Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak. It's a new committee for me, and I look forward to speaking to you on future occasions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to meet with the committee.
I am joined today by several of my colleagues: Michael Keenan, deputy minister; Anuradha Marisetti, assistant deputy minister; and Kevin Brosseau, assistant deputy minister.
When I can't answer a question, I'm sure that, with their expertise, they will be able to pipe up and help.
It is my great pleasure to once again appear before this committee to talk about the excellent work being done across the federal transportation portfolio in support of my recent mandate letter from the Prime Minister.
We are taking steps to make Canada's transportation system safer, more secure, more efficient, and more environmentally responsible. And we are committed to doing it with sound fiscal management and solid stewardship of government resources. Needless to say, I consider the commitments in my mandate letter to be my highest priorities.
As such, I would like to outline a few of them for you today. Among others, these commitments include improving rail transportation, improving trade corridors to increase access to global markets, and helping to protect Canada's waters and coastlines.
It's important to note that the Prime Minister has directed me to undertake this work in the spirit of partnership with all levels of government and our indigenous partners.
As I've often said, rail safety remains my top priority.
That is why, immediately following the derailment in Saskatchewan, near Guernsey, earlier this month, I issued a ministerial order to slow down trains carrying a significant amount of dangerous goods. This was only the latest of many steps that we have taken to enhance rail safety.
It's why, in response to the Railway Safety Act review panel's report, Transport Canada continues to fund support for grade crossing improvements and public education through the rail safety improvement program. We have also worked to increase transparency on Canada's grade crossings by publishing a risk-ranked grade crossings inventory on the Government of Canada's open data portal.
ln light of recent incidents, I would like to stress that I believe that the right to protest and freedom of expression are important parts of Canada's democracy. The Prime Minister has been very clear that one of my most important tasks is supporting indigenous self-determination, building on the progress the Government of Canada has made with first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. I believe it's critical for all parties to engage in open and respectful dialogue on transportation issues of mutual interest.
However, in terms of the blockades, tampering with railway lines, rail cars or signalling systems is an act that is illegal and dangerous. ln addition to putting themselves at risk, people who engage in such actions are endangering railway workers and train passengers, as well as the communities around them.
Another important mandate commitment is supporting infrastructure projects that contribute most to Canada's success in international markets. This includes investments through the national trade corridors fund to ensure that the transportation system continues to provide the global market access that Canadian businesses need to compete and grow. To date, more than 80 projects have been announced across the country, and more than 50 of these either are already under construction or have been completed.
The transportation system is an area of shared jurisdiction, so I'm pleased to say that I met recently with my provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss our shared priorities. We discussed our common goals, which include enhancing road safety—with an emphasis on school buses and improved training for commercial train conductors—and reducing international and interprovincial trade barriers.
I am happy to report that we also agreed to collaborate on the pan-Canadian competitive trade corridor initiative. This initiative will focus on how we can work together to help Canada's transportation system support trade, and identify areas that we can improve.
The focus will be on strengthening competitiveness, accommodating future growth, and finding ways to make our infrastructure more resilient to climate change.
One of the initiative's objectives is to strengthen Canada's standing as a reliable trading partner, supported by a competitive transportation system. We want to, where possible, reduce physical and regulatory barriers to the efficient movement of international commerce in the transportation system.
As I stated earlier, these measures support the commitments outlined in my mandate letter and reflect the Government of Canada's commitment to transportation policies and programs that promote safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation.
As I continue to implement Transportation 2030, the Government of Canada's strategic plan for the future of transportation in Canada, I am working with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to create high frequency rail between Toronto and Quebec City. This work includes investing in dedicated tracks exclusively for VIA Rail's passenger service. This would make service more frequent, faster and more reliable.
Right now, VIA Rail shares tracks with other train traffic. This can negatively affect timing and scheduling, making passenger trains a less attractive option for travellers.
I am looking forward to seeing this project's progress soon.
Canada is a maritime nation, with more coastline than any other country in the world. Canadians expect our marine safety system to protect these coasts while supporting the shipping that provides thousands of jobs and is critical to our economy. This is why the Government of Canada has been implementing over 50 measures under Canada's oceans protection plan since 2016.
We are working to deliver around-the-clock emergency response to marine incidents, to increase on-scene environmental response capacity and to develop near real-time information on marine traffic with indigenous and coastal communities, among other things. I stand before you today confident in saying that thanks to the oceans protection plan, our marine safety system is stronger today and our coastal ecosystems are better protected than ever before.
In support of our coasts and waterways, Transport Canada also runs the national aerial surveillance program. The program monitors shipping activities for pollution prevention and environmental protection, as well as ice reconnaissance and other conditions that could affect marine safety and security. Each national aerial surveillance program aircraft is equipped with a specialized maritime surveillance system. Through the whales initiative, a Dash 8 aircraft is being added to the program's fleet. With this additional aircraft, the program can increase its ability to observe and protect Canadian waters, especially whales and other marine mammals in those waters.
We're making progress, and Transport Canada officials are working to develop strategies for implementing the commitments I've mentioned here. I intend to begin publicly reporting on progress by mid-summer 2020, in line with the time frames from the Privy Council Office.
With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my opening remarks. If the committee has any questions, I would be pleased to answer them.