House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was railway.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about looking at rapid transit and the potential of rapid transit in many of our municipalities. He highlighted one area where there is a great deal of support to move ahead and look at the possibilities, such as feasibility studies.

The bottom line is that for many of the municipalities we are talking about in that Toronto corridor, there is great merit.

I would ask the member, when looking at rail line safety, to look at the whole concept of a high-speed corridor. It is something that, ultimately, could even be incorporated into future amendments. We want to ensure that it is done in such a way that it preserves the integrity and safety of rail lines.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

May 1st, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree, I think it can be. However, I think it becomes a larger issue. When looking at that corridor and high-speed rail, we could also be protecting, for example, farmland and other types of areas where there is urban sprawl. We would have development along the corridor through strong urban planning. It would become a natural attraction to live and work along the corridor, and use the corridor. For example, we can look at how many people now commute from Kitchener to Toronto.

Improving our rail safety, whether through the act or improvements for VIA passenger rail, would also improve our capabilities to protect our other infrastructure, such as the 400 highway system which gets pounded by excessive car and truck traffic. I would look to see the benefits there as well.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member opposite's intervention about high-speed rail. However, since Bill S-4 is about a safer railways act, I wonder if the member has any comments on the requirement for a rail operating certificate.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, no, I do not.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, Pensions; the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, Asbestos; the hon. member for Davenport, Housing.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for his tireless leadership on the rail issue, his involvement in the rail caucus and everything he does to try to improve rail and rail safety in the country.

It is certainly a shock that today a country as vast as Canada still does not have a high-speed rail link. We are even having trouble speaking about a higher speed rail, which would involve getting rid of level crossings in some of the corridors. This would help to improve rail safety.

With its far-flung population centres and vast land mass, Canada is unique in its geography. As such, our railways have always been an integral part of how we connect with each other across this massive country. Railways are not just a means of transportation, they tie us together at a much deeper level, as many of the speeches today have done, in particular, the member for Timmins—James Bay's speech just a while ago.

I know a great number of members in the House, myself included, rely on VIA Rail as a means to getting to and from our constituencies. In just the one year since I was elected I have already travelled over 25,000 kilometres on our rail network.

Railways are used every single day by thousands of people and it has been this way for hundreds of years now. The benefit of railways are clear. Trains are substantially more fuel efficient than motor vehicles when it comes to moving passengers, and especially cargo, over great distances. Of course, by potentially electrifying rail lines, greenhouse gas emissions could also be reduced in the coming years.

Despite the shortcomings of safety regulations, travelling by train is still roughly five times safer than using a car. It is still the main mode of transportation for Canadian goods. With 70% of all freight in our country shipped by rail, it is literally the backbone of our economy. Every interruption to our rail network comes at great cost to our economy. Rail lines provide crucial links to our biggest trade partner, the United States, and of course also connect to our ports in Halifax, Vancouver and Churchill, to provide access to important overseas markets for Canadian companies.

In large urban centres, commuting by rail is a vital component of our public transit networks, helping to get millions of Canadians to their workplaces every single day. VIA Rail connects to our country's most vibrant cities, carrying more than four million passengers a year. It could do a lot more with more government support.

The Railway Safety Act was implemented in 1989. It sets out a regulatory framework to address, for railways under federal jurisdiction, matters of safety, security and environmental impact. Transport Canada has noted that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since the act was amended in 1999. Operations have become increasingly complex and traffic is growing rapidly.

The department points out that in February 2007, the minister of transport, infrastructure and communities launched a full review of the operation and efficiency of the Railway Safety Act through an independent advisory panel. According to the department, the findings indicated that although the Railway Safety Act is fundamentally sound and efforts have been made to improve rail safety, more certainly needs to be done. The advisory panel's final report, Stronger Ties - A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety, published in November 2007, included 56 recommendations for the improvement of rail safety, some of which require further legislative changes to the Railway Safety Act. Then in 2008, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities issued its own report, which included an additional 14 recommendations.

On February 26, 2012, a VIA Rail train derailed in Burlington, Ontario, killing three VIA employees and injuring 42 passengers. We are still in the early stages of investigation but the indications would seem to suggest that speed and a lack of signals inside the train may have played a role. The crash reinforced what the NDP has long said, that although railways in Canada are relatively safe, tragic accidents can and do still occur. These preventable accidents should be avoided at all costs.

The federal government has a key role to play in the effort to make train travel safer. Federal initiatives, like Bill S-4, would go a long way toward making train travel safer for passengers and rail employees. However, other initiatives, like the NDP's call for positive train control and calls for the Conservatives to reverse their cuts to VIA Rail and transport safety programs, including rail safety, would also help to create a safer rail system.

While we applaud the eventual passage of Bill S-4, it is unacceptable that the bill and the important provisions it contains has taken so long. Now more than ever we need to see these changes realized. The NDP welcomes the bill and we see it as a step forward for Canada's rail safety. However, it is time for the Conservative government to take action and satisfy the long-standing demands from the independent experts at the Transportation Safety Board. More talk is not what we need. Action is what we want.

By the time the bill is passed, it will have been five years since the recommendations of those experts were first published. That is too long when making changes where safety is concerned. Canadians are demanding that we make the railway safer and we are more than happy to oblige.

We are happy to see the bill before the House, but it is a pity that it has not been a priority of the Conservative government, the government that likes to boast that it is the champion of the safety of Canadians. Let it try to say that to the families and victims of the derailment in Burlington, or to the families who lost their homes in St-Charles-de-Bellechasse in 2010.

The safety of Canadians is important. The bill is needed for railway workers, passengers on the trains and people who live near railway lines. It is also important to our economy, as I said before. Every disruption to the rail network potentially affects millions of dollars worth of goods and time.

The government likes to advocate for smaller government and for getting the government out of everyone's business. Large oil companies and their employees, the shippers that use the rail lines, citizens who live near the railways and passengers who travel by train would all disagree. They understand that government does have a role to play. It has a role to play as a regulator and protector to ensure the safety of all Canadians. It is a shame that it has taken the Conservative government so long to provide this measure that would ensure safety is enhanced, and it could go further.

Unfortunately, in the ideological zeal of the government, safety and well-being are often left to free market forces to decide. The government expects industry to regulate itself, but that rarely happens and so unnecessary accidents and tragedies occur.

I would like to now 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 would cut money that could go toward safety. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that the amount of money spent on something should not be the measure of its effectiveness. Yet the people who enforce safety regulations and who have developed new safety systems need to be paid. They need to be remunerated for their work and it is not work that anybody can do. It takes experts to do this work. We cannot shortchange them. Nor can we cut corners in this area. When corners are cut on safety, we see the results. People who work in the transportation sector say that it jeopardizes safety. The government cannot say it defends safety on the one hand and then cut safety with the other.

We also ask 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 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. Therefore, investing in this technology to improve safety would also be an investment in our economy. It would stimulate the innovators who contribute 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 went wrong. When there is an accident, it is in the interest of everyone to find out the full story of what happened so things can be improved in the future.

We must always be vigilant in working to ensure that we never take our hands off and that we are always working to ensure that life becomes safer for Canadians as they travel, going about doing their business and contributing to the economy.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good point in terms of how frequent we should be looking at railway safety and bringing in legislation necessary to make changes. The last time it was done, prior to this bill, which is yet to pass, would have been during Jean Chrétien's era back in 1999. A great deal has changed since then.

The Conservatives have dropped the ball. Given the type of support that the bill has received, there is no reason why this legislation did not get passed years ago. Many of the measures being proposed were in fact known and well-established even a few years ago.

How often should the bill be reviewed? Should it be reviewed every four or five years? Does the member have any thoughts on that?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that it had taken a little while. As I said in my speech, it has taken five years from the time the recommendations came out to the point we are now with this bill. With the support from all sides, one wonders if it could have passed in a minority Parliament that existed for the last several years, and I think it would have. It probably would have been one of those bills that all sides of the House could have looked to proudly and said, “This is how minority governments work when we work together”. Unfortunately it was not a priority for the government and it did not happen.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill was in the last Parliament and I will point out that the NDP did not have much zeal to pass the bill at that particular time, but it did have zeal to cause an election that caused the bill to die.

To the issue of voice recorders, and I know the member has raised the issue, unions have been clear that they have some difficulties with the idea of voice recorder technology being implemented on trains precisely because the issue has not been settled at this point about who would have access to the voice recorders. The point is well taken that voice recorders can have some positive impact.

However, is the member suggesting that the government should make a decision that the other partners in rail safety, the unions and the companies, have not arrived at a solution on yet? Is he suggesting the government should move ahead with that right now and mandate the technology, or should he wait until the working group has first resolved that issue so the government can then move ahead on it?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest the government take a vastly different approach than it is taking with practically every other labour issue that has come up since the Conservatives were elected in May 2011. We look at the workers at Canada Post and at Air Canada. The government shows absolutely no respect for labour and for labour agreements that have been negotiated. Therefore, we would say that the negotiations have to take place, we have to treat all of the stakeholders and parties with respect and come to an agreement on the issue.

We have voice recorders in airplanes. We can certainly implement them in a way that respects all sides and where that information would only be used in the strictest of circumstances, and privacy laws would apply.

Breach of Privacy Allegations
Privilege
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to respond to the question of privilege raised yesterday by my hon. colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie.

To begin with, I thank my colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the House leader of the official opposition, for having risen yesterday, as well as the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, who, despite being unfamiliar with the facts, also spoke.

Without further ado, I want to offer my sincerest apologies to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie for the loss of the items that were intended for him. The mistake was entirely mine and I unequivocally acknowledge this now. I wish to make amends to the member as soon as possible. I also want to say that despite the comments made by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, it was an honest mistake, made in good faith.

The incident occurred more than two months ago now. I learned about it last Thursday, when my assistant informed me of an email received from a member of the staff of the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie who had contacted my office to inquire about a lost parcel.

After personally conducting all the checks—I even went back to my riding office in Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord to inquire about the entire incident—I can confirm that it was indeed an honest mistake, made without malice or any intent to harm or cause prejudice to another person. I repeat: it was an unfortunate mistake for which I accept full responsibility.

The facts are as follows: the parcel in question, which was addressed to my colleague but mistakenly delivered to my office, was opened by a member of my staff who failed to notice that the parcel was not addressed to me and did not take the trouble to verify the addressee. As my colleagues know, we all receive many letters and parcels, and as everyone will understand, not every piece of mail is necessarily examined carefully. However, that is no excuse.

I also note that the email referred to by my hon. colleague may have added to the confusion. It read, and I quote, "We received the parcel on the member's behalf." The member in question was me. A member of my staff still believed, until yesterday, that the parcel had been addressed to me.

The objects in the package were mistaken for promotional items, such as we all receive at our offices and do not always know what to do with. I usually distribute those kinds of items to the people of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. Unfortunately, that is what happened to the items addressed to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

I note in passing that the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie never tried to contact me directly to clarify the matter. The first time he addressed me was in the House on a matter of privilege. I believe this misunderstanding could have been resolved more quickly if he had reached me directly at the earliest opportunity.

Whatever the case may be, I admit that I am entirely at fault in this matter, but I deny any suggestion that this was a wilful act committed out of pettiness or spite. I formally apologize to the member and to the charity affected by this misunderstanding.

To show my willingness to make amends, I formally undertake before this House to pay all costs incurred to rectify the situation. I also promise to make a personal donation to the charity those items were supposed to benefit.

Breach of Privacy Allegations
Privilege
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair thanks the hon. member for that and I believe this may bring this matter to a close.

Breach of Privacy Allegations
Privilege
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, although I appreciate the sentiments that have been offered by the member, I know the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie was quite concerned, as was the Liberal caucus, in regard to it. I would like to take this opportunity to advise the Speaker that at some point I believe the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie might want to provide additional comment.

Concern was expressed yesterday in regard to the contents of the package which, from what I understood, was toy shuttles meant for a fundraiser for children. I think people can make the association of it being a shuttle, given the former background of the Liberal House leader.

At this point, I would suggest that we leave it for the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie to report back. We believe it is of a fairly serious nature. It involves not only the opening, but also the consuming of the contents of a package, as opposed to opening it, finding out that it is not ours and then returning it. That would have been more understandable as an innocent event.

I would like to continue to leave the matter open. Let us wait for the Liberal House leader to respond to the member's statement.

Breach of Privacy Allegations
Privilege
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before others rise on the same point of order, maybe the House could agree that the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie ought to have the opportunity to review the statement made a few moments ago and, if he feels it necessary to further pursue the matter, that it would be left to him rather than to others in this place.

The hon. member for Welland on the same point of order.

Breach of Privacy Allegations
Privilege
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, in hearing my colleagues I can appreciate the comments of the member for Winnipeg North.

However, Mr. Speaker, after we had heard the member speak, I heard you say that closes the matter. Therefore to be fair, I believe my colleague from Winnipeg Centre was really no longer involved in the point that the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie was talking about. It seems at that point in time this becomes a matter of debate because clearly you had said after the intervention by my colleague that you felt, from the Chair, that this matter was now settled. Therefore I would suggest that perhaps this matter is now settled.