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 rail.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, we do support it and we will not delay it.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, rail is really important. There is an organization called the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, based out of Sault Ste. Marie, which has been very actively pushing its vision for passenger trains in northern Ontario. I can tell the House that the East Algoma chiefs, mayors and reeves have been working very closely with it in trying to get that to go forward. We hope that the government will give some consideration to the need to implement passenger trains across northern Ontario because we do not have a lot of public transportation there.

I noticed that my colleague across the way mentioned that the New Democrats did not support previous funding for rail, but what he neglected to say was that the reason we did not support the budget was that it contained poison pills.

My colleague talked about rail safety and I am wondering if he could elaborate on the exemptions that he spoke about on the air-rail link. I ask because I tend to think that we still have a lot of work to do in this area.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. I was as shocked as anyone to discover that the Canadian Transportation Agency had in fact exempted what is being touted as a world-class railway. It will be the only diesel railway on the planet between an airport and a downtown. It is being touted as world class and it is now seeking and being given an exemption from the regulations governing railroads in this country. I am astounded that the Canadian Transportation Agency, an agency of the government, would in fact exempt any railroad in Canada from the regulations, particularly one that goes through heavily-populated areas of the city of Toronto and for which safety should be paramount.

We note there have been some changes to who will be the operator of this railroad. Therefore, there will need to be a second application to the Canadian Transportation Agency and perhaps this time it will make sure that they are regulated.

Safer Railways Act
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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member gave a very cogent presentation, in which he talked not only about what is in the bill on paper but also the needed commitment from the government to actually implement and enforce the bill, which is equally important.

I note that in his 2011 report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found profound problems with Transport Canada in its failure to effectively inspect and enforce, including following up and ensuring that emergency response assistance plans were effective and in place. I also note that the legislation allows for further exemptions. I wonder if the member could speak to the fact that we need not only good, strong, improved legislation, which New Democrats support, but also to have it effectively enforced.

Safer Railways Act
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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, if we pass the best laws in the land and do not enforce them, there is no reason to pass them. This is a very good bill, but the member is absolutely right that without the mechanisms to enforce it and the personnel or employees at Transport Canada going forward, as they will do, and inspecting the rails and rail carriers and their adherence to pollution requirements, which is also part of this bill, then we will have wasted our time in passing this bill.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

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.

I move:

That this question be now put.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I note the member for Elmwood—Transcona is a member of the transportation committee and I appreciate his work there, but I would like to ask him in specific terms about his reference to environmental improvements as a result of the bill.

As he is probably aware, the railway companies in Canada have a memorandum of understanding with Environment Canada, not with Transport Canada, as far as their engine emissions go. The engines themselves pollute dramatically. They are full of nitrous oxide and particulate matter. There is a movement in North America, led usually in the United States, to reduce the amount of pollutants that will be released into the atmosphere by the engines of railway companies.

Could the member tell us how this bill would improve that?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the question really is one of ultimately improving the emissions of the locomotives themselves. However, the key issue is environmental protection as far as safety on the railways goes. When we have derailments, accidents and collisions, there is a very negative impact on the environment, which could be to rivers, or lakes. It could have a very negative impact on being close to homes.

Earlier the member talked about how some of these lines ran very close to residential communities and about his desire to have greater protection for those residential communities. The bill would address those impacts on the environment in a very great way because it would significantly reduce the opportunities for accidents, which would protect our environment from spills that could occur from these accidents.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member. I know the CN yards and so forth make up a good portion of the member's riding.

Rail safety is a huge concern for all people, all the different stakeholders. It is good to see this bill. We believe it will have an impact.

I wonder if the member could look into the future. Western Canada has been growing in terms of its population. There is a need to look at the possibility of where additional rail services could be offered through western Canada. One of the examples I used earlier was that VIA did not go through Regina and that people had to go through Saskatoon. Many people would welcome the opportunity to see expansion within the train industry.

Could the member share some of his thoughts in regard to the growth in western Canada and the future of railway in that area of the country?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the bill actually deals more with the safety aspects. The expansion of railway services or passenger rail services is really not part of the bill.

Being from western Canada, I would support seeing some growth and expansion of railway services, both freight and passenger. However, one of the key elements that was touched on was the fact that there was growth in the rail industry, and we have seen great growth. I have witnessed it in my own riding.

We have a lot of communities growing around what were originally the yards. I think of the yards in Transcona that were built in an isolated part outside of the city. Now the city has grown around them. We have this great infrastructure already in place and we want to maintain that. Therefore, it is important we have the safety measures in place to protect those residential areas that have grown around those kinds of infrastructures.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke about the safety of Canadians and indicated this was paramount to the government. I am sure he is aware that not a lot of changes were made in Bill S-4. A lot of work was done when it used to be Bill C-33, and the amendments were made by the NDP member for Western Arctic.

On that note, I would like to indicate that there are a lot of rail systems throughout northern Ontario. A number of those rail cars carry dangerous contents, so we see this as a very positive move. Could my colleague speak about the fact that there are still exemptions available to rail companies on this matter? If we talk about the safety of Canadians as a whole, we need to recognize that there should not be any exemptions at all when it comes to the well-being and safety and security of Canadians. Could he elaborate on the fact that there are exceptions from safety regulations that protect the public under the bill?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to hear that she and her party are supportive of the bill and that we can move forward with it so we have greater safety and protection for the Canadian public. The bill goes a long way in moving us in the direction we need to go. Being supported by industry, the unions, across the board by all stakeholders, goes to show that we have come up with a bill that can be used for protection of all members of our society.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the other piece of the puzzle is the regulations that may ensue. As the member is aware, there has been a renewed call in Canada for positive train control to be implemented as soon as humanly possible, given the recent accident in Burlington and other accidents that have happened in the past. As he is also aware, the federal railroad administration in the United States has already moved in that direction.

Would the member like to comment as to whether his government will be proceeding with regulations on this matter?

Safer Railways Act
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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy the member is pleased with the bill before us and that we are moving in a positive direction for the safety and protection of Canadians.

Regarding positive train control, we are monitoring the development of positive train control in the United States. However, we also realize and understand that it is experiencing some delays due to some technical challenges. We will continue to monitor that situation.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the fact that the member spoke to this very important issue. We all know that Jim Maloway, who was the NDP MP for Elmwood—Transcona, spoke on any issue because he was so knowledgeable.

When it comes to rail, this is extremely important. VIA Rail comes through my riding as well. I am very pleased to see the safety aspect, but when it comes to passenger trains, could he elaborate as to why his government would have large cuts, probably about $200 million, to VIA Rail when passenger rail is the important piece we need to have in our communities?