Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House on the third reading of Bill S-4, the safer railways act.
Before I begin, allow me to congratulate my colleagues across the entire chamber for the successful manner in which this bill has been discussed, debated, analyzed and moved to this point.
I thank the hon. member for his applause and I want him to feel free to interrupt my comments with his applause at any time.
I hope he will join me in applauding our Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who has proven himself to be a quiet, diligent builder in the true Canadian sense. We see the success he has had in moving forward with a plan to build a new bridge, a replacement of the Champlain Bridge over the St. Lawrence. That bridge is going to be at a minimal cost to taxpayers and at a higher quality for the residents of Montreal and the many people who pass through that corridor from right across Canada.
The minister is succeeding in building linkages with our friends south of the border in the hopes that we will have a Detroit-Windsor bridge. He has moved this bill on railway safety quietly but quickly through the House of Commons, and he has also worked with municipal partners toward the eventual development of a replacement for the building Canada fund, which will expire in just a few years. We all have a lot to celebrate when we look at the record of this Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
The bill in front of us deals with one of the few legitimate roles of government, and that is to protect the safety and security of the person. Canada has one of the strongest rail safety regimes in the entire world. Last year we saw reductions in accidents on the railroad by 23%, and derailments dropped by 26%. Obviously there is a lot more work to do. Until such time as there are no accidents whatsoever, we must continue to work with industry and in partnership with government to have the strongest and best laws to ensure safety.
It gives me great pleasure to say that committee members have thoroughly re-examined this bill and have given their unanimous approval for the second time, exactly as it was received, with no further changes. It has been a long journey, but our final destination is in view. This important piece of legislation reflects our desire to ensure that our national railway system 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 always a priority for our government.
Before going further, I would like to remind members about the origin and the intent of this bill. In late 2006, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities appointed an independent panel to review the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations for improving both the act and railway safety in general.
Through 2007, this panel travelled from the Atlantic to the Pacific gathering input from a very broad spectrum of stakeholders, including the railway companies, their associations, the railway unions, shippers, suppliers, municipalities, other national organizations, levels of government and the public.
The end result of these extensive national consultations was a final report with more than 50 recommendations for improving safety in the rail industry. While the rail safety review was in progress, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities undertook a complementary study of railway safety in Canada. After hearing extensive comments from municipalities, industry and labour, the committee accepted 56 recommendations of the Railway Safety Act panel and tabled its own report with 14 recommendations, many of which were built on those in the Railway Safety Act review.
Some of those amendments proposed in the bill before the House today are a direct result of the standing committee's extensive work in this regard. I heartily thank its members for their dedicated efforts.
In short, Bill S-4 is our Conservative government's detailed response to those two national reviews. The amendments it proposes would significantly modernize the current act to reflect changes in the industry and ultimately to increase the level of safety for the benefit of our generation and those to come.
First and foremost, Bill S-4 would provide stronger oversight and enforcement capacity to Transport Canada through the introduction of 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 transportation.
Throughout all our stakeholder consultation and committee examinations of these amendments, we heard strong support for the implementation of the safety-based operating certificates for all railways that run on federal tracks. These certificates, which would significantly strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity, would ensure that companies must 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 of the certificate. This includes 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.
Many stakeholders also expressed strong support for the introduction of monetary penalties and an increase in the judicial fines for serious contraventions of safety regulations. Monetary penalties already exist in other modes of transportation. They serve as a complementary enforcement tool and provide additional leverage on companies that continue to persist in safety violations.
This is consistent with the principles of minimizing regulatory burden for Canadians while at the same time promoting compliance. In that sense, we want to streamline and focus our rules so they cause a minimal encumbrance to the passenger and the business while punishing violations with serious monetary fines to discourage non-compliance.
In the interest of fairness for all, the proposed penalty scheme would allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. It would also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance and infractions.
The maximum levels of these penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, which is consistent with similar schemes for other modes of transportation. The proposed increase in judicial fines, which were originally established 20 years ago, would also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement options and bring those fines to a level currently found in the other modes of transportation, as I mentioned earlier.
Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and from $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would increase from $100,000 to $500,000 for a business and from $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual.
These amounts are consistent with those established for federal air and marine transportation and transportation of dangerous goods. Those modes of transportation are comparable enough to ensure that they would work in this mode of rail transportation. They are large enough to effectively deter contraventions.
The bill also provides for a significantly stronger focus on the importance of railway accountability and safety management systems, which both industry and labour applaud and support.
With these amendments in place, railway companies would be required to appoint a designated executive responsible for all safety matters. They would also be required to provide whistleblower protection for employees who raise safety concerns. Besides increasing our level of protection from accidents and oversights, these amendments would ensure the growth of a strong and lasting culture of safety in the railway industry.
On the administrative side, the bill would effectively close the gaps in the existing act by clarifying the minister's authority on matters of railway safety. It would expand regulation-making authorities, which 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.
The safer railways bill is all about better oversight, improved enforcement tools, enhanced safety management systems and better environmental protection. These are the things we need. These are the things we applaud. I think my hon. colleagues would agree that these are the things we can all support.
In sum, these proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act would improve rail safety in Canada for the long term. They are the culmination of two important studies and extensive consultations. They would provide increased safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, economic benefits to the industry by decreasing the likelihood of costly accidents and delays, and a variety of benefits to external stakeholders, including provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public.
Last but not least, these amendments would provide additional support for a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment for all Canadians.
With the House's support of these amendments, the government's ability would be enhanced to effectively regulate companies in an environment of continued growth, free enterprise competition and increased complexity. We would have the ability to ensure the safety of not only the passenger but the motorist and the pedestrian and the communities through which these trains travel. Improvements to Transport Canada's regulatory oversight and enforcement programs would be limited. The pursuit of new safety initiatives with respect to the management systems and environmental management would be badly constrained without these changes.
Without the support of the House, the legislative framework for railways would also 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.
Without the support of the House, we would ultimately be looking at greater long-term costs to Canadians due to continuing fatalities, serious injuries and damage to valuable property and the environment.
Happily, it appears we do have the support of the House. All members of the House would agree that because of this cross-party consensus and the passage of the bill into law imminently, the Canadian public would be safer and the industry and its workers would be stronger.
Canada has one of the most dispersed populations in the world and it is the second biggest country on earth. Our railways have 73,000 km of track stretching from coast to coast and more than 3,000 locomotives handle more than 4 million carloads yearly. They operate more than 700 trains per day, moving nearly 70 million passengers and 75% of all service freight in this country. Railways have been the backbone of our economy since the days of John A. Macdonald and Confederation. They were the foundation of our national growth in the past and they remain integral to our prosperity in the future.
It is timely and forward-looking legislative amendments such as these that will ensure our rail industry remains a safe, secure and dependable component of our national infrastructure and global economy for many years to come.
In 2009, our Conservative government affirmed its commitment to safe, reliable transportation systems by investing in rail safety systems and putting the right kinds of rules into place. These amendments to the Railway Safety Act that we have before us today are the fruit of that commitment.
Since the launch of the Railway Safety Act review in 2006, our government has worked continuously with stakeholders, through the Advisory Council on Railway Safety, joint technical working groups and individual consultations across the country, to ensure that this bill meets the needs of all the parties engaged in this industry.
The net result is a strong, forward-looking bill that updates existing regulatory authorities, brings railway legislation in line with other modes and significantly improves the safety of our railway system for the benefit of all.
I will mention some of the leaders who played a role in the early stages of this process. I think of then minister Chuck Strahl, or Lawrence Cannon, two members who have now moved on to other career pursuits but who served as ministers of transport. I think of the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean, now our Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also served in the capacity of transport minister. I think of our current minister who, as I highlighted earlier, has achieved a record of quiet, diligent results in this and in many other areas.
The bill demonstrates the ability of our majority Conservative government to get things done. To continue to preserve our free enterprise economy while protecting the security of the person is one of the fundamental responsibilities of government. Together, as we focus on the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, which is a plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and as we build upon the free market foundations that made this country what it is today, I encourage all members to support these common sense changes to improve rail safety and keep commerce moving across our tracks for the future and for all of us.