The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House on the third reading of Bill S-4, the safer railways act.
Before I begin, allow me to congratulate my colleagues across the entire chamber for the successful manner in which this bill has been discussed, debated, analyzed and moved to this point.
I thank the hon. member for his applause and I want him to feel free to interrupt my comments with his applause at any time.
I hope he will join me in applauding our Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who has proven himself to be a quiet, diligent builder in the true Canadian sense. We see the success he has had in moving forward with a plan to build a new bridge, a replacement of the Champlain Bridge over the St. Lawrence. That bridge is going to be at a minimal cost to taxpayers and at a higher quality for the residents of Montreal and the many people who pass through that corridor from right across Canada.
The minister is succeeding in building linkages with our friends south of the border in the hopes that we will have a Detroit-Windsor bridge. He has moved this bill on railway safety quietly but quickly through the House of Commons, and he has also worked with municipal partners toward the eventual development of a replacement for the building Canada fund, which will expire in just a few years. We all have a lot to celebrate when we look at the record of this Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
The bill in front of us deals with one of the few legitimate roles of government, and that is to protect the safety and security of the person. Canada has one of the strongest rail safety regimes in the entire world. Last year we saw reductions in accidents on the railroad by 23%, and derailments dropped by 26%. Obviously there is a lot more work to do. Until such time as there are no accidents whatsoever, we must continue to work with industry and in partnership with government to have the strongest and best laws to ensure safety.
It gives me great pleasure to say that committee members have thoroughly re-examined this bill and have given their unanimous approval for the second time, exactly as it was received, with no further changes. It has been a long journey, but our final destination is in view. This important piece of legislation reflects our desire to ensure that our national railway system 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 always a priority for our government.
Before going further, I would like to remind members about the origin and the intent of this bill. In late 2006, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities appointed an independent panel to review the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations for improving both the act and railway safety in general.
Through 2007, this panel travelled from the Atlantic to the Pacific gathering input from a very broad spectrum of stakeholders, including the railway companies, their associations, the railway unions, shippers, suppliers, municipalities, other national organizations, levels of government and the public.
The end result of these extensive national consultations was a final report with more than 50 recommendations for improving safety in the rail industry. While the rail safety review was in progress, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities undertook a complementary study of railway safety in Canada. After hearing extensive comments from municipalities, industry and labour, the committee accepted 56 recommendations of the Railway Safety Act panel and tabled its own report with 14 recommendations, many of which were built on those in the Railway Safety Act review.
Some of those amendments proposed in the bill before the House today are a direct result of the standing committee's extensive work in this regard. I heartily thank its members for their dedicated efforts.
In short, Bill S-4 is our Conservative government's detailed response to those two national reviews. The amendments it proposes would significantly modernize the current act to reflect changes in the industry and ultimately to increase the level of safety for the benefit of our generation and those to come.
First and foremost, Bill S-4 would provide stronger oversight and enforcement capacity to Transport Canada through the introduction of 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 transportation.
Throughout all our stakeholder consultation and committee examinations of these amendments, we heard strong support for the implementation of the safety-based operating certificates for all railways that run on federal tracks. These certificates, which would significantly strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity, would ensure that companies must 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 of the certificate. This includes 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.
Many stakeholders also expressed strong support for the introduction of monetary penalties and an increase in the judicial fines for serious contraventions of safety regulations. Monetary penalties already exist in other modes of transportation. They serve as a complementary enforcement tool and provide additional leverage on companies that continue to persist in safety violations.
This is consistent with the principles of minimizing regulatory burden for Canadians while at the same time promoting compliance. In that sense, we want to streamline and focus our rules so they cause a minimal encumbrance to the passenger and the business while punishing violations with serious monetary fines to discourage non-compliance.
In the interest of fairness for all, the proposed penalty scheme would allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. It 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 and infractions.
The maximum levels of these penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, which is consistent with similar schemes for other modes of transportation. The proposed increase in judicial fines, which were originally established 20 years ago, would also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement options and bring those fines to a level currently found in the other modes of transportation, as I mentioned earlier.
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 a business and from $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual.
These amounts are consistent with those established for federal air and marine transportation and transportation of dangerous goods. Those modes of transportation are comparable enough to ensure that they would work in this mode of rail transportation. They are large enough to effectively deter contraventions.
The bill also provides for a significantly stronger focus on the importance of railway accountability and safety management systems, which both industry and labour applaud and support.
With these amendments in place, railway companies would be required to appoint a designated executive responsible for all safety matters. They would also be required to provide whistleblower protection for employees who raise safety concerns. Besides increasing our level of protection from accidents and oversights, these amendments would ensure the growth of a strong and lasting culture of safety in the railway industry.
On the administrative side, the bill would effectively close the gaps in the existing act by clarifying the minister's authority on matters of railway safety. It would expand regulation-making authorities, which 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.
The safer railways bill is all about better oversight, improved enforcement tools, enhanced safety management systems and better environmental protection. These are the things we need. These are the things we applaud. I think my hon. colleagues would agree that these are the things we can all support.
In sum, these proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act would improve rail safety in Canada for the long term. They are the culmination of two important studies and extensive consultations. They would provide increased safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, economic benefits to the industry by decreasing the likelihood of costly accidents and delays, and a variety of benefits to external stakeholders, including provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public.
Last but not least, these amendments would provide additional support for a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment for all Canadians.
With the House's support of these amendments, the government's ability would be enhanced to effectively regulate companies in an environment of continued growth, free enterprise competition and increased complexity. We would have the ability to ensure the safety of not only the passenger but the motorist and the pedestrian and the communities through which these trains travel. Improvements to Transport Canada's regulatory oversight and enforcement programs would be limited. The pursuit of new safety initiatives with respect to the management systems and environmental management would be badly constrained without these changes.
Without the support of the House, the legislative framework for railways would also 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.
Without the support of the House, we would ultimately be looking at greater long-term costs to Canadians due to continuing fatalities, serious injuries and damage to valuable property and the environment.
Happily, it appears we do have the support of the House. All members of the House would agree that because of this cross-party consensus and the passage of the bill into law imminently, the Canadian public would be safer and the industry and its workers would be stronger.
Canada has one of the most dispersed populations in the world and it is the second biggest country on earth. Our railways have 73,000 km of track stretching from coast to coast and more than 3,000 locomotives handle more than 4 million carloads yearly. They operate more than 700 trains per day, moving nearly 70 million passengers and 75% of all service freight in this country. Railways have been the backbone of our economy since the days of John A. Macdonald and Confederation. They were the foundation of our national growth in the past and they remain integral to our prosperity in the future.
It is timely and forward-looking legislative amendments such as these that will ensure our rail industry remains a safe, secure and dependable component of our national infrastructure and global economy for many years to come.
In 2009, our Conservative government affirmed its commitment to safe, reliable transportation systems by investing in rail safety systems and putting the right kinds of rules into place. These amendments to the Railway Safety Act that we have before us today are the fruit of that commitment.
Since the launch of the Railway Safety Act review in 2006, our government has worked continuously with stakeholders, through the Advisory Council on Railway Safety, joint technical working groups and individual consultations across the country, to ensure that this bill meets the needs of all the parties engaged in this industry.
The net result is a strong, forward-looking bill that updates existing regulatory authorities, brings railway legislation in line with other modes and significantly improves the safety of our railway system for the benefit of all.
I will mention some of the leaders who played a role in the early stages of this process. I think of then minister Chuck Strahl, or Lawrence Cannon, two members who have now moved on to other career pursuits but who served as ministers of transport. I think of the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean, now our Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also served in the capacity of transport minister. I think of our current minister who, as I highlighted earlier, has achieved a record of quiet, diligent results in this and in many other areas.
The bill demonstrates the ability of our majority Conservative government to get things done. To continue to preserve our free enterprise economy while protecting the security of the person is one of the fundamental responsibilities of government. Together, as we focus on the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, which is a plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and as we build upon the free market foundations that made this country what it is today, I encourage all members to support these common sense changes to improve rail safety and keep commerce moving across our tracks for the future and for all of us.
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, having a safe and reliable rail network is essential to Canada's mobility and economy. Seventy percent of all service goods are shipped by train. Passenger and commuter trains transport more than 70 million people a year. Our railways also have an environmental edge over road bound traffic as they only contributes 3% of Canada's transportation related greenhouse gas emissions.
By choosing rail, passengers and shippers also choose one of the safest modes of transport in Canada. However, although modest gains have been made in reducing accidents over the past few years, we are not where we want to be in terms of rail safety. The tragic VIA Rail collisions in Burlington in February of this year and the recent derailment in Alberta show that more needs to be done. Bill S-4, the safer railways act, is a step in the right direction.
Members know that the bill has been in front of the House of Commons several times. In fact, the history of it is quite extensive. It started in February 2007 with the department telling the minister of transport that there should be a full review of the operation and efficiency of the Railway Safety Act.
An advisory panel was established and came out with a final report entitled “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, which was published in November 2007. That was five years ago. It included 56 recommendations for improvement of rail safety, some of which are included in the legislative changes in front of us today.
Throughout the past five years, the bill came before the House in many forms. In May 2008 the standing committee tabled 14 recommendations after it studied the Rail Safety Act. In June 2010 Bill C-33 was introduced by the government in the House of Commons, but unfortunately it did not pass. We now have Bill S-4 in front of us.
However, Bill S-4 is only a step, not a leap. Depending on whom one talks to, it is more of a baby step. It is long overdue, but it is certainly not universal in addressing ongoing rail safety challenges.
Rail accidents have decreased over the last five years, but only in a very limited way. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, an independent government agency responsible for advancing transportation safety through investigations and recommendations, has some insightful statistics, some of which I will list.
The number of railway accidents went down by a meagre 5% from 2010 to 2011. We still have more than 1,000 train accidents a year. That is almost three a day. Slightly more than 100 train collisions and derailments happen on the main tracks and not tucked away in some slow-moving marshalling yard.
Off the main tracks, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported 573 collisions and derailments. There were 33 accidents in which the culprit was not due to human error or rolling stock, but because the rails themselves were unsafe.
Every other week, somewhere in our country, there is a rail accident that involves fire or an explosion. VIA Rail unfortunately does not own its own rails but leases them from CN/CP. This makes it hard for VIA Rail to have much control over the rails.
Needless to say, a rail accident's harmful potential is compounded when dangerous goods are involved.
In 2011 there were 118 accidents involving toxic cargo, most of them were derailments. In three of those accidents harmful contents were spilled, damaging the environment and threatening the health of residents and workers.
Even without collisions, once a week there is an incident somewhere in Canada in which dangerous goods are leaked.
The Transportation Safety Board reported 51 incidents in which harmful and toxic substances were inadvertently released into the environment, and things do not look much better this year. From January to March, there were 16 dangerous goods leakages. During the same time frame last year, there were 11. We actually had five more incidents of dangerous goods that leaked into the environment than last year.
While the number of overall accidents has slightly decreased, 5%, the number of serious accidents, those that have to be reported to the Transportation Safety Board, has increased by a dramatic 27% from 2010 to 2011. The number of mandatory reported rail incidents rose from 160 to 204. That means we are on par with the numbers again in 2005, 2,004 rail incidents. That is a big number. It makes one wonder about significant and sustainable safety gains that were supposedly to be achieved under the Conservative government.
In 2011 there were 68 accidents involving passenger trains. Just to keep the record straight, travelling by rail is still several times safer than taking a car, but 68 accidents involved passenger trains last year.
In addition to the potential damage to passengers and working crews, passenger train accidents have a corrosive effect on public perception. Right after the Burlington accident, VIA Rail suffered a slump in passenger numbers. The solution is not to talk about it, but to really tackle our rail safety deficit head on. It is timely that this bill is in front of us at third reading. Hopefully it will be law in a few days.
There was a train accident on February 26 of this year in Burlington and one in Montreal a few years ago. Rail accidents not only impact workers and passengers who are hurt or fatally injured, but the damage and the grief goes beyond those immediately affected such as local communities and residents and businesses. Whenever these accidents happen, emergency personnel and local residents show valour and compassion beyond the ordinary. The five heroes who were honoured by Burlington city council yesterday are prime examples of just that.
Tragic accidents also leave deep scars in local communities. Almost two years after the fatal accident in Montreal, the parents of three teenagers who were killed are still looking for answers as to why their children were run over in the dark by a train with dimmed headlights.
The Transportation Safety Board has investigated more than 170 rail accidents in recent years. Based on the insights from its investigation, the Transportation Safety Board has made a whole host of demands for improving rail safety. For the particularly urgent and important ones, it files a formal recommendation with Transport Canada and tracks the ministry's response and action.
Since 2005, the Transportation Safety Board has issued more than 50 of those formal recommendations. Unfortunately, under the Conservative leadership, Transport Canada has not been very proactive or eager to follow those recommendations. Less than 60%, that is 6 out of 10, of the Transportation Safety Board's file demands have been completely addressed in the eyes of the independent agency. Why have not 100% of the recommendations from the safety board been addressed and implemented?
Fifteen per cent of the expert's recommendations were partially addressed. One-quarter of the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations were essentially left unaddressed, with no meaningful action taken. I will take some time later on to go through them.
The TSB, in its very charming wording, said that it was “satisfactory intent”. There is intent, but no action has been taken. In some of these cases, the ministry has been sitting on its hands for seven years, so it is very subtle to call that intent.
The first of the recommendations is the voice recorders. We will recall, in all of these accidents, whether the one in Quebec or the one still under investigation from Burlington, that the investigators have not been able to get to the bottom of the accidents because there are no voice recorders in the locomotive cabs. Therefore, unlike planes, we do not know precisely what happens in the locomotive cab.
Even before 2007, close to 10 years, the safety board has said that Transport Canada must mandate these voice recorders to be installed in the locomotive cabs. For six years nothing happened. Recently we heard from the minister that some discussion had taken place, that there was some negotiation with the unions. The unions have said that they are not opposed to them, so there is absolutely no reason why it is not mandated. Apparently there are more discussions. There is a lot of talk, but at the end of the day there are still no voice recorders in locomotive cabs. That is just not acceptable.
The second area the Transportation Safety Board has talked about is the need for an alternative mechanism to slow down the trains if the trains go too fast. In these times of modern technologies, certainly the switches and tracks can be connected with the braking system. Such technology exists. It is called a positive train control system. It is a system that is being installed across the states. Amtrak, for example, has them now. As of 2005, it is mandatory that every train in the U.S. has such a control system. Therefore, as in the case of Burlington, the train would have automatically slowed down to the appropriate speed and not jumped the track because it was going too fast.
Another area we need to look at occasionally is driver fatigue. What happens is a driver might report to work at 8 a.m. If the train is late, or for some reason there is a breakdown or mechanical problems, the driver waits and waits, then starts work. In this case, by the time drivers start their work, they have waited for many hours and some of them are in fact very tired.
We need to look at the whole area of rail crossing in the future. We did not make any amendments to that, because rail crossing is fairly complex. A lot of developments have built condominiums and shopping malls around railway tracks. Some of the railway companies say that if municipalities want to go ahead and build such developments in areas served by trains, then at least the railway companies should be advised.
Local municipalities, local government is a provincial matter. In many ways it does not necessarily come under federal jurisdiction. However, this is an area we need to look at. We do not want a developer building a series of high-rises, an entire neighbourhood on one side of the track, and then a school or a shopping mall being built on the other side of the track. People are then tempted to cross the track, even though there might be barriers. They might take shortcuts and put themselves in danger. Urban planning needs to recognize rail safety as a very important issue.
In European countries and in Asia, railway crossings are increasingly separated by grade. The train either goes into a tunnel or it goes up on a bridge so that the pedestrian can walk across directly. It is not a shortcut. In some cases, pedestrians go across a bridge to cross railway tracks. It costs a bit more money, but it is infinitely safer than asking people to go around railway tracks and not take a shortcut.
Railway associations are quite concerned about those areas, but given how long Bill S-4, the safer railways act, has been before the House, the committee and other members of Parliament and the NDP did not want to slow down the bill. It was fast-tracked through the committee, which is why I did not move any amendments on voice recorders, positive train control, rail crossing or driver fatigue. Those issues, important as they are, need to be investigated and considered in a future study, maybe in future recommendations.
I was assured by the minister that voice recorders are coming soon. After all these years of waiting, they will come and we do not need to mandate them. I will not quite believe this until I see it, but let us see what happens.
I want to turn the rest of the few minutes I have to talk quickly about the rest of the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations. They were left unaddressed by Transport Canada. Let me list some of them.
The department of transport, in conjunction with the railway industry and other North American regulators, should establish a protocol for reporting and analyzing tank car stub sill failures, so that unsafe cars are repaired or removed from service.
Another recommendation where no action has been taken is that Transport Canada work with the provincial government to expedite the implementation of a national standard for low ground clearance advance warning signs at railway crossings. Railway crossings are very important, and we need advance warning signs.
CN should take effective action to identify and mitigate risk to safety as required by its safety management system. We should require CN to do so, not just ask politely. We should implement Transport Canada standards to improve the visibility of emergency contact signage at railways crossings, again, it is about railways crossings, and then conduct assessments of level crossings on the high-speed passenger rail Quebec-Windsor corridor and ensure that defences are adequate to mitigate the risk of truck-train collisions.
There are many more recommendations that I want to go into, but I am running out of time. I know that when we work together we can get the job done and make train service in Canada even safer than it is today.
Hon. Denis Coderre:
Mr. Speaker, everybody is happy about this debate because it is probably the only bill that everyone agrees on. I thank the member for Beauce, who was initially against the bill, but then supported it later on. Apparently, even he sometimes sees the light. We thank him.
One thing is certain: I was proud to suggest at the last committee meeting that the bill be fast-tracked and reported without amendment, so that it can return to the House. This is a subject that everybody agrees on, because health and safety are not partisan issues. Everyone has made an effort and worked hard on this issue.
The issue should have been considered as part of Bill C–33, which unfortunately died on the order paper. We know that the subject was then dealt with in the other chamber, in the form of Bill S–4.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, Senator Mercer, who did an admirable job. What is important and interesting about this bill is that we had proposed a series of amendments as part of Bill C–33. These amendments were adopted virtually unanimously thanks particularly to the tireless work of my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville, who did a very good job.
We could talk about what more could be done. There is obviously a lot more to be done. Health and safety are ongoing issues. This had to be done to be in sync with the other forms of transport. It was therefore crucial that it be done. As far as air and marine transport are concerned, we know that measures had already been proposed. It is important that the same thing be done for the railways.
I would also like to thank the members on both sides of this House, especially the minister who answered my questions. Someone said earlier that he was quiet. It is true that he is sometimes quiet on a number of issues, but at least he answered the question in this case. I am quite happy about this.
As a former minister, I have always been in favour, whether from a curative or preventive standpoint, of having some power to protect people's quality of life. I believe that this is the very core of this bill: enabling the minister to intervene. This of course is a power that can be delegated. Often, such an intervention can prevent things from getting bogged down in administrative or bureaucratic details. In a democracy, it is crucial for the people's representative, the minister, to have this ability and this power to intervene. Very often, this kind of prevention can save lives. Providing it is essential.
In short, it is clear that this bill will improve Transport Canada's oversight capacity. It will increase the department’s powers to enforce the act. There will be punitive fines. This is important. It is not always enough, but it is important.
I also believe that it is necessary to have someone who is accountable where safety is concerned. In my view, the other essential element is that whistleblowers be able to intervene without becoming victims of intimidation. As we know, very often, knowledge is power. Once people realize, whether in the private or public sector, that they can have this "political” power to intervene and prevent problems, it becomes not only the right thing to do, but the essential thing to do.
Needless to say, there has to be a process that leads to a form of certification. I believe that such certification is vital. It is a step in the right direction. It is even several steps in the right direction. After the two reports were prepared, we were able to demonstrate that we were listening carefully. It was essential and important to be able to intervene.
I do have one concern, however, because this is not the end of the story, and it is not a panacea. All our amendments were accepted, but a further step is still required, because things are different in rural communities and urban communities. I asked the minister some questions. There is of course this whole concept of accountability of individuals, parents and everyone who has a supervisory role to play. You can put up 12-foot-high fences. You can build all kinds of infrastructure to prevent people from getting through, but people will get through anyway.
Given the existing urban reality and even, in some cases, the existing rural reality, it is important that all stakeholders make a pact so that, after this bill is passed, they can move on to the next step and come to an agreement about safety.
Earlier, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina spoke about certain elements that could be added to improve safety and protection, both for passengers and workers.
Today is May 1, International Workers' Day. We must therefore also think about the railway workers whose do quite an admirable job.
This is not just a legal battle. We cannot say that this is not our responsibility because it involves the private sector or it falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces. We also cannot say that we are not going to get involved because this falls under the jurisdiction of the municipalities and they are creatures of the provinces.
With regard to security and protection, it will be essential to come to an agreement with all the stakeholders, whether it be the Federation of Canadian Municipalities or the major cities. In areas where there are railway crossings, it will be key to have additional tools to protect our youth and others who too often recklessly decide to cross the railway tracks.
In addition, certification is not a solution in and of itself but, rather, a means to an end. It is an additional tool that will aid in prevention.
Yes, the train is one of the safest forms of transportation. The other day, we spoke about the train that derailed in Burlington. We were very distressed about that situation. Could this type of accident have been avoided?
In order to prevent those kinds of incidents, it is important to provide individuals with all the tools they need to ensure their security. I proposed a fast track at committee because we have been talking from both sides, not only this time but even before the last session. It has been a long process since 2006 but it is not the first time that we have talked about security and prevention. This is why the Liberal Party of Canada will take responsibility and support the bill.
I believe it is very important to mention that if everybody wants to work together, majority government or not, it would be a great thing for democracy because we would be sending a true message that we are all equal as representatives and that we have a role to play. The fact that we can put forward some amendments that, from the two chambers, we can talk together and work for the sake of our communities, is the good news today. It is a lesson learned that we should take note of that process. It is like the movie Field of Dreams, if we build it they will come.
It is a wonderful process. I am very pleased with the answers that Transport Canada and the minister provided to us on that issue. The minister and I do not agree on everything but I do recognize that in that process he delivered. We are looking forward to providing some new alternatives afterward because there are some other issues regarding alternatives for security.
What is important is that it is a living paper. We will need to see what happens in the future but we have a framework here that addresses some of the issues that we wanted to address and the fact that the stakeholders, such as the unions, are on the same page. Nothing is perfect but I believe we are better having an imperfection realized than a perfection en attente, as we say.
We will support Bill S-4.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Bourassa, for splitting his time with me. I do know that, as our Liberal Party critic, the member for Bourassa has done an outstanding job in terms of ensuring there is this sense of urgency to see this particular bill pass through the system.
It is great to see. It is not that long ago that we had it before us in second reading, and we have it again today in third reading. I suspect we would love to see it pass here today and, ultimately, continue on going through the system.
It is important to note that this particular bill was in a different form prior to the last election, better known as Bill C-33, which had its origin here in the House. I know there was some concern as to why this would have started off in the Senate.
However, I do think there is a sense that this particular bill does need to be fast-tracked, primarily because we recognize just how critically important it is to the railway industry as a whole to ensure we do what we can to improve rail line services throughout the country.
It has been a long time since there was an actual significant change to the Railway Safety Act. My understanding is we would have to go back to the 1990s, I think it was 1999, under the Chrétien government, where there were other amendments of significance that were made. A lot has happened over that period of time. That is one of the reasons we have the bill here today in recognition of the changes and the number of things that have been brought to the government's attention by a wide variety of stakeholders.
I think it is worthy of note that the stakeholders come from a fairly wide spectrum of individuals and groups who have actually been able to contribute to what we have here today.
It is interesting. When I had the opportunity to read through the bill and some of the notes that my colleague from Bourassa had provided on this issue, one of the things that really came to mind is the whole whistleblower content and how important it is to recognize that people working somewhere within the industry or with the train company have the ability to say they are concerned about the safety of X, whatever that X might be, and not be in fear of losing their job. To me, that is something that is good to see in legislation.
I can recall when we supported similar legislation with regard to whistleblower legislation in the province of Manitoba and how well that was received.
I would suggest that the same principle applies here. This way reasonable issues would be brought up because individuals working within the industry would now feel comfortable knowing that, if they have a concern that is related to safety, they could actually bring it up and would not have to be in fear of ultimately being fired because of raising an issue that is related to safety.
That is just one aspect of the bill we have before us that makes it so important that the bill ultimately passes. At the end of the day, I believe all members here in the House recognize that the bill would in fact improve the overall safety of our rail lines. We have seen that demonstrated through comments with regard to this bill, whether in committee stage, in second reading or, now, in third reading. So, I see that as a positive thing.
It is also important to recognize, and I have already made quick reference to it, that there are advisory committees out there, there are members from within our unions and there are others who have had the opportunity to provide input. I know we, as the Liberal Party, have had that opportunity and appreciate that the government, on this particular piece of legislation, seems to have listened and responded in kind.
It is somewhat noteworthy, and I put it tongue-in-cheek, that the government does not require time allocation in order to pass this particular bill, which tells me it is another good reason to believe we are seeing more of an all-party approach to recognizing this as a good idea.
Well we should, because the consequences of rail accidents, whether in our rural communities or urban centres, are quite significant. On the macro scale, a derailment can cause a complete and total evacuation of communities. On the micro scale, people may be hit by a train, causing fatalities. Both of those happen far too often. At the end of the day, this is what we are hoping to deal with by passing Bill S-4 today.
I want to emphasize the importance of rail safety. It is not just up to the federal government to pass this legislation. There is a need to have co-operation among different stakeholders. Some of the stakeholders I am referring to are municipal governments. I would suggest municipal governments of our rural communities all have a role to play. They are in essence the groups that ultimately decide, in many communities, where there will be flashing railway signs or railway arms that are lifted to accommodate the flow of traffic versus train traffic.
Provincial governments also need to step up to the plate. A lot of the monitoring of our highways is done through our provincial governments. They too need to step up to the plate and deal with what they can of their responsibilities.
Obviously, it goes without saying that our rail lines, companies like CN, CP, VIA Rail and other rail lines that are operating on our tracks, have the most significant role to play in ensuring the quality of the line or the quality of the vehicles they are using to transport goods is of a high standard, so we can minimize any sort of damage to the individual or the community as a whole.
I have spoken in the past about how the rail industry has played a critical role in the development of the city of Winnipeg and many communities. I want to focus some attention on the city of Winnipeg. I have had a history with the rail line in one form or another, primarily indirectly, with the impact of the railway industry on my ancestry. I can talk about my grandfather's time and today, in terms of how it divides communities in geographical regions.
The last time I had the opportunity to speak, I talked about Main Street, Salter Street, McPhillips, Arlington in between those other two, and Keewatin and Route 90. All of those have either underpasses or overpasses that cross the CP tracks. There are tens of thousands of people who live around the CP yards. One can rest assured that the constituents I represent have a vested interest in this legislation and how important it is that it passes. It is all about rail safety.
I see my time has expired. I posed a question about the expansion of rapid transit and where rail lines could play an active role in it. It is something I may be able to talk about in the future.
Mr. Mike Sullivan (York South—Weston, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to again speak to Bill S-4, the Railway Safety Act, at third reading and report stage today.
This bill, as others have mentioned, originates from a previous Parliament, and the good member for Trinity—Spadina had a lot to do with putting forward the bill in the first place. I want to congratulate her and others who have worked on this bill, and congratulate those in the industry, in the unions and in the safety agencies who have contributed to what will be a great improvement to the bill.
Unfortunately, it has taken us six years from the commencement of the study on whether or not the bill needed to be improved until today, when we hope the bill will pass the House. That was way too long. When we are talking about safety, six years is way too long for something as critical to Canadians as the safety of the railroads, as has been mentioned by several members here.
These railroads travel through dense urban areas. In order to ensure the safety of not just the railway workers and not just the patrons of the railway but also of the people who live around these railroads, there needs to be a regimen in Canada that provides for the safe operation of these railroads, which the bill goes a long way to providing. It does not go all the way, and I will get into that in a few minutes.
Every school child knows that railways built this country and that railways play an important role in transporting goods and people from coast to coast. We believe that railways should actually provide a much greater role in transporting people in this country, and perhaps in transporting goods.
Railways are a more efficient way of transporting people than cars. Railways are a more efficient way of transporting goods than trucks. It would take some of the pressure off our highways and cities if we were to move more goods safely by using rail. However, I emphasize the word “safely”, and that is what the bill would, in part, do.
There are 73,000 kilometres of track, and as the member for Trinity—Spadina noted, track has been removed. We have lost 10,000 kilometres of track as the railroads have moved out of transporting. The most recent loss of a railroad was the CP secondary line between Ottawa, the nation's capital, and North Bay. One of the reasons for removing that track was that CP wanted the steel; it was not because it was an uneconomical piece of railroad but because it needed the steel for replacing rails in other places.
It is a shame that the railbed could not be used for public transit or could not continue to be used for the transportation of goods, because generally speaking, the rail line from here to North Bay goes through no cities. It does not go past any homes or businesses that would be endangered by a railway spill.
Last year, railways moved some 72 million passengers and carried 66% of all the surface freight in Canada, so railways are a very important part of the infrastructure of this country.
However, there are some places where we are actually still building railroads. We are building railroads in my riding in large numbers. We are expanding the capacity of a rail corridor that runs through my riding from 40 trains a day to 464 trains a day. That is one of the reasons I am anxious for the bill to pass, because I want to ensure that the government has some power to make sure that railroad is operated in a safe manner.
Some of that railroad may in fact be exempt from this legislation, becausegovernment will decide, for whatever reason, that some of that railroad is not a federally regulated railway. I want to ensure that all of the railroad systems in Canada, whether they are passenger rail or heavy freight rail—and we are talking heavy rail, not the little light rail streetcar systems in some cities—are all run in a safe and efficient manner.
According to the Transportation Safety Board, in 2009 there were 1,081 rail accidents, including 68 main track derailments. If rail traffic continues to grow as anticipated—and the rail companies tell us that it will grow at roughly the same rate as inflation, meaning 3% a year—in 10 years there will be 40% more rail traffic than there is today, and the potential for accidents will increase.
The rail industry believes that the way to prevent accidents at rail crossings in particular is to remove the rail crossings. The idea is to just close the road. That is the easiest way to prevent rail crossings. There will not be any cars crossing the tracks, and the tracks will reign supreme.
That does not work in many urban centres in this country. There is some money, a very small amount of money—about $12 million a year, according to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister—that is set aside by the government to remove rail crossings in this country. I assume that means putting in grade-separated rail crossings so that either the roads go under or above the rail corridor or the rail corridor is dipped below or above the road.
The trouble is that $12 million might pay for half of one of those, and there are hundreds and hundreds, probably thousands—I do not have the number in front of me—of railroad crossings in this country, each of which has the potential for a fatal accident. In fact, there was a fatal accident on the railroads in Toronto just two weeks ago. A pedestrian was killed on a railbed in Toronto. We do not need any more of those.
Keeping people and trains apart should be an important part of what the transport minister strives to do in the implementation of this act.
One of the new key points in the legislation is the requirement for railways to obtain a certificate for operation. The certificate must include a safety management system acceptable to Transport Canada. It is a key element of this legislation that the safety management system be acceptable to Transport Canada so that Transport Canada actually understands and accepts that the railroad applying for a certificate for operation has in place measures that will prevent accidents, that will prevent overwork of their employees—which is why the unions are in support—and that will prevent trains from colliding with one another.
We recently had such a collision involving a passenger train in Burlington, Ontario. No one is really certain yet of all the causes, but speed was definitely a factor. This train went way too fast through a switch. The switch was rated for 15 kilometres an hour, and the train went through at about 60 kilometres an hour and derailed. There was loss of life and there were injuries.
What will prevent, in large measure, many of these kinds of accidents is something called positive train control. In this system the speed of the train is not controlled just by a person watching lights, which is how it works today and which is the same way it worked 160 years ago. A person runs a train by watching lights in order to know when they should go slower and when they can go faster.
Positive train control is widespread in all of the world except North America. It is already in place in some parts of the United States, but it is not present in Canada. It is a system whereby the train's speed is controlled externally. If a switch is closed and the train should slow down, the train's speed is controlled automatically if the train operator does not do it himself or herself.
It makes all kinds of sense, but it is not a system that the government is prepared to impose on the railroads yet. Why?
We would immediately start preventing accidents. It is true that it would be an expense to the railroads, but it is part of the cost of doing business. Railroads that operate in the United States will already have to comply with the positive train control system in the U.S. They already have to build their infrastructure to deal with positive train control. CN and CP and VIA Rail trains that travel across our border will have to do this, yet for some reason the government is not prepared to impose it in Canada.
I wonder why we always wait for the accident or the problem to occur before we act. Most people can see that this would be a good addition to the rail safety system in this country.
A number of problems were identified with rail safety that did not have to do directly with this bill but instead had to do with the oversight that Transport Canada applies to rail safety in this country. In a 2011 report, the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development identified serious deficiencies in the transport of dangerous products.
It is up to the minister to ensure that his officials at Transport Canada are actually enforcing the laws that it already has regarding safety. If it is not, something is wrong with the system.
The commissioner stated that 53% of the files he examined had instances of non-compliance and, of those files, an astonishing 73%, nearly three-quarters, little or no corrective action was taken. We have a law that tells us how to transport dangerous goods. We have a system in which Transport Canada is to actually monitor and enforce that law. We have a commissioner who looked at it and said that Transport Canada was not enforcing it and we have silence from the government. We do not seem to know how to enforce the laws we already have.
Bill S-4 contains a lot of very generous provisions toward the minister who will make decisions about how this law will be implemented. The minister needs to take the most protective and precautionary stance possible with his officials in Transport Canada and with the safety of Canadians because to do otherwise he would be derelict in his duties.
What we are saying about the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, which is already in force, is that if it is not being enforced by the officials who need to enforce it, the minister and his staff, then could S-4 face the same thing? We cannot sit here and pass laws that nobody enforces. The Conservatives believe that laws are to be enforced and enforced to the letter of the law. We heard yesterday from the Minister of Foreign Affairs that, no matter where Canadian companies operate, they are to abide by the laws. The same should be true in Canada but it is up to the government to enforce those laws.
Bill S-4 has quite serious penalties for failing to comply with the legislation. Those penalties are now administrative penalties where the minister would not need to take a company to court. The minister could impose a penalty without actually having to file suit against an individual or company for failing to comply.
We would hope that Transport Canada would actually impose those sanctions when it finds violations. It is no good to have a bunch of sanctions in a law if we do not apply them when there are violations. We hope that corrective action is only necessary very rarely, but we want that corrective action to be taken when it is necessary. We do not want a situation in which the government, as it apparently has done with the transportation of dangerous goods, ignores the law or the enforcement of the law.
The other portion of this law deals with the emissions of pollutants into the air. This is of great interest to the residents in Toronto who would be faced with a rail corridor that will have 464 trains per day or a train every 90 seconds going past. These are diesel engines of 4,000 to 5,000 horsepower emitting huge clouds of black smoke. People want to know that something will be done to limit that pollution.
The bill provides mechanisms whereby the minister can demand that these emissions be reduced, curtailed, regulated or monitored. It will be up to the minister to actually impose those regulations and enforce them.
The people of the city of Toronto are watching this with some great interest because one of the issues that has raised a huge storm is the issue of the amount of pollution that comes from train engines. When people looked at it, because they did not look at it until someone said that we would have 460 of them, they discovered that there were carcinogens, nitrous oxide and particulate matter in that exhaust that can cause grave harm to individuals. To increase it by tenfold, without also putting in some kind of limits, has people in my riding and in other ridings in the city of Toronto demanding that trains be made electric.
In 1908, in the city of New York, the use of fossil fuel burning trains was banned. As my time as run out, I will continue that thought when I come back.