Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-52, the safe and accountable rail act. As we know, this bill would amend two pieces of legislation that are important to the protection of our communities, the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act.
Canada's economy and the livelihood of people in communities across the country depend on the transportation of goods, including dangerous goods, of course, at times. As the economy grows, so too does the transportation of these dangerous goods.
The bill before us takes important steps to improve the overall safety of the rail system by increasing regulatory oversight, but the reality remains: no matter what actions we take to reduce risks—and we want to take every action we can—we must also be prepared to respond to a catastrophic accident, and this includes being able to pay the costs and compensate for the liabilities that result. This bill would address this element by strengthening accountability.
Municipalities across Canada bear much of the brunt of rail accidents. The bill before us would help respond to those risks. The amendments to the Railway Safety Act contained in this bill would enable municipalities to obtain information to help prepare for effective emergency response. Where there is a serious incident that results in costs for cleanup and repair, the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act contained in this bill would ensure that communities would not bear financial responsibility for such disasters.
Let me first address the matter of emergency response and then move on to the subject of liability and compensation.
Our government has undertaken important measures to improve the ability of first responders and communities to deal with rail emergencies. We need to keep this important dialogue going among shippers, railways, communities, and first responders. Together they can improve planning and operational communications. They can identify best practices for accident protocols in both urban and rural situations.
I commend Transport Canada for establishing an emergency response task force that brings together industry and community stakeholders to examine national needs for emergency response to accidents involving dangerous goods. In this way, we will strengthen the links between communities and industry and identify ways to improve emergency response.
In the consultations on the need for more co-operation and coordination in emergency response, Transport Canada heard from, among others, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada. Each of these organizations expressed concerns about the capacity of our communities to deal with rail incidents involving dangerous goods. Each has called for more effective sharing of information to support first responders.
This bill contains provisions to make that happen. It would authorize regulations to require a railway to provide information to municipalities when significant railway operational changes are occurring at that particular location. The bill would also amend the Railway Safety Act to provide new regulation-making powers with respect to a railway safety management system, or SMS. An SMS includes a risk assessment, a list of mitigation measures, and a plan to monitor the effectiveness of these measures. Regulations under the bill before us can require railways to share summaries of these risk assessments with municipalities. These two measures would help establish better communication between railways and the municipalities and would provide first responders with information they require to be fully prepared for emergencies.
I have been talking about the impact on communities of large catastrophic events, but I would also like to observe that the bill before us would remove from provincial and municipal taxpayers the cost of fighting smaller fires that may result from a company's railway operations.
These incidents sometimes happen as a result of railway activities, but because a train moves on before the fire is apparent, it can be difficult to ascribe cause and effect, and hence liability. As a result, the province or the municipality and their taxpayers are sometimes on the hook for the cost of putting out the fire.
This bill would amend the Railway Safety Act to give the Canadian Transportation Agency authority to determine whether a fire was caused by rail operations. If so, the agency could then determine the costs and require the railway to reimburse the province or municipality for these costs. However, despite all these best efforts, railways will never be able to prevent all accidents.
This brings me to a second component of this bill, changes in the liability and compensation regime for rail. Under the current system, a railway company must insure against accidents, but as we have seen with the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic, that insurance coverage was insufficient to cover the resulting liabilities.
In response, the bill before us would legislate the minimum amount of insurance that a railway would be required to hold, depending on the type and volume of dangerous goods the railway carries annually. This approach is objective and would provide greater certainty that there will be sufficient insurance coverage in the event of a railway accident.
Requiring federally regulated railways to carry minimum levels of insurance is a necessary first step for the government to fulfill its promise in the 2013 Speech from the Throne.
The second step is to put in place a regime that shares responsibility between shippers and railways, so that industry is held accountable. Common carrier obligations of the Canada Transportation Act require railways to ship any products offered for transport. This obligation benefits shippers, who can rely on getting their goods to market.
Given this, the bill would clearly establish the roles and responsibilities of shippers and railways in the event of an accident involving crude oil. Railways would be liable without proof of fault or negligence, up to their insurance level, for a crude oil accident.
However, to pay for liabilities that could be in excess of a railway company's mandated insurance level, the bill would require shippers of crude oil to pay into a supplementary compensation fund through a levy. This fund is called the fund for railway accidents involving designated goods. This fund would be used to cover the same liabilities for which railways are held accountable. The fund could later be expanded through regulation to include other dangerous goods.
To finance the fund, these amounts would be collected from shippers for the movement of crude oil and held in a special account in the consolidated revenue fund. Together these measures would ensure adequate resources were available to cover the liabilities associated with a disaster of the magnitude of Lac-Mégantic.
Through this, the bill before us would establish the polluter pays principle for rail transportation. The overall approach is similar to the regime now in place in marine transportation and is in line with actions the government is tabling for the pipeline, offshore drilling, and marine sectors as well.
In this way, we would ensure that victims and taxpayers are not on the hook to pay for the costs of emergency response or other liabilities associated with a tragic accident involving dangerous goods carried by rail. We would be balancing the common carrier obligations with shipper accountability.
These measures would allow liability for potential catastrophic rail accidents to be shared between railways and shippers, and it would result in transportation choices that better reflect true costs and risks.
The bill before us would protect our communities by helping to prevent accidents and by sharing information that improves emergency response, and if there were an incident, this bill would ensure that communities and taxpayers were not the ones who pay for the response, cleanup, and compensation. I truly hope that all members in this House will join me in supporting this bill.