Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this very important debate.
I begin this evening by congratulating the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway for bringing this matter forward for discussion and hopefully for approval.
Private Members' Business in this Parliament has been the source of many fruitful and interesting debates. As hard as it sometimes may be for us to believe it, occasionally bills and motions actually pass. Without Private Members' Business we probably would not be having this debate tonight.
The motion put forward by my colleague seeks something relatively simple and inexpensive. By passing this motion we will be sending the Minister of Transport a message, to move quickly to establish a Canadian test site for Operation Respond. We are asking him to have the effectiveness of the software developed by Operation Respond tested to determine if it does identify hazardous materials, thus improving the safety for firefighters and others who may be involved in a chemical fire.
Everyone in the Chamber and all Canadians are indebted to firefighters for the courageous work they do. I am sure we all remember trips to the local fire station to see the big red trucks and
the brave men, now women and men, who hourly put their lives in danger to protect our lives and our property. I never cease to be amazed by the ability of our firefighters to respond quickly and effectively to all forms of crisis.
In this motion we are addressing a particularly dangerous situation where hazardous goods or chemicals are involved in a fire. We have moved to a time in history where with complex materials and chemicals a firefighter must have a level of sophisticated knowledge beyond anything previously required in our history.
The firefighter has to know the particular combustibility of compounds, how various chemicals react together and, of course, the means that must be used to put the fire out.
Approximately 25 years ago the system which is presently used, CANUTEC, was developed by the Department of Transport. It is an excellent system that has served us well in the past years. I understand that it works when placards are put on vehicles or rail cars transporting hazardous goods, explaining the content of the rail car or transport truck or other ferrying device. Once these placards are spotted by the firefighter they call the staff at CANUTEC with the information. Within eight to ten minutes a call comes back telling the firefighters at the scene what the contents are and how they might fight the blaze.
As I said, it is a good system but perhaps not as quick as it could be. That is where this motion comes in. That is where Operation Respond comes in.
Under this system, which is has been ably explained by the member for Burnaby-Kingsway, each truck, vessel, rail car or any other mode of carrying freight which is part of the Operation Respond program carries a unique number.
Firefighters simply need to find the unique number which I gather is displayed in many places on the container and enter it into a lap top computer carried in a firebrick.
Within a minute the contents of the container will be displayed on the lap top computer screen. The sources of the information for Operation Respond are data bases kept by the carriers. This system is not only quick but gets around the problem encountered with CANUTEC where sometimes the placard showing the relevant information regarding the container is destroyed in the crash or burned in the fire.
The Operation Respond system can be used for passenger rail where it would show entry points and electrical systems et cetera on the passenger cars. The software for this program was developed in the United States and is the property of the United States government. I am informed it is willing to share it with us for free. It has already made this offer to Mexico and Mexico has said yes and is testing and implementing Operation Respond.
The hardware needed to use the software is a lap top computer. Most fire stations already have them, at least according to the International Association of Firefighters. A place is needed to test and surely this government can find some vacant land. How about some of the Canadian Armed Forces bases land that has already been closed. Why not try it? What do we have to lose?
Why is Canada not testing Operation Respond already? There are some reasons. Transport Canada believes the current system, CANUTEC, needs no improvement. Countless examples prove that this is not the case. CANUTEC system does work but not as quickly or as a reliably as Operation Respond would.
Officials point to the fact that in using the present system there have been no direct casualties from incidents involving hazardous materials. Is this not just luck? In the event of a major spill in downtown Toronto would the CANUTEC system work fast enough to prevent casualties? They also fail to account for those who have been exposed to contamination, the inconvenience of unnecessary evacuation or loss of property which might have been preventable.
Apparently what stands in the way are the egos of Transport Canada, the egos that developed the original detection system and do not want to give it up. They do not want to give in to progress. Let us say in this case that Operation Respond is to be used along with CANUTEC to placate the egos of Transport Canada. Let us test it to see if it works and let us see how it works. The costs of proceeding are minimal. Through adoption of this motion let us send a clear signal to Transport Canada to draft the test criteria which can be used to determine if the test is a success.
What is the position of international firefighters? International firefighters of course support this demonstration site for Operation Respond. They say that firefighters deserve the right to know exactly what hazardous materials may be present at any incident. They need access to reliable information within the first three to four minutes on arrival. That will save lives by ensuring that firefighters use the most effective response techniques at any incident involving hazardous materials.
In passenger rail emergencies Operation Respond will make it easier for firefighters to save lives by knowing entry points, electrical, mechanical systems and bypass advice.
The International Association of Firefighters urges the transport minister to make Operation Respond's Canadian test site a top priority in his department by committing staff and resources to this project immediately.
Let us send a clear message to our brave firefighters that we in this Chamber stand behind them in what they are trying to do. I know the firefighters in my riding and across Canada need the Operation Respond system and I know they are watching tonight. Let us send a clear message to the Canadian people that we have their safety at the top of our agenda. Let us adopt this motion.