I would like to open this committee of the whole session by making a short statement on this evening's proceedings.
Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 81(4)(a), which provides for each of two sets of estimates selected by the to be considered in committee of the whole for up to four hours.
The debate is also held under the provisions of the order made on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Tonight's debate is a general one on all of the votes related to Transport. Each member will be allocated 15 minutes. The first round will begin with the official opposition, followed by the government and the Liberal Party. After that, we will follow the usual proportional rotation.
As provided in an order made on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, parties may use each 15-minute slot for speeches or for questions and answers by one or more of their members. In the case of speeches, members of the party to which the period is allotted may speak one after the other. The Chair would appreciate it if the first member speaking in each slot would indicate how his or her time will be used, particularly if it is to be shared.
When the time is to be used for questions and answers, the Chair will expect that the minister's response will reflect approximately the time taken by the question, since this time will be counted in the time originally allotted to the parties.
Though members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again, while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.
Members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.
Finally, I would remind hon. members that according to the order made May 6, during this evening's debate, no quorum calls, dilatory motions, or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.
As your Chair, I am guided by the rules of the committee of the whole and by the order made on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. However, in the interests of a full exchange, I am prepared to exercise discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules.
I also wish to indicate that in committee of the whole, ministers and members should be referred to by their titles or riding names, and of course, all remarks should addressed through the Chair.
I ask for everyone's co-operation in upholding all established standards of decorum, parliamentary language, and behaviour. At the conclusion of tonight's debate, the committee will rise. The estimates related to Transport will be deemed reported, and the House will adjourn immediately until tomorrow.
We may now begin tonight's session. The House, in committee of the whole, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), the first appointed day, consideration in committee of the whole of all votes related to Transport in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2015.
The floor is open.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate the kind wishes of the hon. member at the beginning, and I appreciate the tough questions he posed. They were very good.
I am pleased to appear before the committee of the whole this evening as part of its review of the votes relating to Transport in the 2014–15 main estimates, but as well to take this opportunity to highlight some of the key priorities that our government is addressing.
First, I will move to the estimates.
The authorities that we are seeking for the 2014–15 main estimates will be directed to support several key priorities within my department. We will continue to refine and strengthen safety and security oversight of the transportation system. We will continue to contribute to our government's responsible resource development agenda, and we will improve Canada's competitiveness in critical transportation infrastructure. We will ensure that Transport Canada policies, programs, and activities meet the needs of the transportation system in the long term, and we will adopt our government's efficiency and renewal measures.
I will focus the rest of my opening remarks on our efforts to address a few key areas: tanker safety; investments in transportation infrastructures as part of our gateways and corridors strategy; and, of course, rail safety.
First, I will talk about tanker safety and, specifically, what we are doing to strengthen our tanker safety regime. In the main estimates, members will note that we are requesting additional authorities in the amounts of $15.8 million for world-class oil spill response. This is a 686% increase from the authorities that were sought in last year's main estimates. The tanker safety regime is based on three pillars: first, we prevent spills from happening in the first place; second, we clean them up should they happen; third, we hold polluters accountable and financially responsible for those spills. This regime introduced new measures such as increased inspections of foreign tankers in Canadian waters, expanded air surveillance and monitoring of ships in our waters, and a new incident command system to allow the Canadian Coast Guard to respond more effectively to incidents.
To help achieve a world-class tanker safety system, we struck an independent expert panel led by Captain Gordon Houston, the former CEO of Port Metro Vancouver. The panel submitted its first report in November and it made 45 recommendations on how to strengthen the oil spill preparedness and response regime. We take this advice very seriously. Therefore, we are engaging communities and first nations, the marine industry, and provincial governments on the panel's recommendations. However, the panel's work does continue. It is currently reviewing oil tanker safety measures in the Arctic, as well as marine transport of hazardous and noxious substances. I do expect to receive its second report and its final report later this year.
Recently when I was in British Columbia, I was able to be on board one of the planes operated by our national aerial surveillance program, or NASP. It was quite an experience because I had the opportunity to appreciate not only the importance of the efforts but also the excitement of the members of the crew in their everyday work, because they are working hard on a world-class tanker safety regime. We are going to double the funding for this aerial surveillance program, and that is going to allow this team to increase the number of hours the planes are in the air, and then they can better monitor our coasts and ultimately deter potential polluters, and catch a spill before it becomes too big.
Economic action plan 2014 recognizes the importance of trade and investment to Canada's economic future, and the role of Canada's transportation infrastructure network in supporting trade in domestic and international markets. Through the main estimates, we are seeking $702 million to support important infrastructure projects through the gateways and corridors funding program. The program supports international trade with the United States and other key partners by ensuring integrated and efficient transportation systems across all modes. We have to work with other levels of government and private-sector stakeholders, and together we are both investing in important infrastructure products at border crossings and bolstering our efforts to coordinate infrastructure planning as part of government's beyond the border initiative. Improvements to cross-border trade will go a long way toward ensuring continued economic growth for Canada.
Finally, I would like to turn my attention to what my top priority is, and that is strengthening rail safety in this country.
This past January, the Transportation Safety Board released three interim recommendations regarding its ongoing investigation into the Lac-Mégantic train derailment. The recommendations addressed three factors: the vulnerabilities of the DOT-111 tank cars used to transport crude oil, the need for emergency response assistance plans, or ERAPs, along routes where large volumes of liquid hydrocarbons are shipped, and the requirement for route planning and analysis for trains carrying dangerous goods.
On April 23, we provided our response and we outlined our actions going forward to directly and decisively address these recommendations. The Government of Canada is committed to continued collaboration with industry, other levels of government, and various stakeholders.
Well before the events at Lac-Mégantic, rail safety issues were already being addressed by our government. In May of last year, amendments to the Railway Safety Act came into force that strengthen the safety requirements for rail companies in Canada.
As well, we have worked for years to maintain safety for pedestrians and vehicles around grade crossings. New safety regulations were recently published, and this year the federal government's grade crossing improvement program is providing more $9 million to improve safety at over 600 railway crossings in this country.
I also feel strongly in this case that Canadians should not be expected to cover the costs of damages. To this end, Transport Canada has consulted stakeholders on how to strengthen the existing liability and compensation regime for rail. This way, in the event of an accident, sufficient resources would be available to adequately compensate victims, pay for cleanup costs, and protect taxpayer funds. This complements recent consultations by the Canadian Transportation Agency into the insurance coverage it requires of federally regulated railway companies when they issue certificates of fitness to the companies.
When it comes to addressing the recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board, I want to stress that we are committed to improving railway safety and the transportation of dangerous goods by rail.
Following the accident in Lac-Mégantic, the federal government took immediate action. The measures I announced in April build upon this work and further strengthen our country's regulation and oversight of rail safety in the transportation of dangerous goods. I will just remind the House of these measures.
We first acted to remove the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from dangerous goods service in general by directing the phase-out of tank cars that have no continuous reinforcement of their bottom shell. There are about 5,000 of these cars in North America.
We are also improving the tank cars that are used to transport crude oil or ethanol to significantly reduce the risk of these substances escaping if the cars are involved in an accident. In January of this year, Transport Canada published a revised mandatory standard for consultation, requiring thicker steel, head shields, and top-fitting protection. All DOT-111 tank cars that do not meet this January 2014 standard must be phased out or refitted within three years if they are to be used for the transportation of crude oil or ethanol.
We will also implement even more stringent tank car requirements in the future, based upon industry recommendations and technical discussions that are ongoing with the United States. In fact, Canada is already committed to meeting or exceeding all U.S. requirements for DOT-111 tank cars.
The second Transportation Safety Board recommendation that we are addressing is in relation to emergency response assistance plans. These are formal plans that describe what industry will do to support first responders in the event of an accident involving dangerous goods that require special expertise and response equipment.
To ensure we are prepared in the event of a rail accident, the federal government will require rail shippers to develop emergency response plans for higher-risk flammable liquids. In the event of an accident involving significant quantities of these dangerous goods, approved response plans will give first responders access in a timely manner to the resources and the assistance that they need. To accomplish this, we have issued a direction to require shippers to develop emergency response assistance plans for crude oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, and ethanol when even a single tank car is loaded with one of these designated flammable liquids.
We will also establish a task force with key partners and stakeholders such as the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Aboriginal Firefighters' Association as well as key response, shipping, and railway representatives. This task force will provide a dedicated and collaborative forum to enhance coordination of response capability. We will also consider expanding response plan requirements for other class 3 flammable liquids after reviewing the matter with this task force.
Finally, Canada already has a strong regulatory regime for trains travelling in both rural and urban areas. Transport Canada has now introduced even stricter requirements for trains transporting dangerous goods in order to safeguard communities along our railway lines.
We issued an emergency directive requiring railway companies to immediately slow trains that transport dangerous goods and implement other key operating practices that respond to the TSB's recommendations. The emergency directive adapts the recently announced U.S. voluntary requirements to the Canadian rail network, requiring companies to make key operational changes quickly.
We will make these requirements permanent by issuing a ministerial order that requires railway companies transporting dangerous goods to develop new rules on these operating practices. It is a major undertaking that requires careful planning in order to deliver rapid and concrete results.
In conclusion, the initiatives I have outlined today demonstrate clearly how our government is working to maintain transportation in Canada that is safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally responsible, and we take this responsibility seriously.
Mr. Chair, those are two areas we do want to make sure we shed some light on.
With respect to grade crossings, we have a fund available to help with making changes at grade crossings, as I referred to in my remarks already. We also have a program to close grade crossings, either private or public, that are no longer needed. We contribute to that as well. There are about 5,000 of these in the country.
With respect to Operation Lifesaver, it is absolutely worth taking time to talk about a great group of people who work together to ensure that we are communicating with kids, with families, and with communities about the importance of safety around rail. In fact, last week was rail safety week, and Operation Lifesaver has done a great job tweeting out information to people to make sure they have rail safety at the forefront of their minds.
In March of this year, I was able to host a round table dealing specifically with the issues associated with higher density in certain urban areas and pedestrian fatalities as a result of accidents with rail. We brought together the main railways: GO Transit, VIA, CN, and CP. We also brought into the room a mom who lost her son. Those kinds of conversations are important in reminding ourselves that we should continuously talk about not just the transportation of dangerous goods but also the fact that we do have this interaction with pedestrians in communities and that we should continuously do all we can to ensure their safety.
As one last thing, this is also national occupational health and safety week, so it is an important time to think about those things as well.