Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, Mr. Bourdon, and members.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here to discuss these proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act. This committee already has a high level of familiarity and engagement with these amendments and your continued support to improve the safety of our railway system is appreciated.
As you know, these proposed amendments were previously reviewed by this committee when they were presented to the House as Bill C-33 last spring. At that time, after several weeks of comprehensive discussion and analysis, all parties agreed unanimously to support the amendments, with one minor change related to safety reporting. Although that approved version of the bill died on the Order Paper when the election was called, the same amendments, with this committee's approved changes, were tabled in the Senate as Bill S-4, where they were again approved virtually unchanged and resubmitted to the House.
During second reading on March 13, we again heard many supportive comments from honourable members on the other side of the House. In brief, all parties once again expressed their strong support for the bill.
I believe the New Democratic Party member from Vancouver—Kingsway summed up the general feeling of the House when he referred to Bill S-4 as “...an excellent piece of legislation...that has gained the buy-in of industry, labour and government. ... It is a solid piece of legislation.”
The list of members who expressed their strong support for Bill S-4 goes on. Every member who spoke in the chamber agreed that this bill enhances rail safety, has the support of many stakeholders, has been widely debated and analyzed, and must be passed in a timely manner.
I must say, as the Minister of Transport, I deeply appreciate this enthusiastic support from all corners of the political spectrum. Everybody agrees on the importance of a safer rail industry for our economy and our communities. We all recognize that the industry is rapidly changing and that the Railway Safety Act needs to be updated accordingly. We all agree that the amendments, which have already been consulted on, debated, and unanimously approved by committee—not once, but twice—are the appropriate means to help ensure Canadians can reap the full benefits of a safe railway system. Better safety is clearly the objective that we all support.
The bill, as noted in the House, is a strong one. It is timely, it is thorough, and it is firmly focused on important and achievable improvements to our rail safety regime. I think much of the strength of this bill comes from the high level of stakeholder consultation that both preceded and followed its introduction to the House.
The initial Railway Safety Act review, which was launched in 2007, included input from the entire spectrum of railway interests, including the railways themselves, their shippers, their suppliers and their unions, as well as federal, provincial and municipal governments, national associations, independent researchers and the public. Essentially, all of the groups in our country were consulted.
Everybody had something to say, and we listened closely to their concerns. This bill is our comprehensive response. We identified the issues, we consulted on alternatives with the key players, and we subsequently took action with Bill C-33, and now with Bill S-4, to ensure that the safety concerns of Canadians are being properly addressed. We all seem to agree that they are. The member from Chambly—Borduas said during second reading that the NDP unabashedly supports the bill. Similarly, the member from Markham—Unionville said that “...the Liberal Party will certainly be supporting the bill”.
Speaking personally, I must say that I'm proud of this legislation. I am proud of it because it contains an effective blueprint for better safety in the rail industry. I am also proud of it because it shows how effective our parliamentary system can be when we decide to work together for the national interest. The net result is solid, seamless, and practical legislation like Bill S-4. I would like to remind you of some of the most important amendments in this bill.
First and foremost, Bill S-4 will improve railway safety in Canada by increasing the regulator's authority for stronger oversight and enforcement.
For one thing, these new authorities will allow the introduction of safety-based railway operating certificates for all railways. This means that every federally regulated railway in the country will have to demonstrate how they meet the safety standards set by the operating certificate before they begin operations.
This bill also provides the regulator with the authority to issue administrative monetary penalties when non-compliance with railway regulations is found. These monetary penalties have a very positive impact on safety and have already proven themselves effective in other modes of transport such as marine and aviation.
In addition, your approval of Bill S-4 will allow us to raise existing judicial penalty levels which were established 20 years ago and are now badly out of date. Raising these levels will make them equivalent to other modes and provide an important additional tool for our safety compliance and enforcement toolbox.
One other key component of these amendments is the significantly stronger focus they place on railway accountability and the need for effective railway safety management systems. With these amendments in place, railways will be required to appoint a senior executive to be responsible for safety issues. They will also be required to establish non-punitive reporting systems so that employees can raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal. In addition, railway companies will need to demonstrate how they continuously monitor and assess the level of safety of their operations.
These are critical steps for the development of an effective safety culture, and both the railway companies and the unions have expressed their strong support for these measures.
In addition to these key improvements, S-4 will also clarify the minister's authority related to national railway matters and expand regulation-making authorities, which will enable us to implement requirements for environmental management plans and emission data collection.
In sum, the proposed amendments before you today will significantly reinforce and modernize the Railway Safety Act to reflect the needs of this generation and those to follow. Railways are the backbone of our economy. As such, they are an important part of our history and our future. It is our shared responsibility to ensure they remain safe.
As we all know from the recent tragedy in Burlington, even one accident is one too many. We cannot afford to hesitate. The time to move forward is now.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank all parties for their ongoing support. I would also like to thank this committee again for the opportunity to be here. I deeply appreciate your high level of engagement on this bill and all transport and infrastructure issues.
We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.