railway system in Canada is very safe. We live in a very safe country and we are careful, but improvements have to be made. There are still some shortcomings that allow accidents like the one on February 26 to happen. That was a passenger train. In my riding, many trains that carry hazardous materials also pass through. A speed control system and a voice recording system would enable us to go even further.
I am not really going to say more about it. On this side of the House, we are definitely in favour of the bill, and all the parties involved agree that our country's safety is very important.
Let me reiterate that I am in favour of this bill and pleased that it was introduced. That could have been done earlier. We have gone through a number of stages and we have taken some time before considering the matter. I am really pleased now that the Senate has proposed a bill that will improve our country's railway safety. I also hope that we will be able to go further by perhaps including the two solutions suggested by the NDP.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to address the House, particularly so when important issues such as the safety of Canadians, the protection of our environment and the efficiency of our economic infrastructure are on the table, as they are today.
As my hon. colleagues have recently emphasized, the government is committed to the safety and security of Canadians and Canadian communities and to a safe, dependable and modern transportation system to support the continuing well-being and prosperity of this country.
We cannot claim to have instant solutions for every new challenge that arises. Nobody can. However, as we have demonstrated time and time again, we are always willing to work openly and transparently in consultation with stakeholders and Canadians to ensure that the solutions and initiatives we develop are those this country needs to safely flourish and grow.
I believe the , brought forward today, is a fitting testimony to the success of our approach.
When the launched the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, Canada had recently suffered a series of devastating trail derailments that had caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses, and a serious pollution of track-side lakes, rivers and communities.
During the course of extensive inspections and audits undertaken by Transport Canada following these accidents, the regulator identified numerous deficiencies that contributed to decreased safety levels, including non-compliance by the railway companies with various safety requirements.
There was a general concern with the level of the railways' compliance with regulations. Accordingly, the terms of reference for this Railway Safety Act review specifically directed the independent panel to examine the adequacy of Transport Canada's enforcement powers and to consider whether administrative monetary penalties should be added to the range of enforcement powers available to the department.
The minister appointed an independent advisory panel in January of 2007 to lead the review of the Railway Safety Act. This panel was given the clear mandate to uncover gaps in the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations that would make the regulatory regime more robust and adaptable to the railway industry and its operations.
The panel conducted extensive consultations across the country with railway companies, all levels of government, labour, shippers and suppliers. This approach ensured that subsequent recommendations would take into account the appropriate range of perspectives on rail safety issues. Consultations and careful consideration of these issues were carried out during the year-long course of the review and resulted in the advisory panel making a series of recommendations.
It is important to note that our government took immediate action to implement many of these recommendations. At present, Transport Canada has implemented eight internal recommendations, industry has implemented three, and the final 21 recommendations involve the legislative changes that we are discussing today.
Furthermore, an advisory council on railway safety was created, as well as a Transport Canada-industry-union steering committee and six technical working groups. These groups successfully bring together relevant stakeholders to address rail safety issues in a collaborative manner.
I specifically wish to discuss a key recommendation by the advisory panel upon its examination of the Railway Safety Act. The panel uncovered that Transport Canada's enforcement powers under the Railway Safety Act need to be strengthened to encourage better regulatory compliance, increase safety, and help prevent further incidents like those that originally triggered this review.
The independent panel's final recommendation on the issue, as detailed in its report of March 2008, plainly stated that “an administrative monetary penalty scheme should be included in the Railway Safety Act as an additional compliance tool” to enhance safety in the rail industry.
The government fully agrees with the panel's assessment, and the introduction of a scheme for administrative monetary penalties has been included as an important and integral part of this comprehensive package of safety amendments to the Railway Safety Act.
Administrative monetary penalties are certainly not new in the transportation sector. They were successfully introduced in the air industry in 1986 and were subsequently introduced in the marine industry in 1991.
Penalties of this nature have been introduced in the transportation industry because they work. In simplest terms, administrative monetary penalties are similar to traffic tickets for car drivers. When a company or individual breaks a rule or does not comply with a regulation, the department can impose a pre-established administrative monetary penalty or fine to help encourage compliance in the future.
Administrative monetary penalties have other safety benefits as well. With an administrative monetary penalty scheme in place, there is the perception of fairness because the operator knows in advance the cost of non-compliance and it is applied uniformly. Penalties can also be applied more uniformly as there is less discretion for giving warnings and therefore less opportunity for inconsistency.
Under the current Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada's options for enforcing non-compliance are limited. When a violation is found during the course of an inspection or audit, an inspector will normally issue a letter of non-compliance and follow up in a given time frame to verify that corrective action has been taken. If the situation has not been corrected, the regulator has only one option, prosecution, which is both costly and time consuming and therefore ineffective for a large number of violations. This is a significant weakness in the current enforcement scheme of the act.
We believe that administrative monetary penalties should be implemented as an additional enforcement tool under the act to provide an efficient, effective and less costly alternative to prosecution, particularly in the case of persistent non-compliance with safety requirements established under the act. This is consistent with the principles of minimizing the regulatory burden for Canadians while, at the same time, promoting regulatory compliance.
Of course, in interests of fairness for all parties, the proposed administrative penalty scheme would allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. The scheme would also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance infractions. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, which is consistent with similar schemes in other modes of transport.
In addition to the implementation of an administrative monetary penalty scheme to improve railway compliance, we propose, through these amendments, to raise existing judicial penalty levels, which were established 20 years ago and are no longer consistent with those in other modes of transport. Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and from $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would increase from $100,000 to $500,000 for corporations and from $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual. These levels are consistent with other modes of transport, including air and marine, and the transport of dangerous goods in all modes under federal jurisdiction and reflect our view of what constitutes an effective deterrent to safety violations.
Implementing administrative monetary penalties as proposed in the safer railways act is clearly an important step in the development of an effective railway safety regime with sufficient scope and strength to ensure that our railways are safe and that they remain safe for the long term, as the railway industry continues to evolve and grow.
Administrative monetary penalties are not a stopgap measure. They were recommended by the Railway Safety Act review panel because they are a proven solution for improved compliance and safety requirements in the transport industry. Improved compliance means better safety for all Canadians and Canadian communities and a stronger foundation for our national transport system and economy for years to come.
The time is now to adopt this bill and move forward with further strengthening of the safety of our railway system. This bill has been consulted on and analyzed for several years and has received widespread approval and applause by all key industry stakeholders as well as members of both this House and the other place. I urge my colleagues to recognize that the time for debate has passed and, in the name of the safety and security of Canadians, the timely passage of this legislation is vital.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand in support of the legislation, but as will become clear in my presentation to this House, I have some reservations on the commitment of the government to actually deliver on the legislation.
As the parliamentary secretary said in his comments on Bill , the government should do what only governments can do and he noted that one of those things was to ensure public safety. However, he then added that it was important to move toward greater privatization and less government control, including over the rail industry.
I would suggest these are rather contradictory statements. It is that very contradictory approach to governance, frankly, by the current government that has caused increasing risks to public health and safety.
Nonetheless, the government can be commended for including many of the recommendations made over the many years of review of the legislation to improve it, including the introduction of administrative penalties and the stricter or higher penalties for serious infractions.
The introduction of administrative penalties is long overdue. I in fact participated in an initiative by Treasury Board and the Department of Justice in 1989. I was then chief of enforcement for Environment Canada and one of the few officials in the government who was actually supportive of this measure. We had a very productive measure. We travelled in the United States and examined some European jurisdictions for more innovative approaches to ensuring compliance with federal statutes. One of those measures was administrative penalties, which have only recently been put into environmental laws. It is encouraging to see them put into this law.
However, what causes me great concern is another comment by the parliamentary secretary. He may have misspoken. He may not understand fully what is included in enforcement of compliance policy and the criteria that are normally put in place in determining what kind of penalty should be exercised.The parliamentary secretary suggested that the value of administrative penalties was in a case of persistent non-compliance. I would like to assure the House that certainly in the case of environmental statutes, a case of persistent non-compliance is generally a trigger for a serious investigation and, in all likelihood, a prosecution.
The very purpose of legislation and the very purpose of an enforcement compliance system is to show to the regulated industry that there is a threat of detection and, in turn, enforcement.
As an aside, Mr. Speaker, I did not realize that I was splitting my time with the member for . If you could let me know when my time is up so I do not speak over it, I would appreciate that.
It is very important when tabling an important piece of legislation like this to make it clear within the agency that is going to be responsible for ensuring compliance that a very clear and consistent enforcement and compliance strategy has been put forward.
I would like to bring to the attention of the House, including to the government of the day, the fact that a predecessors of theirs, a former environment minister, Tom McMillan, of the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Mulroney, actually took that measure and had a very commendable approach to regulating at the federal level. On the day he tabled his bill, the now Canadian Environmental Protection Act, he simultaneously tabled an enforcement and compliance policy. Why did he do that? He said that a law without effective enforcement was a hollow measure.
I think that would make sense to everyone in this House. In other words, we can have the strictest penalties in the world, we can showcase the law and say that it is the best one in the western world, as we often say about our Canadian environmental statutes, but it is of little value if there is not equal commitment to effectively enforce that law and to ensure compliance.
Hearing the responses today from the government members to questions asked in this area, I am not reassured. I look forward in the future, perhaps in further discussions of the bill, for that matter to be clarified.
Why am I raising this? One of the most serious problems with rail safety in this country, in some cases, has been the failure to regulate and the failure of successive governments actually to enact the necessary regulations to give credibility to the Railway Safety Act. We have had review after review, including by the rail safety board, identifying regulatory gaps. However, the most significant problem with rail safety that has been identified by independent review bodies has been the failure of the government to effectively enforce that legislation.
I will refer to a report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled in the House in December 2011, very recently. What did the commissioner find? He and his review found:
Transport Canada lacks a consistent approach to planning and implementing compliance activities [in transportation]. As a consequence, it cannot ensure that sites are inspected according to the highest risk.
He further stated:
Transport Canada has not ensured that corrective action has been taken on instances of non-compliance.
In addition, he stated:
Transport Canada has given only temporary, interim approval for nearly half of the emergency response assistance plans put in place by regulated organizations. As a consequence, many of the most dangerous products regulated under the Act have been shipped for years without the Department having completed a detailed verification of plans for an immediate emergency response.
I have personal knowledge of these deficiencies. I happen to own property on Lake Wabumun, where in 2005 there was largest freshwater spill in the history of North America. Three-quarters of the spilled bunker C oil still lies at the bottom of Lake Wabumun. There was somewhat of an attempt to clean it up. I have to say that the Government of Canada, regrettably, did not appear on the scene until a week after the spill. Why is that critical? It is because there is a first nation located on that lake, which was monumentally impacted by that spill. The end result of the spill was a special commission by the Government of Alberta to ensure there would better emergency response measures in the future. I am sad to say there was no parallel review conducted by the Government of Canada.
It is not only the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development who has identified problems with the regulations under the statute. By the way, the new statute does provide for additional regulations, but, regrettably, the government has not simultaneously tabled the listing of regulations and the timetable wherein these regulations will be put in place. The statute is fine insofar as it is an enabling legislative measure, but the substance of this act comes with the regulations. We do not have any knowledge of when the government plans to come forward with these regulations, what the timetable and consultation program will be. I would encourage the government to bring these forward because it would give a lot of assurance to the people in the communities who live and work along the rail lines.
I would also encourage the government to table an enforcement and compliance strategy. Why is that critical? It is because it has been determined in review after review by the rail safety board that the system that the present government and the government before it have put into place is simply to abandon enforcement. It has been turned over to a self-inspection and self-enforcement system by the rail lines. That would be fine if we were not dealing with an industry that is increasingly carrying heavier loads and more dangerous cargo.
By the way, this cargo runs along most of the waterways of this country. The rail lines were originally built along the waterways to cool the trains' coal-fired engines. A good deal of the Canadian environment is potentially at risk, hence, the reason for the amendments to ensure greater rail safety in Canada. However, that is all the more reason it is incumbent upon the government to ensure those provisions are actually effectively inspected and enforced.
I would bring to the attention of the House a report by Transport Canada following the Wabumun and Cheakamus spills. It stated:
The Railway Track Safety Rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there common industry standards for rail life based on accumulated tonnage and the properties of the steel.
...Neither the quality of steel nor the accumulated tonnage is factored into this decision.
It further stated:
Recognizing the limitations of existing inspection tools, there is a requirement for additional strategies to ensure that maintenance rails are not installed where they are likely to have a shorter fatigue life than the parent rail.
It made a number of recommendations on putting more specific binding criteria in place for the maintenance of rails. Again, as I mentioned at the outset, that is very critical because many Canadians live and work along these lines and we need to ensure the public safety of Canadians.