House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was general.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-4, 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, and of the motion that this question be now put.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak to Bill S-4, a Senate bill.

There is a railway that cuts almost completely across my riding, and so this is a very important issue, given the urban sprawl taking place on the south shore. In the south of my riding in particular, we are seeing more and more residential neighbourhoods growing up around the railway. The issue of safety is therefore very important.

Before continuing, I would first like to thank two of my colleagues for their work on this issue: the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina and the former critic, the hon. member for Western Arctic, who did a great deal of work on this issue. This bill originated in this House, but unfortunately it died on the order paper with the last election.

Since we are talking a lot about safety, particularly because of the tragedy that happened in Burlington, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the people there and to my colleague, the hon. member for Burlington, who considers this situation to be very serious.

As well, in the budget that has just been tabled by this government, we can see that there are cuts to Via Rail’s budget.

If we want to update and improve our train services, not just for environmental reasons but for economic reasons as well, then I think reducing the budget of the company that provides the most rail services is a mistake.

I can unabashedly say that the NDP supports the bill. We would like to see additional safety measures within Transport Canada.

With regard to what is happening in my riding of Chambly—Borduas in particular, I would like to say a few words about urban sprawl.

Since I was elected, we have had a number of public consultations on the matter of the vibrations that affect the municipalities of Saint-Basile-le-Grand, McMasterville, Beloeil and Mont-Saint-Hilaire. Most of the comments made by members of the public, mayors and elected municipal officials during our meetings had to do with the vibrations. This issue has been overlooked in Bill S-4.

The vibration issue indicates to what extent trains go through residential areas. That is why railway safety is very important to the people in my riding, especially with plans to increase service to the South Shore and neighbouring regions including the Sherbrooke and Drummondville regions, where people want better service between the major centres. I am thinking about the train that connects Montreal and Ottawa. People might want to go from Ottawa to Montreal, but they might also want to get to the South Shore, Saint Lambert, Saint Basile, or as far as Sherbrooke or Drummondville. I am sure some of my colleagues agree.

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12:45 p.m.

An hon. member

To Saint-Jean.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

To Saint-Jean as well and perhaps Lachute. Many municipalities are affected by this issue.

Quite simply, in order to improve and increase service, we must first ensure that safety provisions are adequate. More regions cannot be served until we are satisfied that safety regulations are optimal. For that reason, it is very important to support this bill.

The NDP believes that these measures should have been implemented a long time ago. Unfortunately, with elections and other such things, they were not. However, we would like to see this bill pass as quickly as possible.

We must also deal with modernization, where economic considerations are of the utmost importance. Rail service must be affordable for passengers. If we want more people to travel by train, we have to deal with safety even before we deal with cost. Passengers must feel at ease with train travel, an important means of transportation all across the country, and especially in Quebec. There is a very important rail line running through the middle of my riding.

By ensuring the safety of rail service, we are reassuring passengers that there are no risks in travelling by train. I take the train myself almost every time I come to Ottawa, and it is very quick and comfortable. However, we have to ensure that it is safe.

Canada has earned a good reputation for safety. We are certainly not saying otherwise. There have been accidents, but they are the exception rather than the rule. But just one accident is one too many. Thus, we must take this opportunity to update and enhance current laws, and to give more power to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. This is one of the objectives that this bill could achieve.

By improving safety, we will ensure that people will continue to use the service and we will encourage them to use it more often. In this way we can spark public interest in modernizing rail service. Improving service gives us the opportunity to modernize and to bring our railways up to European standards, for example.

I have received some comments from my constituents and my riding's elected officials, especially at the municipal level. I had the pleasure of talking to them at a meeting in January, just before coming back to the House. We talked about the modernization of rail service, in order tone reduce travel time and make this an even greener means of transportation. We know that train travel is already a green choice, according to VIA Rail. I do not want to adopt their slogan, but we can move in the right direction.

Co-operation from the various stakeholders will improve rail service but, I cannot say it enough, safety remains the key issue. We have to implement adequate safety measures. We have to ensure that tragedies like the one in Burlington do not happen again, and that people are not afraid to take the train.

Earlier, I mentioned vibrations, which are not necessarily addressed here. There are other safety measures we might consider. I am raising these questions because this issue relates to the safety not just of passengers, but also of the areas around the railways. When we talk about trains and railways, we have to address the question of safety, which concerns both the people who use the service and the people who live nearby in residential neighbourhoods. That was the case in Burlington. I am not an expert on what happened in Burlington, but I think a residential neighbourhood was involved.

There is also the pollution caused by trains. We want to keep these things under control. We want the Department of Transport to provide sound management, and that will improve services. This is something that is very important to our constituents, particularly in Chambly—Borduas.

This issue need not be negative. If we solve the safety issue immediately, we can move forward with a vision of sustainable technological development of rail service.

This is what we in the NDP advocate, and that is why we support Bill S-4.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank our colleague and congratulate him on his speech.

He has explained why there is an urgent need for this bill to be passed quickly. Obviously, the safety of users is extremely important. He also talked about various accidents that have happened and that certainly must not be allowed to occur again.

What other aspects does my colleague see, in addition to sustainable development, for example in economic terms, as being connected with safe transportation development?

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Saint-Lambert, which whom I in fact share the railway, even though we are not immediate neighbours.

We are talking about safety, and one of the reasons why Bill S-4 and the earlier bill that was introduced in this House before the election were introduced is precisely because an advisory committee wanted to update safety measures. In fact, we have to remember that technology changes over the years, as our railway systems and trains are modernized.

To come back to the economic aspect raised by my colleague, it is very important to understand that when we talk about safety, we are talking about modernization. We must make sure at all times that our safety regulations are up to date, to reflect the new technological reality of the measures available to us and to ensure the safety of passengers and people living in the vicinity of a railway.

That said, if we want to move forward and improve the system with more eco-friendly, faster systems, as our constituents want and as our party advocates, we have to make sure that we are capable of putting safety measures in place that will in fact both facilitate that process and ensure good economic development in the future.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech, and I actually want to thank him for mentioning the tragic VIA Rail accident that happened recently in Burlington, which resulted in the deaths of some great Canadians who have served our people through their work with VIA Rail over a number of years.

I do understand that the NDP's position, and hopefully everyone's position, is that we need to move this to committee so we can look at any amendments and get this safety act through the House of Commons and into law.

Are there any specific amendments the NDP is thinking about that are not in the legislation now but could be, which he could give us a heads-up on? Or is the NDP just waiting to have input from the public on this new legislation?

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1 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know work will definitely be done on this in committee. Now, as for the specific nature of this work, I will leave that up to my colleagues who know more about this than I do.

Before I continue, I would like to once again express my condolences regarding what happened in Burlington. As I said, even one tragedy is one too many, despite our excellent reputation when it comes to railway safety.

At the same time, there is definitely always room for improvement. In particular, I would like to point out that Bill S-4 does not address all of the recommendations made by the advisory panel.

That being said, even though there is always some flexibility when it comes to improvements that can be made, this does not prevent us from supporting the bill. In addition, as my colleague mentioned, the bill will then go to committee. At that time, my colleagues who are members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities can continue their excellent work and further develop our position on this bill.

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1 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise and speak in support of this bill.

It always takes a tragedy to focus our attention on safety. I and my colleagues from across the aisle and on this side extend our sympathies to the communities and the families of those who lost their loved ones in a very tragic accident, which all of us watched in our living rooms over and over again. For many of the commuters who were on their way home and got tossed around, their families at home suffered a great deal of anxiety, as well as the ones who actually on site.

It always takes a tragedy to draw our attention to the fact that we need to attend to modernizing our regulations to be current with the systems today. It was thus in 2000. It was in the early 2000s, after a spate of unfortunate accidents that led to tragic consequences, that the House first started to look at reviewing the Railway Safety Act. It has been going through various iterations, but here we are in 2012 and the legislation has still not passed through the House. I am not blaming anybody. I am just saying these are the kinds of things that happen.

I will reiterate a comment I have heard from many people that train travel is one of the safest ways to travel. We are not saying there is an inordinate number of accidents that lead to fatalities. We are saying that even one, two, three or four are too many. We want to prevent that by modernizing and bringing our regulations up to date to match the new technologies that exist today.

Our pioneers had great vision and they built the railways right across this great country. Why? Because they saw the need to connect us from coast to coast.

Even today I would like to see the government invest significant dollars in railway infrastructure, because railways do provide a safe way of transportation, and the least environmentally harmful.

Ever since I was a little girl I have been in love with trains. Whether it was due to the early books I read or some of the adventures I had the pleasure to go on, I think there is nothing on this planet that beats railway travel. I have had the pleasure of travelling through most of Europe and India by train, following the writing of Theroux of the great railway journey, and it was truly amazing.

I am looking forward to the day that I will have time to travel across this great country by rail. The best form of a holiday I could imagine would be to travel across Canada and see our beautiful landscape and diverse geography, sitting on a beautiful train. Therefore, I think it is critical that we ensure our trains are safe, notwithstanding the fact that we need more trains, especially passenger trains to give Canadians that opportunity, though I am sure we need more commercial trains as well.

Also, as we look at our environment, the price of gas and many other things, improved railway travel between cities and across this great nation would be a great asset to this country. If we are looking at train travel, one of the key things we have to do is make sure our railways are regulated in such a way that it is a safe way to travel.

As I said previously, railroad travel is one of the safest ways to travel. The Burlington tragedy reminded us that we need to modernize and upgrade our regulations. That is what the bill purports to do. It does not fix everything. I am sure there will be amendments to try to improve safety from all sides when it gets to committee. When it comes to the safety of Canadians or the tourists who visit our great land, I just cannot imagine putting a price on that kind of safety. I hope that there will be very little resistance, and all sides of the House will make sure that this legislation passes.

The recent tragedy also showed us that employers have a responsibility to provide safety to their workers. Health and safety issues are very critical. As a result, we have to ensure that workers who work on our railroads have all the protection they need.

The regulation changes we are looking for are more protection for passengers and more protection for the workers, who of course devote very privileged hundreds of hours on the train. I think trains are so wonderful.

I encourage all my colleagues in the House to take some time to explore our beautiful country by getting on a train with their families. They should leave their BlackBerrys aside and just enjoy our geography. They should look out, as they travel through the Rockies, and see Banff in all its glory, and as they go through the prairies, look into field after field of very rich agricultural land.

I wish that in my riding of Newton—North Delta we actually had passenger railroad service. If we had it, I would certainly get on those trains often. I am a great fan of railroad travel.

This piece of legislation has been through this House before. It has been through the Senate. It has received good support wherever it has gone. I think it is time to act on it. The bill was first introduced in June 2010 after various studies at committees, which started in 2006. We studied regulations and safety for four years. Then the bill was introduced. It went through various iterations, did not make it through the timelines for whatever reason. Now we have a wonderful opportunity to act to ensure safety for workers and passengers.

The bill at the Senate stage, where people came to bear witness, was supported by the unions that have workers on the railroad service. It was supported by the National Legislative Director of the Teamsters. It was supported by Carla White-Taylor, director of the Rail Safety Secretariat.

There is significant support for the bill. I hope we can get it through this House fairly quickly, through the committee stage where, I am sure, after all we are parliamentarians, there will be some tweaking. I am sure we will all be open to tweakings, because we all get along so well at committee stage.

This is an opportunity for us where we have a common goal. I agree with my colleague across the way because he is from Burlington and he saw the impact of that tragedy. We could only empathize with it and send our sympathies from afar. He lives there, so he is just as committed to ensuring safety regulations for the railroad as we are on this side of the House.

This is one of those cases where we can act in a non-partisan way for the good of all who love to travel by railroad. There is no better way to travel.

Mr. Speaker, could you please give me leave to split my time with my colleague--

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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Does the hon. member for Newton--North Delta have the unanimous consent of the House to split her time with another hon. member?

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1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.