Bill C-33 (Historical)
Safer Railways Act
An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
John Baird Conservative
Committee Report Presented
(This bill did not become law.)
May 28th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
Director, Program Management, Rail Safety, Department of Transport
This came about as part of the DRAP exercise. If you recall, it started off as Bill C-33. It was reintroduced after the election and had been going on for quite some time. That bill was probably already in the Senate by the time these decisions were made to go forward with changes to this. So it was not part of the original thinking.
Safer Railways Act
May 1st, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am going to take a break from these rather technical discussions to talk a little about philosophy. I would submit that we sometimes have to look to philosophy to light our way and our common future.
We are considering a bill that deals with railway safety. The railways are inextricably connected with the building of this country. They are the key factor in the marriage of diverse regions that we call Canada.
Canadians and members of this chamber will know that any marriage that is successful is based on trust. It is the essential element of any good relationship. When one loses that element of trust, that foundation, no matter what we build on top of it, the relationship will crumble.
Many will say that we are past the days of railways and have moved on to other more flashy, more attractive means of transportation. We must not forget that railways are still a foundation of our nation and of our economy. Canadians need to trust that rail will always be there.
This bill is an important part of building Canadians' trust in our railways. I want to turn to the issue of trust in terms of the presence of rail rather than the security.
Too often, in the past, railway service has been a favourite spot for making cuts. In 1981, Prime Minister Trudeau made cuts to popular VIA Rail lines. His government reduced the operations of VIA Rail, a crown corporation, by 40%. When the Mulroney government came to power it restored the services that had been cut. However, heavy rail traffic resulted in one of the most tragic accidents in Canadian history: the collision of a VIA Rail train with a CN train in Hinton, Alberta. Twenty-three people died. That is one of the reasons behind the bill we are considering today.
Cuts were made to VIA Rail in 1989, 1994 and 2003.
Canadians love the train, but they think service is not as reliable as it should be. To restore confidence, there have to be investments and improvements in terms of administration.
I return here to the analogy of a marriage in the specifics of the bill before us. In any marriage, people make vows, usually with the intention of creating a bond that will last a lifetime. In the day to day, people make negotiations and compromises. Now the vows, negotiations and compromises do not mean very much if one of the parties does not intend on enforcing or following the rules.
That is why those provisions in Bill S-4, which touch upon enforcement, are important. Time will tell if the judicial penalties are effective. I believe it is important to pass this bill as soon as possible but I must admit to a bit of skepticism that it will solve all railway safety problems.
I believe the government's work in this area is not over and we will see in the years to come what other measures will be necessary. There are many tools in building trust so that Canadians feel safe about their railways. Mandatory voice recorders in locomotives, for instance, would be a beginning.
Another thing that would be helpful is separating out elements of budget bills so that proper debate and discussion could take place about security. Instead, the government goes on with its infantile method of putting everything into a omnibus bill and then claiming that we vote against particular provisions.
I will return once again to the marriage analogy. It is like the government is a cheating spouse and we, the opposition, who want to make this work, just want to search through the credit card records to find the hotel where our partner made a dalliance. Instead, we get flooded with all the household bills and office papers and are told that we are never supportive. It is bad faith.
The government should accept criticism where criticism is due instead of using this infantile “You voted against it” line. Canadians are intelligent. They see through this kind of politics.
As well, we have heard rumours that VIA Rail is going to be privatized. We often hear this government, and in particular the minister, proclaim that they do not interfere in the affairs of a private company. We can therefore expect this legislation to be meaningless, since it is coupled with that ideology of non-intervention in regulation of the private sector.
I am still skeptical about the effectiveness of enforcing a law like this. The government has already shown that it is powerless against the private sector. We hope it will change its mind in the case of railway safety. I would remind the minister that it is the job of government to provide services to the public, for the public welfare, and that this must be done responsibly. Sometimes the government does not believe in its own laws, as was the case with the 1988 Public Participation Act.
The minister has said before:
Railways are the backbone of our economy. As such, they are an important part of our history and our future. It is our shared responsibility to ensure they remain safe.
We in the NDP certainly agree.
I would like to conclude by talking about something important to many people in my home town of Saint-Lazare. It touches regulation directly.
Presently we do not have a mechanism which would get municipalities and rail companies to sit together and discuss issues such as vibrations caused by the speed of trains as well as a panoply of other issues. I have spoken with citizens and with rail company officials. They both tell me that they would like to see a mechanism through which dialogue could take place and that the federal government could play a role in this process. Bill S-4 does not have this provision.
These issues, the relationships between the municipalities and rail companies, directly affect the ridings of Vaudreuil-Soulanges and Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. The head of operations at VIA Rail, Mr. Marginson, indicated that there are 98 level crossings between Coteau and Ottawa.
Currently, companies are forced to contact private landowners if they wish to close a level crossing. The government must play a role to avoid the kind of conflicts and economic repercussions that are often the result of these disputes.
We all have the tools we need, but what is lacking is the political will to use them, because of this government's ideology and its belief that the state should not intervene.
I quote Mr. Cliff Mackay from the Railway Association of Canada, who said this about Bill C-33, the earlier bill:
Increased proximity between rail operations and everyday life in our communities across Canada is a risk factor that must be addressed to improve rail safety. We believe that Bill C-33 can be strengthened in this area. At the centre of these concerns involving proximity between railway lands and municipal development is the wide variation that exists across Canada with respect to land use planning regulations....Bill C-33 is silent on this issue at this time.
Unfortunately Bill S-4 remains silent on this issue as well.
We will support the bill but, as I said before, there are places where it could be improved.
Recommendation 34 that was made would require a process of consultation, which would have been an effective tool in reducing use conflicts and in turn increasing safety. Education campaigns are fine, but they rarely do the whole job.
Cliff Mackay also said:
We believe that one of the most efficient ways of improving railway safety in this area is to give the Governor in Council the power to make regulations respecting notices that should be given to railways regarding the establishment of a local plan of subdivision, or zoning by-law, or proposed amendments thereto, where the subject land is within 300 metres of a railway line or railway yard. We believe the 300 metres is a distance that makes sense from a safety point of view.
In terms of jurisdictional questions of this quote, they do it already in the air, not exact, for air infrastructure. Why not for rail? I admit maybe 300 metres is excessive. It could be less, but it was not really even discussed in a serious way, either as Bill C-33 or in its present incarnation, as Bill S-4.
For Pete's sake, all the companies were asking was that municipalities send a notice of when they were going to make changes that would fall within the area of this rail corridor. They were not even asking for any sort of decision on these questions. Those companies are forced to go to 10 provinces and 3 territories to negotiate an agreement with each one. It could be so much more simple and effective. That is what good governance means. It means the federal government takes its role seriously in bringing the country together.
In the future I hope the government will move from merely being a force for awareness of these issues to being a responsible public administrator that ensures that marriage between Canadians and their railway lines remains healthy for generations to come.
Safer Railways Act
May 1st, 2012 / 1:25 p.m.
Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB
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.
Safer Railways Act
May 1st, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC
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.
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.
April 24th, 2012 / 9:55 a.m.
Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport
Just going from my memory, I'd say that most of these amendments have had value added. There were some proposed by the teamsters. For instance, in terms of the whistle-blower protection, Bill C-33 was requiring the employees to report directly to the companies. The unions felt that with the relationship they had with Transport Canada, and with the trust that was between us and them, we could handle that. So this was one of their amendments.
They also asked that fatigue science be considered within a safety management system, which was also tabled by members of this committee at the time. There was also the possibility for all regulations passed by Transport Canada to be revised by this committee.
There have been some housekeeping items. For instance, with all the stakeholders that were involved with revising this bill, some of them, and even us, found that words were missing at some points. Amendments were proposed to add these words that may have been missing. In section 11 of the Railway Safety Act—clause 8 of this bill—there was something with sound engineering principles where “maintenance” was left out. One of the amendments was to add it.
Those were, I'd say, the main amendments that came through this committee. As I said, there was very little.
April 24th, 2012 / 9:20 a.m.
Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC
In 2010 our government tabled Bill C-33, which is virtually the same bill we're discussing today. Since Bill C-33 was tabled, our government has continued to discuss the proposed amendments with stakeholders. Further consultation will occur as part of the regulation-making process. Going forward, many members have congratulated our government on the extensive consultation on that one draft before the drafting of this bill.
April 24th, 2012 / 8:35 a.m.
Denis Lebel Minister of Transport
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, Mr. Bourdon, and members.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here to discuss these proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act. This committee already has a high level of familiarity and engagement with these amendments and your continued support to improve the safety of our railway system is appreciated.
As you know, these proposed amendments were previously reviewed by this committee when they were presented to the House as Bill C-33 last spring. At that time, after several weeks of comprehensive discussion and analysis, all parties agreed unanimously to support the amendments, with one minor change related to safety reporting. Although that approved version of the bill died on the Order Paper when the election was called, the same amendments, with this committee's approved changes, were tabled in the Senate as Bill S-4, where they were again approved virtually unchanged and resubmitted to the House.
During second reading on March 13, we again heard many supportive comments from honourable members on the other side of the House. In brief, all parties once again expressed their strong support for the bill.
I believe the New Democratic Party member from Vancouver—Kingsway summed up the general feeling of the House when he referred to Bill S-4 as “...an excellent piece of legislation...that has gained the buy-in of industry, labour and government. ... It is a solid piece of legislation.”
The list of members who expressed their strong support for Bill S-4 goes on. Every member who spoke in the chamber agreed that this bill enhances rail safety, has the support of many stakeholders, has been widely debated and analyzed, and must be passed in a timely manner.
I must say, as the Minister of Transport, I deeply appreciate this enthusiastic support from all corners of the political spectrum. Everybody agrees on the importance of a safer rail industry for our economy and our communities. We all recognize that the industry is rapidly changing and that the Railway Safety Act needs to be updated accordingly. We all agree that the amendments, which have already been consulted on, debated, and unanimously approved by committee—not once, but twice—are the appropriate means to help ensure Canadians can reap the full benefits of a safe railway system. Better safety is clearly the objective that we all support.
The bill, as noted in the House, is a strong one. It is timely, it is thorough, and it is firmly focused on important and achievable improvements to our rail safety regime. I think much of the strength of this bill comes from the high level of stakeholder consultation that both preceded and followed its introduction to the House.
The initial Railway Safety Act review, which was launched in 2007, included input from the entire spectrum of railway interests, including the railways themselves, their shippers, their suppliers and their unions, as well as federal, provincial and municipal governments, national associations, independent researchers and the public. Essentially, all of the groups in our country were consulted.
Everybody had something to say, and we listened closely to their concerns. This bill is our comprehensive response. We identified the issues, we consulted on alternatives with the key players, and we subsequently took action with Bill C-33, and now with Bill S-4, to ensure that the safety concerns of Canadians are being properly addressed. We all seem to agree that they are. The member from Chambly—Borduas said during second reading that the NDP unabashedly supports the bill. Similarly, the member from Markham—Unionville said that “...the Liberal Party will certainly be supporting the bill”.
Speaking personally, I must say that I'm proud of this legislation. I am proud of it because it contains an effective blueprint for better safety in the rail industry. I am also proud of it because it shows how effective our parliamentary system can be when we decide to work together for the national interest. The net result is solid, seamless, and practical legislation like Bill S-4. I would like to remind you of some of the most important amendments in this bill.
First and foremost, Bill S-4 will improve railway safety in Canada by increasing the regulator's authority for stronger oversight and enforcement.
For one thing, these new authorities will allow the introduction of safety-based railway operating certificates for all railways. This means that every federally regulated railway in the country will have to demonstrate how they meet the safety standards set by the operating certificate before they begin operations.
This bill also provides the regulator with the authority to issue administrative monetary penalties when non-compliance with railway regulations is found. These monetary penalties have a very positive impact on safety and have already proven themselves effective in other modes of transport such as marine and aviation.
In addition, your approval of Bill S-4 will allow us to raise existing judicial penalty levels which were established 20 years ago and are now badly out of date. Raising these levels will make them equivalent to other modes and provide an important additional tool for our safety compliance and enforcement toolbox.
One other key component of these amendments is the significantly stronger focus they place on railway accountability and the need for effective railway safety management systems. With these amendments in place, railways will be required to appoint a senior executive to be responsible for safety issues. They will also be required to establish non-punitive reporting systems so that employees can raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal. In addition, railway companies will need to demonstrate how they continuously monitor and assess the level of safety of their operations.
These are critical steps for the development of an effective safety culture, and both the railway companies and the unions have expressed their strong support for these measures.
In addition to these key improvements, S-4 will also clarify the minister's authority related to national railway matters and expand regulation-making authorities, which will enable us to implement requirements for environmental management plans and emission data collection.
In sum, the proposed amendments before you today will significantly reinforce and modernize the Railway Safety Act to reflect the needs of this generation and those to follow. Railways are the backbone of our economy. As such, they are an important part of our history and our future. It is our shared responsibility to ensure they remain safe.
As we all know from the recent tragedy in Burlington, even one accident is one too many. We cannot afford to hesitate. The time to move forward is now.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank all parties for their ongoing support. I would also like to thank this committee again for the opportunity to be here. I deeply appreciate your high level of engagement on this bill and all transport and infrastructure issues.
We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Safer Railways Act
March 13th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act. 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 C-33, 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 C-33.
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.
Safer Railways Act
March 13th, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.
Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
It is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-4, 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 S-4 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 C-33, which was introduced in the House of Commons during the third session of the 40th Parliament.
Bill C-33 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 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 Western Arctic. 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.
Safer Railways Act
March 13th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB
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 C-33, 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 S-4, 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 S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, 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 Minister of Transport, 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.