House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was registry.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

December 7th, 2010 / 4 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

moved that Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, indeed it is a privilege for me to stand and speak on Bill C-33, an act to be able to deal with some of the amendments to the Railway Safety Act.

Railways in this country hold a tremendous amount of opportunity for Canadians. There are 73,000 kilometres of rail, 33,000 locomotives, 700 trains per day and 72 million passengers per year, just to give an idea of how important they are. That represents the delivery of over two-thirds of our freight across the country. Therefore they do play a tremendous role.

It is very important that as a government we make sure that they are reliable, that they are safe, they are economically viable and that they deal with passengers in as safe a way as they possibly can.

The amendments proposed in the bill would increase public safety for Canadians. They would enhance the safety of our communities and would contribute to a stronger economy, modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment.

A safer railway system would provide economic benefits also for the industry. It is not just those who ride or ship. Immediately and for the long term, it will decrease the likelihood of costly accidents and delays. A safer rail system will also benefit external stakeholders such as the provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public.

The proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act, which were tabled in the House of Commons on June 4, 2010, are largely coming from the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities as well as the Railway Safety Act review. I think everyone in the House needs to understand this.

These two studies made recommendations to government and we are acting on those recommendations.

Both of these initiatives took place from 2006 to 2008. They were very consultative in nature. They asked for input from a large group of stakeholders, both public and private.

The proposed amendments support the government's safer communities strategy to protect the safety and security of Canadians. They will also demonstrate effective economic leadership, as a strong and safe rail transportation system is vital to Canada's economic well-being.

We are putting our money where our mouth is with regard to the funding of this as well. In the 2009 budget we provided $72 million over five years to Transport Canada for rail safety initiatives.

This includes $44 million to enhance regulatory oversight and enforcement capacity, conduct research and develop projects to advance new safety technologies. As well, there is $28 million to improve grade crossings.

With that being said, it is pretty clear that our government is committed to making our railways the safest railways in the world.

The proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act will encourage rail companies to create and maintain a culture of safety as well as have penalties for rule breakers by enabling the government to crack down on the rule breakers with tough new administrative and judicial fines, require each railway to have an executive that is legally responsible for safety, and create whistleblower protection for employees who raise safety concerns.

Furthermore, these legislative amendments would improve Transport Canada's capacity for oversight and for enforcement. More specifically the amendments, one, improve Transport Canada's oversight capacity by requiring railway companies to obtain a railway operating certificate after meeting the regulatory requirements; two, strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing existing judicial penalties; three, emphasize the importance of safety management systems and include provisions requiring rail companies to appoint an accountable executive for safety and introduce a system for non-punitive reporting by employees; four, expand the act's current provisions for the review of enforcement actions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada; and five, clarify and enhance the authority and responsibilities of the minister and expand regulation making authorities of the government generally and specifically in the areas of railway engineering and environmental protection.

To expand on that, the requirement for a railway operating certificate will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction. Existing companies will have a period of two years from the coming into force of the amendments to meet the requirements for their certificates.

The amendments will strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement capacity through the introduction of administrative monetary penalties as an additional enforcement tool to improve rail safety. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.

The amendments will also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement powers by increasing judicial fines to levels consistent with other modes of transportation. Maximum fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would be $1 million for a corporation and $50,000 for an individual. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would be $500,000 for corporations and $25,000 for an individual for each day of non-compliance.

The legislative amendments will also improve rail safety by reflecting the central importance of safety management systems.

A safety management system is a formal framework for integrating safety into the day-to-day railway operations and includes safety goals and performance targets, risk assessments, responsibilities and authorities, rules and procedures, and monitoring and evaluation processes.

Also included in the bill are amendments to clarify the authority and responsibilities of the minister in respect of railway matters. For example, the amendments will clarify that the act applies in respect of all railway matters within the legislative authority of Parliament. This will ensure that all companies operating on federal tracks are subject to the same high level of safety requirements.

The amendments will also clarify that railway safety inspectors exercise their powers under the authority of the minister and that the minister may enter into agreements with the provinces on matters relating to railway safety, railway security and the protection of the environment.

These proposed legislative amendments are backed by Canada's economic action plan, as I mentioned earlier, which committed $72 million for rail safety, including $44 million over five years for additional inspections, safety management system audits and enforcement action in cases of non-compliance.

It is no secret that our government has worked hard towards the goal of having one of the safest railway systems in the world. Our government continues to pursue a strong working relationship with the industry to strengthen the act.

It is also important to highlight other railway safety initiatives and funding in order to further illustrate my point.

In the opinion of the government, and as I have stated many times, one accident is one accident too many. Accidents are very costly, and we have made improvements. Through Canada's economic action plan, we announced close to $11 million to improve up to 155 new high-priority rail grade crossings.

We also renewed our funding of over $1.7 million over five years for Operation Lifesaver, which educates people in rural and urban areas on how to be safe around railways.

There are very few times when an MP can come into the House and relate an incident that has happened in his or her own backyard. As members of Parliament, we can bring forward legislation that deals with the problems at hand. That is the case here.

I was a first-hand observer of the incident in Alberta at Wabamun Lake. Many members may remember it. Other incidents have occurred in British Columbia and Quebec. These incidents have led us to where we are today with these proposed rail safety amendments. These incidents are not cheap. They harm the environment, they harm industry, and they harm shippers.

I remember vividly the incident in Wabamun. A room full of very hostile people were upset because their lake had just been polluted by an oil leak from the railway. The railway had lied to them. An older gentleman asked why we did not just slow the train down. The railway representative stood up and said it was because the railway did not have to. At that time I knew that something had to be done with regard to changing these rules.

That is why it is a great privilege for me to introduce these legislative amendments to the House. Members have worked on them very hard, as have the stakeholders, and we have come to a consensus.

In terms of the greater Toronto area, I was talking to the Mayor of Pickering, of the region of Durham, and he told me how important this absolutely was.

I want to thank my hon. colleague and every member in making certain that they deal with this. Their support is needed.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for putting forward this legislation on behalf of the government. It is legislation that I am sure will get hearty debate in committee if it gets to that point.

I would like my colleague to give us an answer as to how many enforcement actions have taken place in the past decade against the rail companies because of their lack of preparedness or their complicity in accidents.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, I do not know all of them. I can tell members about the one that I talked about in my speech with regard to my first-hand experience. It cost CN $130 million to deal with the Wabamun mess, because of fines and actual costs of making certain that those who were impacted negatively were reimbursed appropriately.

What we see here, though, is that the actual fines under this piece of legislation would go up considerably.

However, I believe the most important part of this legislation is not necessarily the fines; it is the culture of safety that would change. Every one of those corporations would have to have a legal entity, an executive who is responsibly solely for the purpose of ensuring that there is safety and that the culture of safety is adhered to by that corporation, and they would be legally bound. I believe that would change the culture and would make the greatest improvements with regard to the safety of our railways and the people of Canada.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, this morning at the agricultural committee, it came out that as a result of the tragic listeriosis events there had been a major report calling for an audit with respect to the regime in place to guarantee that inspectors would have the tools to do the job where there were serious infractions taking place.

It was pointed out that while a review had taken place, the actual audit had not been done in a comprehensive manner in order to determine exactly the role of the inspectors and what the consequences would be once it had been discovered that there were violations taking place.

Under this bill, could we guarantee and could we assuage the concerns of the public that in fact the resources with respect to inspections would be taking place and that there would be an accountable implementation, through Transport Canada, with respect to ensuring that the analysis is done before an accident would occur and after--

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I will have to give the hon. Minister of State time to respond.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague is absolutely right. There is no point in having legislation if we are not trying to prevent an accident from happening and then ensuring that we have the enforcement there.

We have put $72 million into that, of which $44 million actually goes to making certain that the inspectors are inspecting so that we would stop an accident from happening, that we would ensure that the railways are dealing with those issues that are potential accidents, prior to them occurring.

We have also put $28 million into rail crossing improvements. That is certainly going a long way and is very well received by municipalities and provinces as they realize that safety is becoming a lot better as we implement this program.

So we are not just saying we are going to do it; we have actually done it. We have put the money there. This piece of legislation would actually help us accomplish what we are trying to do.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, the Minister of State has given an overview with respect to the relevance of Bill C-33 in terms of railway safety. I would suggest that while he has done a good job of that, he has really only scratched the surface. I mean that as a compliment in the sense that the bill is so compelling against the change that is taking place throughout the country in relation to rail and in relation to transport generally.

The whole issue with respect to competitiveness, the ability to move people and dealing with our environmental issues, health and safety through to pollution, is becoming more and more a fundamental problem that we have to address.

As we think of the changing nature of the forestry industry and the dependence on the movement of goods, as well as the changing nature of urban communities in terms of commuters, we realize more and more that rail is fundamentally positioned to offer a large degree of strategic compensation against the huge indemnity that we might face if it were not for having a rail service from sea to sea to sea that has served us historically.

Reference was made to the Mayor of Pickering in the region of Durham. I would just like to expand a little bit as a case in point that the greater Toronto area is choking on congestion. The ability to move people, and through people, services is being impeded by the fact that road construction has lagged far behind the capacity to meet the needs of transporting people from their origin to their point of destination, from where they live to where they work. Those commuting distances have become longer and longer, and the result is that the pollution created from the congestion is a health and safety issue.

When it comes to the movement of goods, the capacity of the road system to accommodate the trucks that are hauling and distributing goods is becoming more and more impeded. So rail, whether in terms of freight or urban commuting, offers a huge opportunity to make a difference with respect to the strategic response that we in government make to our environmental prerequisites and to our economic prerequisites.

In keeping with that sort of clinical analogy and the analysis that we must continue to use more of our rail capacity comes the prognosis of how to convince people that in those major rail corridors we can do it safely and we can do it in a manner that will not impede their quality of life, particularly those who live close to the rail rights of way.

The bill comes at a time when those questions are being asked. In fact, in the greater Toronto area, members who are on the Georgetown corridor in the Weston subdivision will know that there are huge plans to expand GO Transit to meet the needs of that broadening population and geo-economic area in the GTA, and to also expand service up to Barrie and over to Bradford.

The City of Barrie years ago acquired part of the old VIA right-of-way that would have been abandoned, in order to protect the opportunity to move people up and down that corridor, as is the case with Bradford at this time. As we speak, the city is negotiating with respect to protecting a rail right-of-way.

We know that some of these rail rights of way have gone for short line service, which has served the economy of local communities. Be that as it may, it is to the benefit of our populations that these rights of way are protected.

However, it must be done in a manner wherein the safety, health, responsibility and accountability for operating rail within federal jurisdictions must be absolute. We must absolutely close the loop so there is no question in the minds of the public that we are dedicated to not only using the rights of way, but using them in a sustainable way and in a manner that is going to protect the public.

As my colleague has said, the bill follows up on the Railway Safety Act that was approved in 1989 and updated in 1999. However, against the background of what I have said, the environment has changed immensely.

In 2008 the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities made 14 specific recommendations, which, with a bit of editing, provided the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities the necessary tools, as the Minister of State for Transport has said, to regulate railways and ensure their compliance.

The nature of that compliance in monetary terms is considerable. A maximum fine of $50,000 on an individual found to be negligent, as a result of an inquiry or quasi-judicial process, and a fine of $250,000 on a corporation are within very minimal violations of the Canada Transportation Act.

We have heard that for major violations, individual judgments can vary from $1 million to $50 million on a railway that is operated in a manner not in the interest of public safety. These are not minimal parts of the legislation calling for major monetary retribution against railway operators that do not act in the public interest.

The whole notion is the minister is given the authority to review, grant and monitor railway operating certificates and the terms and conditions over which certificates are provided. The minister also has the power to set the conditions by which the railway operates. In my particular area and I am sure in those of my colleagues who also have rail expansion this is something we can take to our constituents. We can say that in keeping with the changes and requests we are making in the interests of the higher community that need to use our rail corridors, this is where safety and health standards are going to be accountably applied through the minister.

I will not get into the question of the administrative monetary policy regime to the extent that the Minister of State for Transport did, but I learned this morning that commensurate with the industry being held accountable, there has to be the ability to inspect and take action on violations and violators.

When people say they have experienced with their departments violations that they are very concerned about, it means protecting the people who are loosely described as whistleblowers. However, they are acting in the public interest. When they come forward, their actions should be taken and responded to in a positive way.

I hope I have given a little clarification and provided some comfort to those who may be watching. With the changes in rail and the projected role of rail, we are bringing in a regime that is going to operate in the higher public interest in terms of air quality, safety and the return that goes back to the public in Canada.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Before moving on to questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Nipissing—Timiskaming, Census.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to preface my question to my colleague by saying that I am sure he will agree that the best way to ensure rail safety is, as in anything else, prevention. My colleague may remember that about a year ago, there was a major tank car spill in Manitoba—near Dugald, to be precise—involving 51,500 litres of flammable liquid propylene.

Apparently, there was a problem with the stub sill, which is part of the frame that connects the tank cars. The stub sill was faulty and it broke. Of the 41,000 cars equipped with this device, 35,000 are used to transport flammable or dangerous goods.

Does my colleague know whether specific measures have been taken to fix the faulty stub sill on those 35,000 rail cars?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question and extremely relevant. It is amazing how the relevance goes from the rail to air safety. Just yesterday we saw the implications with respect to the Concorde crash and the finding of liability on the part of Continental Airlines. The liability was not only with respect to the Continental Airlines generally, but with respect to the individual mechanic who was charged with responsibility. Through professional oversight, he or she did not see a problem that could have been disastrous.

The member has related to what the minister of state has said in a way, that the legislation also has fines for individuals who see a functional problem with equipment and who do not take action. To answer the member's question, in that case, I do not know whether the accountability loop has been closed. However, the legislation with respect to that tanker spill would in fact be instrumental in continuing the investigation, finding fault and then taking whatever remedial action required.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I was surprised by the Teamsters Canada press release of June 2. It indicates that there have been, over the last 10 years, 10,000 train collisions and derailments, an average of 3 a day. I was certainly not aware of that.

In terms of loss of life in railway accidents, the largest loss of life was the Dugald accident in Manitoba in 1947. I think most people here would be familiar with the Hinton, Alberta train crash which killed 23 people.

This is a long-standing problem. We have been aware of it for quite some time. Other countries in the world are running high-speed trains. Imagine the money that would have to be put into our railway system to upgrade to the level of the Japanese railway system, where trains run at 200 or 300 miles per hour.

Even in our lifetime, we have seen the speed of the trains increase a lot. There are no cabooses. There are mile-long trains. We have seen the results of a poor roadbed and poor track system.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my experience, in Europe and Japan the dedicated rights of way for passenger traffic and the transport of goods are separated. For the most part, we have integrated systems where the sharing of the subdivisions is an implicating factor with respect to how careful we have to be on safety. There are different safety standards for tunnelling with respect to the transfer of chemicals and goods as opposed to transporting people. In other countries they have separated those functions.

The safety factor only gets worse, but we are very fortunate we are now starting to address these issues and building our railways accordingly.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I understand that I will have 10 rather than 20 minutes. I will try and squeeze my remarks into the time allowed. There is much to say about rail safety, however.

Bill C-33 is very important, in our view, and we will soon vote on it at second reading. The bill will then be considered in committee, amended and improved, despite having an already solid foundation.

Everyone wants rail safety improved, but it is also important to talk about disturbances caused by trains and railways. As it happens, there are often hazards lurking behind these disturbances. I will speak about noise, particularly rattling of the railways, vibrations, obstruction of inbound municipal tracks and the speed of trains.

This legislation was enacted in 1989 and amended in 1998. It was improved somewhat on each occasion, but the time has come to take into account the work done by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, which has made a number of observations and recommendations.

After considering the work done by the individuals and organizations that appeared before the committee, we can conclude that rail companies, such as VIA Rail and Canadian Pacific, are doing quite well when it comes to hazard management. It is CN's conduct in this area, however, that warrants particular attention.

On the heels of this introduction, and right from the outset, I would like to indicate that the Bloc Québécois intends to put forward a number of proposals in the House.

The Bloc Québécois would first like to see the safety management systems of all rail companies enhanced to make them more effective and fail-proof.

The Bloc also believes that safety management systems cannot replace inspections and suggests that there be increased monitoring by Transport Canada.

Furthermore, Transport Canada must improve the inspection system for land occupied by rail tracks and also obtain the financial and human resources that are required.

The Bloc Québécois also recommends that railway companies appoint heads of safety who, on behalf of their respective companies, would be required, for the reasons that I outlined a little earlier, to report annually to Transport Canada regarding safety management. I will come back to this.

The Bloc Québécois recommends adding provisions to encourage railway company staff to voluntarily share their safety concerns without fear of prosecution and disciplinary measures.

Those are five measures we would like to see in this bill.

I indicated earlier that some behaviour is unacceptable. If the behaviour is repeated, this means there is a lack of monitoring and a lack of means to do that monitoring. In a question I asked my colleague earlier, I announced the examples I was going to give.

One of those examples happened less than a year ago in Dugald, Manitoba. A tank car containing 51,500 litres of flammable liquid propylene separated from the rest of the train before coming to a stop. The problem was a faulty stub sill.

A stub sill is part of the frame which connects the tank cars. There was a problem. The other thing the Transportation Safety Board indicated is that approximately 41,000 cars within the North American tank car fleet are equipped with this model of stub sills, and approximately 35,000 of them are in dangerous goods service. There is still cause to take action in order to prevent the worst from happening.

I would like to remind hon. members that in my own riding of Chambly—Borduas, more specifically in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, on December 30, 1999, a train derailed. Roughly 2.7 million litres of hydrocarbons burned; 350 families were temporarily evacuated. If that had happened in Saint-Basile, which has a population of 16,000, then almost the entire town would have been evacuated. It is a neighbouring town, barely 6 km away, with a train track running through it from one end to the other. On one side there are schools and family developments nearby. Over time, urban settlements have developed near railroads, which means that we cannot look at safety the way we used to. Trains used to approach the stations only and therefore stayed fairly far away from densely populated areas.

So we have to look at this differently now. We have to pay more attention to the towns and the citizens too—the people who are directly affected by the emerging danger. The towns in my riding of Chambly—Borduas are experiencing a lot of nuisance problems that point as well to the emerging danger. The MRC and a number of towns, including Mont-Saint-Hilaire, McMasterville, Otterburn Park, and Saint-Basile-le-Grand, have gone so far as to make representations to CN and VIA Rail to try to find out what is making the new noises we did not used to hear. They are coming from somewhere. Why is it that two or three years ago, these noises did not exist? There are new sounds now and vibrations that are very disturbing because they cause houses and the furniture in them to shake. People are awakened by the shaking of their beds, and not because of something they were doing. That is what we are being told.

There is the blockage as well. The trains are so long that when they stop, they block both entrances to the town of Saint-Basile-le-Grand. Sometimes they wait 30 to 45 minutes or even an hour to allow other trains to pass.

There is something new going on here. The railway companies say that if there are vibrations, it is because of the clay soil. This soil is a relic of the old Champlain Sea and has always been there. Why did it not used to shake but it does now? The answer is in a statement made by Mr. Bob Robinson of the Transportation Safety Board. He says that, in addition to these risks, there is the fact that trains are longer and heavier than ever and therefore harder to manage.

We need to remember that.

Not more than three months ago, CN was telling our municipal officials, through one of its representatives, Ms. Julie Sénécal, that the maintenance of the tracks was up to standard and the length and weight of the trains had not changed over the last few years. That is totally false according to what the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is telling us.

I would have more to say, but—

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Questions and comments. The hon. member for York South—Weston.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. He actually talked about some of the same issues that are facing residents in my constituency of York South--Weston where the Georgetown corridor will be expanded with not only new traffic with respect to serving the airport, but also with the GO Transit expansion. The same kinds of concerns have been coming back through my office.

My question is related to the safety aspects. He wanted to know whether there would be a closing of the accountability loop where there are malfunctions, switching issues or whatever. This bill is designed to try to close that accountability loop. He has described his community. Does he feel more convinced that rail is an answer and does this bill help to assuage some of the concerns that people might have with respect to noise, safety, air pollution and those kinds of issues?