Safe and Accountable Rail Act

An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Lisa Raitt  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Transportation Act to strengthen the liability and compensation regime for federally regulated railway companies by establishing minimum insurance levels for railway companies and a supplementary, shipper-financed compensation fund to cover damages resulting from railway accidents involving the transportation of certain dangerous goods.

Among other things, the amendments

(a) establish minimum insurance levels for freight railway operations based on the type and volume of goods that are transported;

(b) require the holder of a certificate of fitness to maintain the liability insurance coverage required by that Act, and to notify the Canadian Transportation Agency without delay if its insurance coverage is affected;

(c) establish that a railway company is liable, without proof of fault or negligence, subject to certain defences, for losses, damages, costs and expenses resulting from a railway accident involving crude oil or other designated goods, up to the level of the company’s minimum liability insurance coverage; and

(d) establish a compensation fund in the Accounts of Canada, financed by levies on shippers, to cover the losses, damages, costs and expenses resulting from a railway accident involving crude oil or other designated goods that exceed the minimum liability insurance coverage.

The enactment also amends the Railway Safety Act to, among other things,

(a) allow a province or municipality that incurs costs in responding to a fire that it is of the opinion was the result of a railway company’s railway operations to apply to the Canada Transportation Agency to have those costs reimbursed by the railway company;

(b) clarify the Governor in Council’s power to make regulations respecting the restriction and prevention of access to land on which a line of railway is situated, including by means of fences or signs on that land or on land adjoining it;

(c) authorize a railway safety inspector who is satisfied that there is an immediate threat to the safety or security of railway operations to order a person or company to take any measure that the inspector specifies to mitigate the threat;

(d) authorize the Minister to require, by order, a company, road authority or municipality to follow the procedures or take the corrective measures that the Minister specifies if the Minister considers it necessary in the interests of safe railway operations;

(e) provide the Governor in Council with a regulation-making power regarding the submission of information that is relevant to the safety of railway operations by any person, other than the Minister to any person;

(f) authorize the Minister to order a company that is implementing its safety management system in a manner that risks compromising railway safety to take the necessary corrective measures; and

(g) declare that certain regulations and orders that were made under the Railway Act are deemed to have had effect from the day on which they were made under that Act and that those regulations and orders continue to have effect from that day as if they were made under the Railway Safety Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:10 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with my friend from Hamilton. I am a former resident of Pictou County, Nova Scotia, and it was a tragedy to see railcar manufacturing by TrentonWorks moved to Mexico by its U.S. owner, Greenbrier. It had actually experienced profits every year, but it saw its opportunity for greater profits lay in moving all those jobs in manufacturing railcars to Mexico.

We need to invest in manufacturing in Canada. Given the tremendous shortage of safe railcars, we could turn this around into a business opportunity for Canada. Both Canada and the U.S. are phasing out DOT-111 railcars, which means that there is an enormous market for safer railcars with thicker walls for safer transport of goods. We should be seizing that opportunity and building railcars in Canada for sale in Canada and the United States.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments put on the record from the leader of the Green Party.

I have a question in regard to getting a better understanding of the Green Party's perspective on pipelines.

Many of the issues that the member referred to in her speech deal strictly with the transportation of commodities that could actually be transported through pipelines. As the leader of the Green Party, could she give her thoughts as to what role pipelines might play in that transportation? What are her thoughts on pipelines in general and on how pipelines could impact rail line traffic?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:10 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for Winnipeg North for that question, because it is the subject of a lot of public debate and it needs to be addressed.

I know that the pipeline industry tried to seize on Lac-Mégantic as an argument for pipelines in a way that was seen at the time as a bit inappropriate, given the tragedy that had occurred.

Pipelines can transport many goods. If we are talking about refined petroleum products, I do not know of anyone who is opposed to pipelines moving refined goods, because the impact of a spill is relatively minor and we are keeping the jobs in Canada. However, the pipeline projects that are currently the subject of the greatest debate are Keystone, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, and Energy East, and their common goal to move bitumen as a raw material to tidewater to be shipped to another country for refining.

I mentioned diluent earlier, which is a toxic fossil fuel condensate. Enbridge proposed to buy it from Saudi Arabia, bring it in tankers to Kitimat, put it in a pipeline running from Kitimat to northern Alberta, and then stir it into solid bitumen, because the solid bitumen, being a solid, will not flow. Enbridge would then stir in the diluent that it imported to make a mix called dilbit to put in a pipeline running in the other direction, sending it to a tanker to go somewhere else, maybe China, for refining.

The position of the Green Party is that we do not support any pipeline if the intention is to use it to ship dilbit. It is an extremely dangerous commodity in that when it spills, as the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan has shown us, it is virtually impossible to clean up. It makes much more sense economically, as it appears new Premier Notley wants to do, to refine product in Alberta rather than try to find dangerous pipelines for risky tankers.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

Just this past weekend, a concern was raised in Sherbrooke, which is very close to Lac-Mégantic: we do not know what is in the infamous tanker cars that are behind the locomotives. Municipalities want to know what is in the tanker cars before they travel through cities so that firefighters, as first responders, will know what to do in the event of an accident. That also goes for several other areas, for the sake of prevention and ensuring that emergency plans are in place. One of the concerns of the City of Sherbrooke—and other Canadian cities, I am sure—is finding out what is on those trains in order to better respond in the event of an accident. At present cities do not know what the trains are carrying.

Does my colleague believe that ideally the government should create laws and regulations that require rail carriers to inform cities of what is on the trains so they can provide an appropriate response in the event of an accident?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:15 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleague from Sherbrooke. I feel that cities must have the right to be informed in an emergency situation.

I would like to add something else. It is important to point out, given that there has been no inquiry into this disaster, that in a report, Bruce Campbell says:

The worst rail disaster in modern Canadian history warrants nothing less than an independent judicial commission of inquiry.

I believe that municipalities' questions would be an important aspect of this type of inquiry.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is fairly straightforward.

For the past 10 years, we have seen a drastic increase in the transportation of dangerous goods by rail. Since the tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment, the government has hired one or maybe two new inspectors. Since the regulations do not set a limit on the number of cars, sometimes one inspector has to inspect thousands of cars. I looked at the 2015-16 budget and I did not find anything at all in there about rail safety.

I would like my colleague to tell me why the budget makes no mention of rail safety.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:15 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank my colleague for giving me the opportunity to emphasize this point.

As I already said, cuts are being made at Transport Canada. My colleague is absolutely right: there is nothing in the 2015-16 budget to help Transport Canada increase and improve its capacity regarding rail safety. There is nothing there. Since the 2012 budget cuts, the Department of Transport has not had sufficient resources to ensure rail safety. What is more, past reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and the Auditor General point out that there is no safety regime applicable to any part of our rail system. I would like to reiterate that this budget does not provide the resources necessary to improve rail safety.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House representing the people of Timmins—James Bay and to speak to Bill C-52, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act.

Trains play a huge role in the life and the history of our country. For any boy growing up, the thing we all wanted to be was a train. I spent my life on the Ontario Northland as a kid. My great grandfather used to be the conductor on the Sydney Flyer in Nova Scotia. He lived in Iona. a little village in Cape Breton. He used to say that the only two things that we could find in the village of Iona were holy days and MacNeills. My great grandfather was a MacNeill, so John P. MacNeill was the conductor on the Sydney Flyer. John P's great skill was that he could spot bootleggers on the platform. His eye for a bootlegger was never wrong. He always said that a man carrying a bottle of whiskey with his underwear in a bag would put that bag down with just a little more care than if there were no whiskey in the bottle.

My uncles all worked on the Ontario Northland train out of North Bay and Mattawa. In those days people either worked in northern Ontario, underground in the mines, as my grandfather MacNeill and my grandfather Angus did, or on the Northlander, like my uncles did.

I had a famous uncle who apparently used to drink a twenty-sixer every night on the run from North Bay to Timmins. They said that he was never the worst for wear, although some nights after a twenty-sixer, he would say that it was like the same as working 21 straight hours and being very tired. He did not live long enough for me to be around, but he used to tell us stories about being on those trains.

My street address is Mileage 104, which is 104 miles on the Ontario Northland railway track. Every morning there is that beautiful sound of the train whistle, going past my house, shaking everything in the foundation. It used to carry people but not anymore. The provincial Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne decided that people in northern Ontario were truly second-class citizens and did not merit public transit.

Public transit is something that belongs in urban areas and to urban voters, but people in northern Ontario are somehow second class. Therefore, the Liberal government set out to destroy a 100-year-old public institution, which is the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

What passes by my house daily now is the wood going south, the way the wood has always gone south, and tanker cars full of sulphuric acid from the smelter in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. The trains used to carry product from the smelter in Timmins, but the Liberals also allowed that to be killed because of their idiotic hydro pricing. We are used to seeing things being shipped out of our region on the train, but we used to be able to ship our people back and forth

Just this past weekend I had the great honour and great joy of travelling on the VIA train between Toronto and Ottawa. It was just like being a little kid again, getting on the train, the smell of the train, the feel of the train and the conductors. I felt the same excitement, but I felt a real sense of sadness. For so many regions of our country, the idea of a coherent national transit strategy, including trains, is being seen as somehow something that belongs in the 19th century as opposed to a very 21st century method of travel. I hope to us restore proper train transportation into our regions in the near future, when a New Democratic government is elected in Ontario and we get rid of that corrupt Liberal government.

The Ontario Liberals could learn that their right-wing austerity premier will be a footnote in history like Alison Redford, having promised to be a progressive premiere and then turning her back on the people. From our colleagues in Alberta, we can see how we can elect a progressive woman and actually get it.

I want to speak today about the importance of the safety transportation changes that are coming, changes that need to happen. We have seen an enormous shift in the movement of goods. Over the last five years, there has been a 28,000% increase in the transportation of fuels from western Canada, particularly on the rail lines. Trains are carrying fuel from the Bakken fields, which we know is highly combustible. They are also carrying diluted bitumen and heavy crude.

The incredible increase of this transportation on the transit system has raised serious questions about issues of safety, particularly when we saw the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic.

However, warnings about a potential rail tragedy have been discussed in Parliament for many years. I remember being here in 2004 and trying to get the Liberal government of Paul Martin to see some common sense, which it refused to see. The Liberal government believed that privatizing, allowing companies to look after themselves, getting rid of inspectors and saving money for the government would somehow make things better. Therefore, the Liberal government brought in changes to the Railway Safety Act. The Liberals went to the self-management system and told us that was the future.

It was just like the Liberals told us at that that they could do the same thing for the banking rules. The push at that time was to change Canada's banking laws to allow the banks to self-regulate. We were told in the House of Commons that the NDP was somehow the nanny state NDP because we said that we needed rules around banking. However, at the time, my Liberal colleagues thought that the great future was in City Bank and the amalgamation and investment that was happening in the United States. We saw how that ended up.

In good times, it is easy to say that we do not need regulation. In good times it is easy to say that we should let everything happen and things will carry on. We know our role as regulators is to ensure we have basic rules in place to protect people from potential accidents.

After the changes that came in under the Liberals in self-management, we found there was a whole series of increases in accidents, but because the companies were self-managed, they did not bother to report them. The Transportation Safety Board in 2005 became suspicious of CN's accident numbers compared to other operators. All of a sudden there was a large discrepancy of the number of derailments or lack of derailments. It turned out that over 1,800 derailments and accidents were simply not reported, including 44 that happened on key rail arteries. We have oversight because we want to ensure that when companies are self-regulating, they do not do what they did at that time, which was simply not bothering to report. This is a very serious issue, particularly in light of the accidents we have seen recently.

In my region of northern Ontario, we have had three serious train derailments on the rural subdivision at Hornepayne and two at Gogama. The last two incidents were February 14 and March 7, with CN freight trains carrying between 94 and 100 cars. The March 7 train was 6,089 feet long. A staggering amount of crude oil was being carried on that track.

They had come on the rural subdivision that exists between Capreol, in the south toward Sudbury and Hornepayne. It is primarily composed of a continuous welded rail and is classified as class 4 track under the transportation safety rules. Class 4 is the second-highest rating and allows trains to travel 60 miles an hour for freight and 80 miles an hour for passenger trains. However, we do not see many passenger trains anymore in the north. There were a number of slow orders given because of problems along that track. We had the accident on February 14 at Gogama and then again on March 7. At the time of the March 7 derailment, the eastbound freight was moving at 43 miles an hour and at 2:40 in the morning, at a temperature of -10C, the train jumped the tracks and cars spilled into the Mattagami River.

What was very disturbing about the 700 feet of track that was destroyed at that junction and the cars going in was that a great deal of work had happened in our region in terms of the Mattagami River, which is one of the great northern river systems feeding into James Bay. A lot of work has been done to secure fisheries and build up spawning grounds. Having heavy crude pouring into and burning across that river system was certainly deeply disturbing for residents of my region. They see that as one of the great river systems of northern Ontario.

The issue of transportation safety, given the huge increase in combustible fuels that are being transported on trains, is very serious because many communities were built on the rail line. Therefore, trains actually travel through the centre of many communities across western Canada and northern Ontario. In Sudbury, cars sit at lights as trains speed by. If the Gogama derailment had happened in an urban area, it could have been a tragedy in the nature of Lac-Mégantic.

What do we do to alleviate this? Whenever we talk about the transportation of dangerous goods, whether it is through a pipeline or by rail, we have to ensure there are rules in place for oversight and public safety. There are some very positive elements in this bill, which the New Democrats will be supporting, such as putting in place minimum insurance levels for railways transporting dangerous goods based on the type and volume of goods being transported and also establishing a disaster relief fund to deal with accidents such as occurred in Lac-Mégantic.

There have also been a number of changes, including increased powers for inspectors. This is important to have. Is this enough? Given the potential damage that could be caused by a catastrophic train derailment, perhaps not. We need to speak to this. The issue of polluter pays is a fundamental principle that Canadians agree with and in improving rail liability and accountability, we do not want the public on the hook for any potentially catastrophic disaster. Therefore, the question is how to establish a regime that is still profitable and able to transport goods by rail. We want to ensure that rail remains a profitable system, while also assuring the public that in cases of liability, there will not be fly-by-nighters, like happened at Lac-Mégantic, saying that they do not have any money and wanting to skip town. That is not good enough, not when lives and the environment are at stake.

Essentially, Bill C-52 would require minimum insurance levels for railways transporting dangerous goods and would establish a disaster relief fund paid for by crude shippers. However, regarding the issue of minimum insurance levels from $25 million for companies transporting low-risk goods up to a maximum of $1 billion for railways transporting high-risk goods, the question is at what point we would get to a level within the fund where money would available to offset a potential disaster.

I would like to compare what happened in Gogama with the situation in Kalamazoo. In the Kalamazoo blowout, it was a pipeline and not a rail disaster, but that pipeline was carrying raw bitumen. When the bitumen hit the water, cleaning it up was not so simple. In fact, it has cost over $1 billion to attempt to remediate the bitumen in the Kalamazoo River. Bitumen is a very difficult and dangerous product to deal with, especially when it sinks to the bottom. The chemicals that are involved make it a very different issue.

Whether we are talking about pipelines or rail, we get back to one of the root issues, which is that we need to move toward upgrading at source as much as possible to limit the potential for environmental damage. Also, we need to ensure that we see the benefit of whatever we produce in Canada, in terms of natural raw materials, as much as possible. We need to have discussions in the House of Commons about how to limit the environmental damage from such massive projects, because we are in a world that deals with the potential for catastrophic climate change and the government has literally buried its head in the oil sands, refusing to deal with its international obligations.

However, as Canadians, we need to deal with this. Canadians feels very inspired to take action on this. We have seen, with the recent New Democratic Party win in Alberta, that Albertans are deeply concerned about how we make developments that are sustainable, how to limit the impact of greenhouse gases, how to ensure that if we transport our incredible natural resources, which we are blessed with right across the country, we get the maximum benefits, so that Canada is not just a place where the ground is ripped out and products are shipped to refineries in Texas or to China, but we see the benefit from that.

These are all interrelated issues that really need to be discussed in Parliament. We need to have a national conversation about where we are going with this.

The bill, in response to the situation in Lac-Mégantic, is a good first step. As I said, we in the New Democratic Party have many questions about whether this insurance is enough. We certainly question some of the numbers.

For the 200,000 barrels of oil transported daily, Transport Canada estimates that oil levies would contribute about $17 million annually to general revenues. This is a step forward, but there are certainly outstanding concerns. We would need to have the levy in place for about 15 years before we reached the $250-million level where it believes we would be able to respond to any level of crisis. I would again point to Lac-Mégantic. It cost $400 million for the damage done in that one accident. Therefore, this levy would certainly not be enough.

Under the legislated summary we received from the Library of Parliament, the act would amend the Railway Act to allow a province or municipality that incurs costs in responding to a fire that was, in its opinion, the result of a rail company's railway operations to apply to the Canada Transportation Agency to have those costs reimbursed by the rail company. That is an important role, but we also need to work closely with municipalities. They are very concerned about the kinds of dangerous goods being transported through their communities and the need for plans to make sure that if something did blow out, such as in Toronto, where the rail line comes right through parts of the city, we would all be working together on this.

The Canadian Federation of Municipalities certainly supports what the New Democrats have been saying. It is interested in the issues of insurance and liability. Brad Woodside, who is president, called for a “comprehensive approach that makes railways and crude oil shippers pay the full costs of rail disasters, and not leave municipalities and taxpayers footing the bill”.

That is a fundamental principle. It should not be the taxpayers of the country who are subsidizing these operations. These operations need to be profitable in their own right, and they need to carry the cost of the potential damage through proper insurance.

The Railway Association of Canada believes that the compensation fund should cover the cost of not only crude oil but other dangerous goods, such as chlorine, which is a very interesting element. In my region, they are carrying tanker cars full of sulphuric acid on the rail lines. I remember a number of years ago when the ONR line went over just south of Temagami and pretty much destroyed a lake because of the amount of sulphuric acid that entered the water. These rail lines are carrying very dangerous goods at times, and we need to have that overall policy.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has said:

The tragic derailment in Lac-Mégantic has raised important questions regarding the adequacy of third party liability insurance coverage to deal with catastrophic events, especially for smaller railways.

This is another important issue in terms of what we saw at Lac-Mégantic, where we had a small, fly-by-night company that, when the damage was done, simply was not going to be around the next day to deal with it.

In closing, this improvement in rail safety and the creation of a fund is important, but we still need to have that conversation about how to ensure that the industry is covering off its own costs so that municipalities, provinces, and the federal government are not on the hook. We need to make sure that the federal government maintains an active role. After those years when the Liberal government allowed self-regulation and we saw numerous increases in accidents and a decline in safety, we need to make sure that there are independent inspectors and that the companies are accountable.

Finally, we need to continue the national conversation about how we are going to process oil, bitumen, and other natural resources in our country.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate many of the comments by the member, with exception, of course, to the opportunity he took to slam the Liberal Party. Some might applaud that.

There is no doubt that the rail industry is a critical industry in Canada. It is an area where we cannot really afford to make mistakes. Canadians, justifiably, are concerned about the issue of rail line safety. They want the government to have sound regulations and laws to ensure that our communities are protected.

In Winnipeg alone, where we have the CN yards or the CP yards, which border the south end of Winnipeg North, these are very important job creators. They provide all sorts of opportunities in terms of shipping.

We recognize the importance of the rail line industry, but if we want to see it continue to grow in the future, would the member not agree that it is time to spend more energy and resources in debate here in the House to ensure that we have the safest possible lines throughout the country?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is essential that we maintain public confidence in the rail system. Again, sometimes people think that it was a 19th century idea that brought the country together. It needs to be seen as a 21st century means of communication, not just for the transportation of goods and products coming from western Canada but for the re-imagining of a national vision of transportation for people.

I will give an example from my region in northern Ontario, as my colleague mentioned his community in Winnipeg. Our roads are in a brutally dangerous condition because of the privatization of highway maintenance under the provincial Liberal government. People do not have confidence, but they have confidence travelling by train. The train gets through in blizzards, where road traffic is often shut down.

As much as we talk about the increase in the transportation of goods by rail, we have seen an incredible increase in transportation on highways. These are issues of safety, so I agree with my colleague that we need to debate in the House how we have systems of transportation that keep people safe and keep the confidence of industry in our country.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech.

Although this bill is a step in the right direction, it is clearly the result of a decade of mismanagement and bad decision-making under this government.

Why do we not have a plan and concrete measures for prevention and rail maintenance? We know what poor condition our rails are in. Rail cars are being added, but as anyone who has studied physics knows, the more cars you add, the greater the force exerted when the train is on a hill.

Why did the government not go further with this bill?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague. I have a lot of respect for the work she does. The question was clear.

We need to develop a plan to ensure that transportation is safe and secure all across Canada. We need to reassure the industry and the public regarding rail safety. Trains play an essential role in our economy and our country.

Where is the government's vision? We have a problem now because the government forgot that it has a duty to protect the rights of Canadians and that it is responsible for protecting our environment.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, there is something important missing from this bill. In Europe, everything is highly interconnected. In May 1985, they agreed to implement dangerous goods regulations. They even defined 13 classes of dangerous goods. Shippers and carriers have responsibilities.

Still, this bill is a step forward. If we look at the past, we can see that the Liberals moved backward 14 years after 1985 by starting the rail safety deregulation process. The Conservatives continued that process. Then Lac-Mégantic happened. There is one thing I find especially striking. These days, people talk about the danger of terrorism. In Lac-Mégantic, however, dozens of Quebeckers died, and children are now orphans. I think that rail safety should be a top priority.

Does my colleague agree that this bill should be more specific about listing dangerous goods? This is not just about oil.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, certainly this is something we are even hearing from the train industry. It is not just that we are taking oil from the Bakken oil fields, which is very combustible. We have chlorine, sulphuric acid, and other products that are being carried on the train. If we talk to firefighters in the municipalities across the country, they want to know. They want to have a plan.

This is where the federal government needs to stop treating itself as being above and separate from the rest of the country in terms of coordinating a plan. We need to work with municipalities. We need to encourage them to be part of this conversation. We need to ensure that industry is paying its full weight.

Having said that, the train is a vital link to us, but we have to have confidence in it, and it has to be able to guarantee the security of people and the environment.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today to speak to Bill C-52.

I am pleased to rise in my place to speak in favour of Bill C-52, the Safe and Accountable Rail Act. This is a bill that, among other things, would take accountability and liability for the rail transportation of dangerous goods and share it between railways and shippers. Together they would pay the costs associated with cleanup and compensation in catastrophic rail accidents, such as the one that took place in Lac-Mégantic.

It is great to have the opportunity to participate in this debate today, because railway safety is a top priority in my riding of Brant and in the city of Brantford. I have had regular meetings with city representatives and local officials to hear about their concerns in the wake of the recent disasters, and I am pleased that our Minister of Transport continues to take firm action to ensure greater safety and accountability on our railways.

I also appreciate having the opportunity to recognize the hard work and strong advocacy of Brant County Fire Chief Paul Boissonneault, who has shown great leadership on issues related to rail safety in Canadian communities. Paul is Canada's top fire chief, and during his tenure as president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, he has travelled across Canada working to ensure that first responders and Canadian communities are better protected when dangerous goods are being transported. He sat on the Emergency Response Assistance Program Working Group and the transportation of dangerous goods advisory council, and he has also appeared before the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities, including as part of its deliberations on this bill, Bill C-52.

He has stated that overall, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs welcomes Bill C-52, because it would define the liability of railways in order to provide claimants with greater certainty of compensation and because it would build upon recent government actions focused on strengthening rail safety. Chief Boissonneault continues to push for further measures to improve safety and accountability, and we look forward to continuing the work we have started with him.

The bill before us today represents another important step in the right direction. Hon. members will recall that the tragedy in July 2013 was caused by the explosion of tank cars carrying crude oil.

There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of crude oil shipped by rail. In 2008, hardly any crude oil moved on Canadian rail lines. By 2013, oil by rail had increased to approximately 10.6 million tonnes per year. By 2017, that number is expected to reach approximately 33.9 million tonnes per year.

The shipment of crude oil by rail will continue to play an important role in moving our resources to market. Even if pipelines in the east, west, and south of the oil fields and oil sands were approved tomorrow, it would be many years before they were operational. Until such time as new pipelines are available, rail remains the only real transportation alternative. Nor do railways have any option but to accept shipments of oil from their customers. The common carrier obligations of the Canada Transportation Act are a hallmark of the railway system that ensures that shippers can get their goods to market. Railways cannot turn down shipments of crude oil just because oil is volatile and is classified as a dangerous good. They are exposed to the liabilities associated with the freight they are required to move.

Railways are responsible for carrying insurance to provide compensation for the liabilities associated with disasters such as Lac-Mégantic. The bill before us would enhance insurance requirements by setting required minimum insurance levels for federally regulated railways that would take into account the potential severity of accidents. These would range from $25 million to $1 billion, based on the type and volume of dangerous goods the railway carried.

To enforce compliance, if a railway failed to notify the Canada Transportation Agency of an operational change that would affect its insurance, it would be subject to an administrative monetary penalty of up to $100,000 per violation.

As the tragic derailment in Lac-Mégantic demonstrates, accidents involving crude oil can be catastrophic in nature. To address such incidents where, despite increased requirements, the amount of railway insurance may be inadequate to pay for all liabilities, a two-tiered approach is proposed in the bill.

First, the bill before us would change the liability regime for rail accidents, including crude oil. In the event of an incident involving crude oil, railways physically or operationally involved in the accident would be held liable up to their insurance without fault or negligence having to be proven. When the cost of a rail accident exceeds a railway's insurance level, the bill provides for a way to cover the cost of such disasters without putting the burden on the shoulders of the taxpayer. This would be accomplished through the establishment of a supplemental shipper-financed fund.

This brings us to the polluter pays principle, which Canada is making a gold standard for nuclear energy and offshore oil production, and other modes of transportation, including pipelines and marine. Hon. members may be aware that Canada was a pioneer in implementing this principle beginning with the liability regime for marine oil spills. Since the 1970s, shipowners have been held strictly liable for costs and damages that result from the discharge of oil. To cover claims in excess of the shipowner's limit of liability, the government created a marine pollution claims fund, which is now known as the ship-source oil pollution fund.

This is the approach that we have applied to marine oil tankers, and it would also apply to the transportation of crude oil by rail as a result of the bill before us. In future years, it could apply as well to the transportation of other dangerous goods by rail.

Any liabilities that result from an accident involving crude oil above the railway's insurance level would be covered by the shipper-financed fund, known as the fund for railway accidents involving designated goods. The two-tiered regime outlined in the bill would share responsibility for damages from rail accidents between railways and shippers and ensure that adequate resources would be available to pay for all liabilities This approach, modelled on the marine mode, would achieve two important goals. First, it would give potential victims more certainty regarding compensation claims. Second, it would relieve taxpayers of excess liabilities that can result from an accident.

In summary, this bill would ensure that railways maintain appropriate insurance coverage. In addition, it would also ensure that their liability is clearly defined to more quickly address claims following rail accidents involving crude oil, and it would ensure that resources are available to pay compensation for all liabilities associated with an accident.

Let me be clear. The government's first priority is the safety of our transportation system, but in the event of a rail accident, the bill would ensure that the polluter will pay. I urge hon. members to adopt this bill.