House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was air.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to sit in on most of the review that was undertaken by the committee. The government obviously recognized the support of all the parties and all the people involved, from labour to the industry itself.

Could the parliamentary secretary comment further on the urgency to get this done, with all the discussion that has taken place and the encouragement of other parties to support the bill for the sake of safety?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the bill, when all is said and done, all that needs to be said has been said. Now it is time to get it done.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a former environmental enforcer, I commend the government for increasing the penalties and its show of concern for public safety and toward strict enforcement of a potentially dangerous industry.

Past governments have tabled enforcement compliance policies at the same time that they have tabled a bill calling for stricter enforcement to show good faith that they intend to show clear criteria on how they will enforce. Could the parliamentary secretary advise if in the coming budget there will be an increase in dollars for railway inspection? Could he also inform the House if the government is also changing gears and going to move toward having the rail safety officers inspecting and enforcing, not the railway company itself?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the budget, what I can say is not interesting and what is interesting I cannot say.

On the member's specific question about increased funding, I would point out that the goal is not to spend more money; the goal is to make people safer. We should not judge our success around this place by how much money we can expend. Even on worthy causes, it is not an achievement to be more expensive. The achievement is the result. We have put forward legislation that will deliver results. I encourage the member and her party to support its swift passage.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the parliamentary secretary on his very interesting speech. We are certainly going to support the bill, which we feel is an excellent one.

On several occasions, both sides of the House have supported motions or bills that have been followed only by spoken and written words, but not by action.

This time, will there really be some action? The safety of Canadians is of concern to us all from east to west. As I said earlier today, historically, our railway system has united Canada. It is extremely important to make the development of our railway system a priority.

Can the parliamentary secretary assure me that the government will move from words to actions?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary stated in his speech that the passage of the legislation would provide for a cleaner environment. Could he give us some detail as to how we would get a cleaner environment from the passage of this legislation?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important never to underestimate the linkages between public safety and the environment, the air we breathe, the communities we live in and the environment in which our children grow up. It is as much an ecological question as it is a public safety question.

Through the review panel process on the Railway Safety Act, the government has again considered all these varied questions related to safety, including environment, and has come forward with a very solid package, honouring over 80% of the review panel's recommendations, to produce an excellent bill that is unanimously supported by parliamentarians. I hope we will pass it quickly.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for York South—Weston.

First, I am very happy to see this bill before this House, but it is a pity that it has not been a priority of this government in this 41st Parliament. On a number of occasions, the government has boasted that it champions the safety of our fellow Canadians, but let it try to say that to the families of the victims of the derailment in Burlington or to the families who lost their houses in Saint-Charles-de-Bellechasse in 2010. I know very well that the government is going to say that I am playing politics by bringing up a tragedy. We know the government never does that.

The safety of Canadians is important, and this bill is needed in order to protect railway workers, passengers in the trains and people who live near railway lines.

The government, the minister and his parliamentary secretary in particular like to advocate for smaller government, for getting the government out of everyone's business. Large rail companies, shippers that use the rail lines and citizens who live near the railways see that the government does have a role to play. It has a role to play as a regulator, as a protector. All the groups I mentioned want to see this involvement.

Unfortunately, in the ideological zeal of the government, safety and well-being are often left to free market forces to decide. When bad things happen, such as rail accidents and conflicts between land users and railways, we see that the government likes to sweep under the carpet its role when the industry has not regulated itself.

There are examples where the industry does not regulate itself, but as my time for debate is limited, I would like to focus on some propositions we have made since the bill was introduced.

The first proposition from our party is that the government should not cut safety from its budget. The upcoming budget will cut money that could go toward safety. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that the amount of money we spend on something should not be the measure of how effective it is. People who enforce these regulations and develop new systems need to be paid. They need to be remunerated for their work. It is not work that anybody can do. It takes experts to do the work and we have to pay them. We cannot shortchange experts, nor can we cut corners. When corners are cut on safety, we see the results. People working in the transport sector say that when corners are cut, it jeopardizes safety. The government cannot say it defends safety on one hand and then cut it on the other.

We have also asked that the proposed cuts of $200 million to VIA Rail be reversed. VIA Rail has challenges and it needs to implement certain systems. The NDP would like positive train control implemented in Canada. It was done in the United States. In California there was a very tragic accident in 2008 and the leaders decided that positive train control should become part of the system. There are positive benefits to implementing it. Yes, it is costly, but there are companies in Canada that contribute to this technology. Investing in this technology to improve safety would also improve our economy. It would stimulate the innovators who are contributing to positive train control and other technologies that make our railways safer.

We would also like to see voice recorders in locomotives. This would help to find out what happened when things go wrong, when an accident happens. It is in the interests of everyone to find out the full story of what happened during a rail accident so that things can be improved in the future. A key benchmark to improve safety is to figure out what went wrong, to understand what went wrong and to improve things. It is common sense.

There were five amendments submitted to the Senate, two of which were taken off the table. Those two amendments had to do with land use consultations and exemptions to conduct testing. The government's argument is that railways are a federal jurisdiction, but municipalities are the creatures of the province. I agree. I understand the constitutionality of it. However, the government has a role to play in facilitating the communication between a municipality and the rail companies and those parties involved in the railways. An analogous situation would be waterways which are federal entities whereas riparian corridors are provincial entities. It would be in the best interests of everyone to ensure the health of the water system in this case, the rail system in the other, that the two parties have increased communication and that a mechanism is provided for the two parties to communicate.

There is a citizen in the town of Saint-Lazare who lives close to the railway. Her house vibrates whenever a train goes by. People who live near a railway know that their houses will probably vibrate. She is very frustrated that she cannot find a public entity to whom she can complain. She has gone to the private entity and the public entity, but there is no real mechanism to sort out these problems and nip them in the bud once they occur. The problems tend to get larger and larger. Citizens feel helpless. They feel that they cannot do anything about the problem.

We have to invest in railway safety. We have to put our money where our mouth is. The parliamentary secretary said that we can get improved results from spending less money. I would challenge him to cut his salary by $110,000 and try to do his job on $40,000 a year. I would like to see how happy he would be about that. If he thinks he would be just as efficient, why does he not save the taxpayers some money and cut his own salary?

This is an important bill for the NDP. We will support it. We believe it is time the government brought this legislation forward. We would have preferred to see it earlier. We do not think that Canadians should have waited so long for the government to bring these important safety measures to the House. We have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning.

I have heard from members on the government side that they are interested in safety. I hope their vision of safety includes not only the safety of citizens and people living near railways but also the safety of railway employees. Their safety will be increased through the measures in the bill. We also think that individuals will be protected when they report wrongdoings on the part of their superiors.

The other aspect we are glad to see is with respect to the safety of passengers and motorists, of citizens travelling on the trains, on the roads, and in the surrounding areas. Railway crossings will be enhanced by the higher operational safety standards laid out in the bill.

I hope we can work together with the government to ensure that Canadians are safe when using the railway system as well as in the communities surrounding the rail lines.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the debate we are having on this very important bill.

The original version of the bill left many recommendations for an in-depth inquiry into railway accidents unaddressed. I want to thank the member for Western Arctic for having tabled amendments to former Bill C-33. I congratulate the other place in tabling Bill S-4 with those NDP amendments.

The bill is about safety. The Conservative government ignored repeated calls by the Transportation Safety Board for safety measures such as voice recorders and positive train control. In 2001 and 2003, the Liberal government ignored calls from the Transportation Safety Board for additional rail safety measures. I am wondering if my colleague could elaborate on the need not only to pass this legislation quickly but also to implement it.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, these things tend to be more complex than we paint them. We cannot just make a law and spend money. We have to implement an entire system to improve the safety of the people using it. We cannot just say the words without taking action. Not only do we make laws, but we have to put the money where our mouth is. We have to make sure that the laws are implemented.

When we talk to people in the railway industry, not the people who work on the trains, but the people higher up in the railway industry, they would like to be involved more. We hear a lot about how government should get out of everyone's hair, but a major corporation is asking the government to get involved and to implement these measures to make their lives easier.

When we say the government should not get involved in this, that it does not have a role to play, when accidents happen, when people are put in peril, they lose trust in the system and that does not help the economy at all.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member on his excellent speech and on the great work he does as deputy critic for transport.

I would like him to talk about the relevance of moving from talk to action. Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said earlier, Canada's railway system has been left completely abandoned for 25 years. Fortunately, the authors of the new bill included environmental measures. Today, people want to take better care of the environment and they want to use rail transportation. Why is it important to move from talk to action? What does the hon. member think about the NDP's plan to make rail transportation a priority for all Canadians, from east to west, in urban and rural areas?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his excellent question.

We are of the opinion that investments must be made in the railway industry, whether it be for passenger or cargo services. We cannot simply say that a crown corporation or private companies must manage themselves and that the government does not have a role to play. If we demonstrate leadership, we have a role to play. Even the railway industry believes that governments should have a role. We often hear the members opposite say that the private sector wants the government to mind its own business, but that is completely untrue. There are times when the private sector wants the government to invest in its industry, make decisions and demonstrate leadership.

For example, the industry would like to be consulted about decisions that affect the municipalities. This falls under provincial jurisdiction, but since railways are federally regulated, the two parties should be communicating, and that is not happening right now.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill is long due for its amendments and I am glad we are doing this.

However, I want to give some historical context of how these kinds of things have come about. I was witness to the Mississauga train derailment in November 1979, and saw out the front window of my house rail cars rising 200 feet in the air as they exploded, three of them, and then fall back to the ground. I was also part of the largest peace-time evacuation anywhere in the world, as the community of Mississauga was evacuated for fear that a whole railcar of chlorine was going to escape into the community.

I raise this because some of the safety regimens that we now have in place were created as a result of horrific accidents, rather than the other way around. Rather than preventing horrific accidents with safety regulations, we wait until there is one and then we bring in regulations. I think that is a little backwards.

The other piece of this puzzle that was created as a result of the Mississauga train derailment was the question of why we were transporting huge quantities of very dangerous goods through residential neighbourhoods. We should not have been doing that. Therefore, the Liberal government of the time put forward something called the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act, and suggested that the government would help railroads move their operations out of heavily built-up areas and into more rural areas. In fact there was a lot of money spent by that Liberal government moving CN Rail's big yards out of the city of Toronto and into an area quite a ways north, whose surrounding area is now completely devoid of housing.

However, the Conservative government of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney then withdrew the funding. The act is still on the books; there is just no money attached to it.

We have this notion that it may be a bad idea to have freight trains running through densely populated areas, but we are not prepared to do anything about it. As the recent derailment of the VIA train shows, anyone or anything that was anywhere near that set of rail cars as they collided into buildings was in grave danger. That is still the case. Even after we pass this railway safety act, we still have the spectre of huge, two-mile long freight trains rumbling through cities like Toronto, and right through our communities and neighbourhoods. In my neighbourhood, it has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The GO Transit folks are building an underpass under a couple of roads for their trains. Their trains are right next door to a CP Rail corridor. In order to protect their trains from a possible CP Rail derailment, they are building a crash barrier wall between the two sets of tracks. Now the houses are closer, but no one is thinking of putting a crash barrier wall anywhere along the corridor between the rail cars and the houses. The view is that we have to protect our infrastructure, this little trench that we are building. GO Transit has to protect that by building a crash barrier wall.

That makes the residents of my neighbourhood realize just how dangerous it is when a big company like GO Transit says it has to protect its investment by building a wall to keep freight trains from hitting its own trains. However, those people who live right alongside that corridor, whose land was expropriated in order to put the corridor closer to their homes, are now quite reasonably worried. They worry about their personal well-being and safety, the safety of their children and their houses.

A couple of years ago a train from Montreal derailed, and that train actually levelled a house. Luckily, no one was in it and no one was injured. However, we are not actually pretending that we are going to pass any regulations in this bill to protect people from that consequence.

This bill actually gives the government considerable power to pass regulations, and those regulations are in fact what will determine how safe our railroads are. The bill actually does some very good things in determining how those regulations will be put into place. However, it is the regulations themselves that we must hold the government's feet to the fire on, to make sure that these regulations are actually effective and administered properly by the government.

I will give the example of the recent derailment of the VIA Rail train in Burlington. Had there been a positive train control system on that train, that accident would not have happened because the train would have been slowed automatically if the driver or the driver's assistant had not paid attention to the signals. That system is in full use in Europe now and is how all trains are managed there.

It is being implemented in the United States starting in 2015, but the operators have been given notice since 2009 that this is coming. As of 2015 all rail systems, particular passenger rail systems that share space with freight, must have positive train control.

CP and CN travel into the U.S., as does VIA Rail. Are they going to have to retrofit their vehicles to be capable of positive train control because they are operating in the U.S.? Therefore, why are we not doing it here in Canada? It makes no sense. That is available through regulation; the government could in fact pass that regulation.

I will cite the bill. The Governor in Council may make regulations respecting “the implementation, as a result of a risk management analysis, of the remedial action required to maintain the highest level of safety”.

Well, the highest level of safety is positive train control. The highest level of safety is what we should be striving for. We should not be striving for something below the highest level of safety. Worldwide, that level of safety is what has become standard. We are the outlier; we are not at the highest level of safety. As was proven unfortunately by the deaths of three VIA Rail employees two weeks ago, that highest level of safety does not apply to Canada. The consequences were tragic.

The parliamentary secretary commented on the fact that rail companies have to get a certificate before they can actually operate. I am aware of at least one rail company starting up in Canada that was given an exemption by the Canadian transportation authority and will not require a certificate and not therefore be bound by this legislation. That is the air-rail link being built from Pearson Airport to Union Station. Why it was given an exemption from having to have a certificate, I really cannot answer, because the Canadian Transportation Agency sometimes acts in mysterious ways. It is a private company. Again, the parliamentary suggested that private companies should be free to run their businesses. However, as a public duty, we have to make sure that we implement safety regulations that protect the public. One cannot do that if one gives them exemptions. If one exempts them from being a railroad under the Canadian Transportation Agency, who then provides the safety? How does that happen?

The other piece of the puzzle, of course, is voice recorders in train cabs. They are not a piece of safety equipment per se but are an effective way of determining exactly what happened so that we can make the system safer later.

The train cabs currently have speed control recorders. In the conversations I have had with drivers they all know that those recorders are there and that drivers can be fired for violating the effective speed control on the pieces of track they are on. It is clear that their bosses can figure out exactly how fast they were going at any given time, so they pay close attention to what their speed should be as a result of there being a speed recorder.

The same would be true of a voice recorder. They would pay much closer attention to what is said and done in the cab and focus on their job more.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, this is definitely an important bill as it deals with rail safety. This is certainly not the first time we have seen a version of this bill in front of Parliament.

I listened to my colleague and his earlier colleague speak about funding for rail safety. I think the NDP has a very checkered past in supporting rail safety. I point out that in 2009 our government had included a $71 million increase for safety in the budget, but the NDP voted against that and now we have a bill in front of Parliament.

I am glad to hear that the NDP supports this bill. What I want is confirmation that it does, indeed, support this bill and that it will not delay its passage.