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

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, none of us in the House is privy to what is in the budget other than the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, and none of us quite frankly should be. It would be presumptuous of anybody here to assume what is in the budget, what cuts are planned in the budget and what is not planned in the budget. The member has really raised a red herring.

With respect to the Superior Propane explosion a number of years ago, the member knows quite well that propane is under provincial jurisdiction and provincial regulation. Given the situation of a minority Parliament in the Ontario legislature, I would suggest that the member ask his NDP friends in Ontario to help push for better provincial regulation over propane installations.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think all of us are very pleased to see Bill S-4 reflecting the spirit of co-operation of all parties who are concerned with rail safety in this country.

I would also like to ask whether we can see the kind of commitment that would extend rail safety by providing the additional kind of equipment, the automated brakes on speed and so on, that could avoid accidents. The member has spoken to this point, but I would really like to see the kind of solid commitment that goes along with this excellent legislation.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, regulation and legislation are living, evolving creatures and are subject to debate and exchange within parliaments and committees.

We have here a great piece of legislation that really deserves the support of every member in the House so it passes swiftly and expeditiously. The safety of Canadians is at stake right now, and we have put forward a bill that would address all the safety concerns and would put the safety of Canadians first. I would urge all members in the House, rather than nitpick, to pass the bill expeditiously and swiftly.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from York Centre on his excellent speech. Indeed, it is time to take action and pass this bill.

The new budget will be introduced soon. Will it include investment to modernize our rail transportation system? If the government wants to ensure rail safety, it will have to invest significant amounts of money in modernizing the system.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we cannot comment on what is in the budget. The member asked what investments are planned. I suggest he be here on March 29, the day the Minister of Finance will unveil the budget. He will find out at that time.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand in support of the legislation, but as will become clear in my presentation to this House, I have some reservations on the commitment of the government to actually deliver on the legislation.

As the parliamentary secretary said in his comments on Bill S-4, the government should do what only governments can do and he noted that one of those things was to ensure public safety. However, he then added that it was important to move toward greater privatization and less government control, including over the rail industry.

I would suggest these are rather contradictory statements. It is that very contradictory approach to governance, frankly, by the current government that has caused increasing risks to public health and safety.

Nonetheless, the government can be commended for including many of the recommendations made over the many years of review of the legislation to improve it, including the introduction of administrative penalties and the stricter or higher penalties for serious infractions.

The introduction of administrative penalties is long overdue. I in fact participated in an initiative by Treasury Board and the Department of Justice in 1989. I was then chief of enforcement for Environment Canada and one of the few officials in the government who was actually supportive of this measure. We had a very productive measure. We travelled in the United States and examined some European jurisdictions for more innovative approaches to ensuring compliance with federal statutes. One of those measures was administrative penalties, which have only recently been put into environmental laws. It is encouraging to see them put into this law.

However, what causes me great concern is another comment by the parliamentary secretary. He may have misspoken. He may not understand fully what is included in enforcement of compliance policy and the criteria that are normally put in place in determining what kind of penalty should be exercised.The parliamentary secretary suggested that the value of administrative penalties was in a case of persistent non-compliance. I would like to assure the House that certainly in the case of environmental statutes, a case of persistent non-compliance is generally a trigger for a serious investigation and, in all likelihood, a prosecution.

The very purpose of legislation and the very purpose of an enforcement compliance system is to show to the regulated industry that there is a threat of detection and, in turn, enforcement.

As an aside, Mr. Speaker, I did not realize that I was splitting my time with the member for Drummond. If you could let me know when my time is up so I do not speak over it, I would appreciate that.

It is very important when tabling an important piece of legislation like this to make it clear within the agency that is going to be responsible for ensuring compliance that a very clear and consistent enforcement and compliance strategy has been put forward.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House, including to the government of the day, the fact that a predecessors of theirs, a former environment minister, Tom McMillan, of the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Mulroney, actually took that measure and had a very commendable approach to regulating at the federal level. On the day he tabled his bill, the now Canadian Environmental Protection Act, he simultaneously tabled an enforcement and compliance policy. Why did he do that? He said that a law without effective enforcement was a hollow measure.

I think that would make sense to everyone in this House. In other words, we can have the strictest penalties in the world, we can showcase the law and say that it is the best one in the western world, as we often say about our Canadian environmental statutes, but it is of little value if there is not equal commitment to effectively enforce that law and to ensure compliance.

Hearing the responses today from the government members to questions asked in this area, I am not reassured. I look forward in the future, perhaps in further discussions of the bill, for that matter to be clarified.

Why am I raising this? One of the most serious problems with rail safety in this country, in some cases, has been the failure to regulate and the failure of successive governments actually to enact the necessary regulations to give credibility to the Railway Safety Act. We have had review after review, including by the rail safety board, identifying regulatory gaps. However, the most significant problem with rail safety that has been identified by independent review bodies has been the failure of the government to effectively enforce that legislation.

I will refer to a report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled in the House in December 2011, very recently. What did the commissioner find? He and his review found:

Transport Canada lacks a consistent approach to planning and implementing compliance activities [in transportation]. As a consequence, it cannot ensure that sites are inspected according to the highest risk.

He further stated:

Transport Canada has not ensured that corrective action has been taken on instances of non-compliance.

In addition, he stated:

Transport Canada has given only temporary, interim approval for nearly half of the emergency response assistance plans put in place by regulated organizations. As a consequence, many of the most dangerous products regulated under the Act have been shipped for years without the Department having completed a detailed verification of plans for an immediate emergency response.

I have personal knowledge of these deficiencies. I happen to own property on Lake Wabumun, where in 2005 there was largest freshwater spill in the history of North America. Three-quarters of the spilled bunker C oil still lies at the bottom of Lake Wabumun. There was somewhat of an attempt to clean it up. I have to say that the Government of Canada, regrettably, did not appear on the scene until a week after the spill. Why is that critical? It is because there is a first nation located on that lake, which was monumentally impacted by that spill. The end result of the spill was a special commission by the Government of Alberta to ensure there would better emergency response measures in the future. I am sad to say there was no parallel review conducted by the Government of Canada.

It is not only the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development who has identified problems with the regulations under the statute. By the way, the new statute does provide for additional regulations, but, regrettably, the government has not simultaneously tabled the listing of regulations and the timetable wherein these regulations will be put in place. The statute is fine insofar as it is an enabling legislative measure, but the substance of this act comes with the regulations. We do not have any knowledge of when the government plans to come forward with these regulations, what the timetable and consultation program will be. I would encourage the government to bring these forward because it would give a lot of assurance to the people in the communities who live and work along the rail lines.

I would also encourage the government to table an enforcement and compliance strategy. Why is that critical? It is because it has been determined in review after review by the rail safety board that the system that the present government and the government before it have put into place is simply to abandon enforcement. It has been turned over to a self-inspection and self-enforcement system by the rail lines. That would be fine if we were not dealing with an industry that is increasingly carrying heavier loads and more dangerous cargo.

By the way, this cargo runs along most of the waterways of this country. The rail lines were originally built along the waterways to cool the trains' coal-fired engines. A good deal of the Canadian environment is potentially at risk, hence, the reason for the amendments to ensure greater rail safety in Canada. However, that is all the more reason it is incumbent upon the government to ensure those provisions are actually effectively inspected and enforced.

I would bring to the attention of the House a report by Transport Canada following the Wabumun and Cheakamus spills. It stated:

The Railway Track Safety Rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there common industry standards for rail life based on accumulated tonnage and the properties of the steel.

...Neither the quality of steel nor the accumulated tonnage is factored into this decision.

It further stated:

Recognizing the limitations of existing inspection tools, there is a requirement for additional strategies to ensure that maintenance rails are not installed where they are likely to have a shorter fatigue life than the parent rail.

It made a number of recommendations on putting more specific binding criteria in place for the maintenance of rails. Again, as I mentioned at the outset, that is very critical because many Canadians live and work along these lines and we need to ensure the public safety of Canadians.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, much has been said about the monetary penalties attached to this bill, but I wonder if monetary penalties mean anything if there is no enforcement. If people are not caught then there is not going to be any monetary penalty.

Second, the amounts are touted as being very high, yet I note that a million dollars is really only a couple days' bonus for the CEO of Air Canada, for example. How can we then suggest that these are actual deterrents to bad behaviour on the part of the railroads?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very astute question. In fact, it is now the case that with most of these kinds of offences where there may be harm to public safety or to the environment, most statutes, including federal and environmental statutes, now provide a lot of innovative order powers for the courts. As we have seen in the courts, the latter actually give preference to those alternative remedies. Those would include, in addition to any monetary penalty, that the convicted party would have to invest many more millions of dollars in improving their rail safety, training, and in providing cleanup equipment along the rail line, and so forth. Therefore, it does not matter what the monetary penalty is, unless of course the rail lines are inspected and they are in force. In fact a million dollars seems pretty small in the case of a major incident.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. friend from the riding of Edmonton—Strathcona to reflect more on the lessons learned from that really devastating toxic spill that occurred in Alberta near her home. If I recall, the hon. member had a cottage on that lake and experienced first hand some of the reasons for the derailment.

This legislation, while sound, in my mind will not sufficiently deal with systemic problems from the cutbacks to rail staff and cutbacks to safety regulations. I would like to ask my hon. friend if she would agree.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her cogent question. I know she is a great defender of the environment as well.

Absolutely, I have witnessed first hand the devastation that can occur when we do not properly regulate, inspect, and enforce our rail laws. This is harm that should not happen to the environment. It is preventable. This is the disgrace of it. It is absolutely incumbent on the government to reverse its policy of turning over more and more of the responsibilities for inspection and the monitoring of critical laws like rail safety. I am looking forward to the government stepping up to the plate and saying that it realizes this law is important and showing good faith and actually bringing forward some cases, putting more inspectors out there and making sure that these lines are inspected more sufficiently, and also putting in place the proper technology so that it can actually detect the rail line errors.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the member for Edmonton—Strathcona when she talks about environmental safety issues. When I came in I missed the beginning of a section of a report that she was reading. My apologies to her if it was from the environment commissioner's report, but it sounded a lot like the 2011 report by the environment commissioner.

One of his recommendations dealt with the fact that Transport Canada does not conduct an adequate timely review when approving emergency response assistance plans, particularly when transporting dangerous goods. He talked about these plans. There can be an interim plan, and all that is required for the interim plan is a working telephone number. That is it, and some of these interim plans have been in place for a decade. Therefore, I would like to hear from the member what she thinks about this kind of emergency response.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Halifax is a hundred per cent right. I did quote from the 2011 report by the environment commissioner. He did note that the Transport Safety Board had identified deficiencies in all of the emergency procedures manuals that it had reviewed. There was no identification of hazards, no assessment of the risks posed by the hazards, no list of residents in the potential area, no map of nearby residences or evacuation routes, and no description or location of emergency response equipment. These are very significant problems.

Therefore, the government, in spite of bringing forward good legislation, has a big task ahead of it. We look forward to a substantive response on the proper investments to make sure that the public is kept safe.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

I would like to begin by saying that we have been looking forward to this bill for years. We have been waiting for a rail safety overhaul for a long time, and this bill is a major step forward. We have all been looking forward to this measure, and we are happy to support this bill.

I would like to mention that the railway system is very important in my riding of Drummond. This is not something that should be neglected; rather, it should be protected. VIA Rail passenger trains pass directly through Drummondville and stop to pick up and drop off many passengers who are happy to have this service. We would like VIA Rail to provide our city with even more services and we would like the government to invest even more in this magnificent mode of transportation. Freight trains also pass through our city. Residents are greatly appreciative of this fact because rail transport is one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation. However, it is important that investments be made in infrastructure. The hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges spoke about this earlier. In Drummondville, for example, when a train passes through, three downtown streets are blocked for 5, 10, 15 or sometimes even 20 minutes, which means that people are stuck in traffic.

This bill to improve rail safety is very important because it will enhance safety, not only for train crews and passengers, but also for the people near the trains, such as drivers and pedestrians. As I mentioned, trains pass right through the middle of downtown Drummondville. Thus, it is very important to us that rail safety be improved.

I would like to add that not only does the NDP support Bill S-4 but it has also proposed some amendments. I will list a few of them. I see that I do not have much time left. For example, we know that the Conservative government has ignored repeated calls—

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I must interrupt the hon. member as it is now time for statements by members.

The hon. member will have seven minutes to finish his speech after question period.

Madeleine Parent
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with much emotion that I rise today in the House to pay a final tribute to an exceptional woman who just passed away.

Since the 1940s, Madeleine Parent has been a prominent figure in Quebec. She was a true pioneer in the union movement and in the fight against all forms of injustice.

She was also a great Quebec feminist who helped advance the fundamental rights of women, rights that the current generation unfortunately might take for granted.

Workers, especially women, are grieving the loss of a tireless woman who, with authenticity and courage, waged a battle despite the adversity she faced and the fierce opposition of certain governments.

Today, with this regressive Conservative government in power, I take up her 2006 call to unite sovereignist forces and make Quebec a more just society for all.