Evidence of meeting #23 for Public Accounts in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was transport.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Louis Lévesque  Deputy Minister, Department of Transport
Laureen Kinney  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Safety and Security Group, Department of Transport
Luc Bourdon  Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport
Régent Chouinard  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

4:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

I think certainly at the time we were aware that they were undertaking certain training activities. I will ask Monsieur Chouinard, though, to talk about the specifics of your question.

4:55 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Régent Chouinard

Yes, I know at the time of our audit—we don't have that in our report, but at the time of audit when we asked the question they put together some information for us to be able to answer our queries.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Okay. In the summer of 2013 Transport Canada says that it addressed recommendation 7.76 to ensure the independence and objectivity of its inspectors in the field. This would have been during a period when Transport Canada was submitting responses to your draft report.

Were you aware of that progress, Mr. Ferguson, and do you consider this recommendation satisfies your recommendation?

4:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

Again, we haven't audited any aspect of the action plan, so I can't go back and say it is going to fulfill what—

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Were you aware of that progress, though?

4:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Michael Ferguson

I'll ask Monsieur Chouinard to respond to that.

4:55 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Régent Chouinard

As we stated in our report, we were aware of some progress, but I think there has been progress since.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I'm sorry, but your time has expired, Mr. Watson. I know it flies when you're having fun.

Swinging over to Monsieur Giguère. You have the floor again, sir.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you.

My question is for the official from the Department of Transport who indicated a few moments ago that his department's objective was to develop a safety culture and to determine what areas were high-risk in order to rectify the situation.

Please note that the Auditor General indicated the following in section 7.57:

...However, in almost all the files that we reviewed, inspectors did not follow up to verify that the railway had implemented adequate corrective actions. We recognize that it may not be practical to follow up on some findings. However, the Department did not document the rationale for not following up on findings and did not analyze the risks of not doing so.

In your answer, you said that you will have measures in place to correct the situation by mid-June 2014. However, how do you explain that there has been no follow-up mechanism to date to ensure that the companies have taken the necessary corrective actions?

For instance, according to your representative, MMA received 10 letters with concerns from your department stating that there was a problem. You established that the company posed a risk because it carried hazardous materials. That risk was clearly established.

More than that, you said earlier that you communicated with an American representative from the Federal Railway Administration, who also recognized that this company posed a risk, and that he also took action ensuring there was follow-up and imposing 28 fines amounting to $150,000.

The difference between the two countries is clearly attributable to Transport Canada's failure to follow up on irregularities. You say that you are going to determine the risks. However, what happened when you knew about the risks? You let 50 people burn alive. That does not work; there is a major problem.

4:55 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Well, you identified a problem, you recognized that some cars were defective and that one company posed a risk. You knew all that. Your American colleagues told you they had enforced 28 fines. In addition, you sent out 10 letters with the items that needed to be fixed.

Unfortunately, an accident happened because you did not follow up. Section 7.57 clearly indicates that the follow-up was not done.

After the Lac-Mégantic tragedy and other tragedies in other parts of Canada, how can Canadians trust your system of self-regulation?

5 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Mr. Giguère, I have a point of order.

Mr. Watson.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Chair, this is about the Auditor General's report. I think the Auditor General is clear that this is not about an investigation into the potential causes of the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. I hear a lot of the preamble there is trying to get to the particular causes or is attributing causes to Lac-Mégantic while the TSB hasn't even reported yet.

It is not the scope of this committee, which should be examining this report, to speculate on that.

5 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I appreciate that, Mr. Watson. I'm sure it's the same on most committees. Colleagues are given as much latitude as possible. There's a lot more of it than we have in the House, and that's set out in the rules and it's purposeful.

I'm listening very carefully, Mr. Giguère. I would ask you to please choose your words very carefully and not cross over into language that I would have to deem unparliamentary.

But I do think that his comments and questions to this point are still germane and to the point.

Mr. Giguère, you continue to have the floor.

5 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

So let me go back to what I was saying.

A risk was detected. You say that you accept all the recommendations. You have been accepting them since 1994. However, when you detect a risk, there is no follow-up. That is not an interpretation; it says so in section 7.57. There is a problem.

The failure to follow-up on inspections does not help build a safety culture. It is quite the contrary. Letting things slide leads to unsafe situations. If there are weaknesses but no consequences, companies are encouraged to ignore safety regulations.

How can Canadians trust you if you are not able to ensure follow-up once you have determined that a company is at fault?

5 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Transport

Louis Lévesque

As the report of the Auditor General of Canada indicates, deficiencies were found in the documentation on the follow-up of inspection activities. Our action plan includes specific measures for that. My colleagues Ms. Kinney and Mr. Bourdon will be able to give you more information on that.

However, since this was mentioned a number of times, I cannot comment on anything related to the ongoing investigations into the Lac-Mégantic incident.

5 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Safety and Security Group, Department of Transport

Laureen Kinney

We have a process. Mr. Bourdon will be able to explain it better than I can.

April 30th, 2014 / 5 p.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

According to our follow-up process, if we issue notices and orders, which is what we did in the case of MMA, those cannot be withdrawn unless the company sends us a reply.

We followed up on all those files. Notices and orders have been sent out since 2004-2006. Notices were served to MMA. The operational restrictions can be withdrawn only when the company provides us with an answer in writing. Otherwise, the same measures continue to apply.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you. Time has expired.

Over to our last speaker, but certainly not least, Mr. Falk.

You have the floor, sir.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, witnesses, for attending here today, and thank you, Auditor General, for this important work you are doing.

Mr. Lévesque, could you very briefly tell me the difference between a safety program and a safety management system?

5:05 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Transport

Louis Lévesque

I'm not quite sure in terms of the terminology. My reaction when I hear that is most companies typically have in these programs elements that target specific areas of safety, and that's been a traditional approach in companies.

SMS was about ensuring that all aspects of operations are looked at for purposes and in the name of maximizing safety and making safety not an element that you look at from this area, that area, another area, and have a program for those areas, but to look at the whole operation of the company in order to ask how you ensure the operations are safe.

That would be my best interpretation of your question, and Luc has more.

5:05 p.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

The safety management system is a regulation that has 12 elements, so in order to be in compliance with the safety management system the railway will develop everything in place, the proper procedures and the program, in order to meet those 12 elements. But the company can also have its own safety program that could have 20 or 25 elements. That's the difference between the two. One is what is required by regulation. The other one you can expand.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Typically a railway safety program would be in compliance and run in tandem, or parallel, or even congruent with the safety management system.

Your officials who attended the House Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities suggested they had made an error in using a three-year cycle for conducting the audit and were suggesting that maybe a five-year cycle would have been more appropriate. Is that still the opinion of the department?

5:05 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Transport

Louis Lévesque

I'll turn to Luc on that one.

5:05 p.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Yes, three years was maybe a bit ambitious, especially now with the amendment to the act whereby we're getting 46 more key elements in the system, so now we've gone up to 76. With the amount of inspections we conduct on a yearly basis, that provides us with a lot of information on the railway. So we could have more distance between the audits as long as we still conduct our inspections on a regular basis to get information and the compliance profile of that railway.