Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to commence third reading of Bill C-52, the safe and accountable rail act, which seeks to amend both the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act.
As parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport, I have the great privilege to be a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and to have been able to take part in the study of this extremely important piece of legislation.
Before I speak to the important points raised during committee stage, I would like to take a few minutes to remind all members of this place of the important components of this legislation, beginning with the important amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.
As stated by the Minister of Transport at committee, the tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment has shown us that our liability and compensation regime for rail must be strengthened. The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway only carried $25 million in third-party liability insurance, which we now know is not nearly enough to cover the incredible magnitude of the resulting damage and loss of both life and property that night.
With this bill, railways would be required to hold a mandatory level of insurance based on the type and volume of dangerous goods they carry. These levels would range from $25 million for short lines carrying limited or no dangerous goods to $1 billion for railways carrying significant amounts of dangerous goods, namely CN and CP.
These mandatory insurance requirements have been set based on analysis of historical accident costs, taking into account the severity of past accidents involving certain goods. These requirements would make certain that a railway's insurance directly reflects the risk associated with its operations.
These insurance levels were determined to be adequate to cover the cost of the vast majority of potential accidents and, while a scenario of the magnitude of Lac-Mégantic is an extremely rare occurrence, we want to be certain that all costs in such a case would be recovered.
That is why a supplementary shipper-financed fund would be created to provide compensation above the railway's insurance for accidents involving crude oil and any other goods added through regulation.
In the event of a rail accident involving crude oil, railways would be automatically liable, without the need to prove fault or negligence, up to their insurance level, and that would happen immediately.
The bill provides that they would be liable for all actual damages, which includes damages to people, property, and the environment. There would be certain defences to this strict liability. A railway, for example, would not be held liable if the accident were a result of war, hostilities, or civil insurrection such as a terrorist act, as these occurrences are outside of the railway's control. If accident costs reached beyond the railway's mandatory insurance level, the supplementary fund would cover the remaining damages.
For the supplementary fund, we have included a broad definition of crude oil in recognition of the serious damage that all crude can cause if released. Even a less-volatile crude can have a grave impact on the environment and result in very high remediation costs.
The fund would be financed through a levy on shippers of $1.65 per tonne of crude oil transported by federally regulated railways, indexed to inflation. The aim is to capitalize the fund to $250 million, which is an amount that would provide substantial additional coverage for crude oil accidents above the insurance levels. Based on a reasonable projection of oil-by-rail traffic growth in the coming years, we have determined that, with the $1.65 per tonne levy, we would reach that target in approximately five years.
That said, however, it is important to emphasize at this point that the $250 million capitalization is a target and not a cap. The bill would allow the Minister of Transport to discontinue or reimpose the levy as necessary.
This means that the levy could continue longer than five years should oil-by-rail traffic grow at lower than expected rates. It also means that the fund could be capitalized to a different amount should that be considered appropriate.
Just to be clear. The fund will cover all costs above the railway's insurance and will not be capped. In the unlikely event that damages from a crude oil accident surpass both the railway's insurance level and the amount in the supplementary fund, the government's consolidated revenue fund would back up the compensation fund and would be repaid through the levy.
Bill C-52 also propose amendments to the Railway Safety Act, which would seek to further strengthen the oversight of Canada's rail safety regime in certain areas. These include the following: first, a new power for the Minister of Transport to order a company to take corrective measures should that company's implementation of its safety management system risk compromise safe railway operations; second, a new authority to regulate the sharing of information, records and documents from one party to another, other than the department, for example, from a railway company to a municipality; third, to broaden railway safety inspectors' powers to intervene in a more effective way with any person or entity, including companies, road authorities, and municipalities, to mitigate threats to safety; fourth, a broader power for the Minister of Transport to require a railway company, road authority, or municipality, to stop any activity that might constitute a threat to safe railway operations, to follow any procedures, or taking any corrective measures specified; and, finally, a cost reimbursement scheme for provinces and municipalities that respond to fires determined to be caused by a railway company's operation.
Part of Transport Canada's prevention strategy has been to ensure the department has an effective oversight regime. This means both ensuring that industry is in compliance with the various rules and regulations that govern them and also responding to changes in the risk environment.
Transport Canada continuously examines and monitors its resource levels to adjust and reallocate, as needed, to address emerging issues, trends and higher-risk issues.
Transport Canada has further enhanced railway safety in Canada by establishing the following new or amended regulations: grade crossings regulations; railway operating certificate regulations; railway safety management system regulations, 2015; transportation information regulations; and railway safety administrative monetary penalties regulations.
Allow me to refer back to the review of the bill at the committee stage.
The review of Bill C-52 provided the opportunity for the committee members to examine, in detail, the text of the bill, its purpose and objectives. Particular issues were raised and the hon. Minister of Transport provided some important clarifications, which bear repeating in the House today.
First, the minister assured committee members that no additional financial resources would be required for the implementation of these new proposed authorities and requirements. The department's operational budget was assessed and represents the level of resources adequate to carry out all of the projects and the priorities. Nonetheless, in the event additional funding is requirement, the government always has the ability to reallocate or request funding through the supplementary estimates.
Second, with regard to the supplementary shipper-financed fund, the minister made a number of important clarifications. The fund has been proposed, through Bill C-52, to provide substantial additional coverage for incidents involving crude oil. The fund would cover any damages that surpassed the railway's required minimum insurance coverage. To finance the fund, the government would introduce a levy of $1.65 per tonne on shipments of crude oil transported by a federally regulated railway. The formula used to establish the levy would be based on a mid-range growth estimate of projected oil by rail. The supplementary shipper fund cannot apply retroactively for incidents that occur prior to the coming into force of the legislation.
As previously mentioned, the proposed supplementary fund would not be capped or cut off. Therefore, claims against the fund would not be limited. The fund would be capitalized to $250 million. However, Bill C-52 would allow the Minister of Transport to suspend or reinstate the levy as would be necessary. This would ensure that the fund would be at the appropriate level to pay for damages in excess of railway insurance levels without holding excess capital unnecessarily.
The government modelled this compensation fund on the ship-source oil pollution fund in the marine mode. Levies for that fund were suspended once it had been capitalized. The fund has grown through interest over the past 40 years without the need for further levies. For the time being, the supplementary compensation fund will cover incidents involving crude oil.
However, the bill provides regulation-making authority to include other types of dangerous goods in the future. Moreover, Bill C-52 provides for a loan from the consolidated revenue fund if the resources in the fund have been exhausted. This loan would be subject to terms and conditions established by the Minister of Finance and would be repaid through the shipper levy.
Furthermore, this bill includes the authority to put in place a special levy on railways to help repay the CRF loan to ensure that liability continues to be shared appropriately in the event of a catastrophic accident. The funds would be supplementary to the newly proposed minimum liability insurance coverage for railway companies transporting dangerous goods.
The strengthened liability and compensation regime in the bill is in line with the modernized liability and compensation regime put forward for pipelines in Bill C-46, as well as the regime for offshore oil and gas in Bill C-22, which received royal assent on February 26. This includes a provision that ensures that the strengthened regime for rail would not preclude any other regimes, including future regimes with higher limits of liability from being applied to a railway accident.
It is also important to highlight the clarification made by the Minister of Transport at committee regarding subclause 152.7(1) of the bill. Through this subclause, only a railway company that is involved in a crude oil accident through physical operation of a railway, for example, moving a train or responsibility for tracks or cars, would be held liable without regard to fault or negligence.
In the Canada Transportation Act the terms “operate” and “railway” are defined in section 87 of the act. They are defined in a physical sense, not a commercial sense. Therefore, a carrier that quotes a through-rate or interswitches with a railway company that later has an accident would not be considered involved in an accident. With this strengthened liability and compensation regime for rail, the minister clearly stated in committee that she was confident, and “we do have the ability to ensure that the polluter pays and that taxpayers don't have to incur costs”.
The minister confirmed to committee members that where a crude oil accident was the result of an act of terrorism, the railway company would not be held automatically liable under our proposed legislation.
Finally, the committee discussed the cumbersome definition of “fatigue science” presently found in the Railway Safety Act. As stated by the minister, the definition included in the act is simply a definition of a term and does not add any implementation requirements toward the railway companies. By having the term predefined, it restricted the department's ability to enforce. Amendments to the act seek to remove the definition allowing the application instead of the new Railway Safety Management System Regulations, 2015, to fulfill its purpose of ensuring a company's safety management system includes mechanisms for applying the principles of fatigue science when scheduling the work of certain employees.
Following the Lac-Mégantic derailment, the Speech from the Throne in 2013 and the Auditor General of Canada's fall 2013 report, our government has worked to bring forward these amendments to strengthen railway safety in Canada and increase the industry's accountability. Within this process, consultation with our stakeholders, particularly on liability and compensation, was essential to achieve the results we see today in this bill. We are grateful for their collaboration, support and commitment to improve the safety and security of the railway system.
I urge all members to vote in favour of Bill C-52 so it can be referred to the other place as soon as possible.