House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was israel.


The Manganese-Based Fuel Additives ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It now being 5.42 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

October 10th, 1996 / 5:40 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC


That in the opinion of this House, the Minister of Transport should proceed rapidly to establish a Canadian test site for Operation Respond, a computerized database of hazardous materials that would improve safety for firefighters and help save lives and property.

Mr. Speaker, since 1991 firefighters and other emergency responders have been seeking the establishment of a Canadian demonstration site for Operation Respond, a computerized North American emergency response information system which enables firefighters to obtain accurate instant information at the scene of a hazardous materials incident. I would note as well that Operation Respond can also be applied to passenger rail traffic.

Over the years firefighters and other emergency responders have received significant support from members on all sides of the House in their demand for speedy action on Operation Respond.

I would like to take the opportunity today to acknowledge the support of members on all sides of the House from the Liberal caucus, les deputés du Bloc québécois, members of the Reform Party and members of the Conservative Party.

Yesterday I spoke with half the members of the Conservative caucus, the member for Saint John, and she indicated her strong and ongoing support for this motion.

I also want to thank all the members who have written or telephoned to indicate their support of the motion even though some are not able to be present in the House for this first day of debate.

Members will also understand that I want to pay a special tribute and say a special word of thanks to my own colleagues who have been so vigorously supporting these changes over the years, my colleague for The Battlefords-Meadow Lake who seconded the motion today and all of my other colleagues who joined in seconding the motion now before the House. I would particularly note the member for Winnipeg-Transcona who has been a solid supporter of this. In fact, in June 1995 he brought a motion before the House also under Private Members' Business urging the government to move forward on this very important initiative.

As long ago as 1992 colleagues such as Ian Angus from Thunder Bay and Joy Langan from Mission-Coquitlan spoke out in support of these changes. The people who have really been on the frontlines in this long campaign are the firefighters themselves, the International Association of Firefighters and firefighters across Canada.

From my community the Canadian vice-president Terry Ritchie; Mark Fletcher, the president of local 323; the Burnaby local of the IAFF and Robert Hall of Vancouver local 18, have been particularly helpful in this. I might add that they have noted some of the particular concerns in the lower mainland. As a port city, Vancouver has had more than its share of hazardous materials incidents and

the amount of traffic that passes through our ports and our streets continues to escalate very significantly.

All transportation corridors to the lower mainland run through Burnaby whether it is roadways, railways, airways or marine ways. In fact all hazardous materials that are shipped into Vancouver via trucks are transported along highways which travel through Burnaby. The major rail carriers all travel through Burnaby. Four of the six petrochemical wharves in the GVRD, the Greater Vancouver Regional District, are also located in Burnaby.

The Burnaby firefighters have noted that the current system, the CANUTEC system which has been in place since 1979, works well when firefighters know specifically with what they are dealing. The problem is not knowing what chemicals, what other hazardous materials are being dealt with. As noted by Mark Fletcher in his letter to me: "Often valuable time is lost and great risks are taken in trying to make that determination. A computerized tracking system would alert us to the fact when rail cars or tanker trucks were carrying mixed loads because of course chemicals which are relatively harmless on their own can in fact become extremely dangerous if they are mixed in with other chemicals".

Operation Respond has the potential to save many lives in the city of Burnaby, the lives of the members of our fire department but also the lives of citizens in that community. The system would enable firefighters to stay in a safe zone away from a hazardous materials incident and not have to take proactive measures until they know what they are dealing with and until they can proceed in a safe manner.

I want to acknowledge the leadership on this issue of the Canadian director of the International Association of Firefighters, Doug Coupar, who has done such an outstanding job of making members and others aware of the importance of this issue and the importance of moving quickly on this issue.

I want to add a special word of thanks to my assistant Catherine Meaden who has done such a fine job as well in helping to prepare this important debate.

The objective of this motion is straightforward.

It is to establish a test site for Operation Respond, a computerized database of hazardous materials that would improve safety for firefighters and help save lives and property.

By way of background I would note that the most dangerous aspect of firefighting is responding to incidents that involve hazardous materials or HAZMAT as they are known. Firefighters in Canada are especially hampered by the lack of information available in such incidents, especially within the critical first few minutes after arriving on the scene. What is absolutely essential is accurate, accessible information. This is crucial to saving lives and property at the scene of these accidents. The appropriate response for one hazardous material could prove quite catastrophic or very dangerous if another substance is present.

There is a whole gamut of advanced technological systems that would allow firefighters to know exactly the nature of hazardous materials to which they are exposed, and to get the advice they need to react. These systems may be designed for the processing of hazardous materials at a given site, and for those transported by train, aircraft, truck or boat.

The information provided by these systems not only aids in identifying what hazardous materials are present but it can also offer detailed information on the appropriate emergency response techniques. In some cases it can provide guidance on evacuating specific communities.

Implementation of a hazardous materials identification system would ensure that firefighters have the information they need to effectively respond to any incident enabling them to protect lives and property. Surely firefighters have the right to know precisely what hazardous materials may be present. They have the right to know that immediately. They should not have to wait minutes or in some cases hours to get that vital information.

In the case of passenger rail emergencies, Operation Respond will make it easier for firefighters to save lives by knowing entry points, electrical and mechanical systems and bypass advice.

Members of the House will perhaps have noted an ad that was placed in this week's issue of the Hill Times newspaper. In this ad it is pointed out that courier packages are readily traceable across Canada, indeed around the world. That technology exists, but Canada's firefighters do not have access to the same modern and latest technology to identify potentially hazardous materials. It is essential that we make this change and it is essential that we make it now.

There are many examples of the urgency of this system. Members will recall the Mississauga train derailment in 1979. The train was carrying chlorine gas and 24 cars of the train derailed. Two propane filled cars exploded into a huge fireball of chlorine gas. Many residents were forced to evacuate their homes.

I know that the member for Mississauga West, who strongly supports this motion by the way, remembers vividly that particular incident. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, the member for Hamilton West, who has also indicated previously his support for this motion, recalls well the Mississauga

incident. In fact as a young television reporter from Hamilton he was assigned to cover that tragedy.

In circumstances such as that it is absolutely essential that firefighters have access at the earliest possible time with the latest technology to know precisely with what materials they are dealing.

There are many other examples. In the small town of Linwood in Ontario was a burning vehicle, a urethane spray truck. Firefighters attended the scene. They were not able to identify a placard, which of course we are told should be available. One of the firefighters was able to obtain the driver's manifest and the load sheet and determined from that what dangerous chemicals were on board. They consulted with CANUTEC and were told to stop their suppression efforts. In fact those suppression efforts could have been dangerous to the firefighters in question.

There was a rural Manitoba accident where firefighters had to wait 13 hours to determine the contents of a derailed train. Finally they used binoculars to obtain an identification number.

Another incident was on the northern bank of the Eramosa River in Guelph outside the Huntsman chemical plant earlier this year. The Guelph fire department was called. It was a chaotic scene, a spill of some 56,000 litres of the liquid chemical phenyl which was being unloaded into a storage tank. It is very toxic and very flammable and burns on contact. The firefighters were hampered because they were not able to get the information they needed when they needed it. They waited two hours before they were finally able to obtain that information.

It is not good enough to rely on the CANUTEC system which is currently in place. Operation Respond uses a unique number which is clearly identified, clearly displayed, not just in one place but on all load containers and in a variety of different locations.

It is essential that we move ahead. It is essential that the transport minister make the Operation Respond Canadian test site a top priority for his department and that he commit the necessary staff and resources to do that.

The House might ask why is it that Canada has not already moved to test Operation Respond? Transport Canada tells us that the current CANUTEC system needs no improvement. There are too many examples of CANUTEC not working effectively. Delay, manual use of a telephone, are simply not acceptable, especially when computer technology exists. They say there have been no direct casualties from incidents. So far we have been fortunate.

What about a major catastrophe in downtown Toronto, for example? Would CANUTEC act quickly enough to prevent casualties? There is a very serious question about that.

The CANUTEC system and those who defend it alone also fail to account for those who have been exposed to contamination, the inconvenience of unnecessary evacuation or the loss of property which might have been preventable.

Transport Canada tries to say, as well, that it will cost too much. We hear astronomical estimates which are in the millions of dollars. That is absolute nonsense. We are not talking about scrapping CANUTEC and starting out with an entirely new system. We are talking about building on CANUTEC, strengthening and improving the CANUTEC system to ensure that it uses the latest in computer technology.

I would note that, in fact, the majority of professional fire departments already have the necessary equipment to operate the system.

Operation Respond is a non-profit entity. It is already in place in the United States in many locations and its people are quite prepared to co-operate to get this under way in Canada. In fact, today we received tentative cost estimates from Operation Respond. They say it would be in the order of $40,000 to $50,000. If we wanted to add passenger rail to that it might bump the cost up to $65,000 or $70,000. That is all we are talking about. Surely there is not a member in the House who would not agree that this is a small price to pay to enhance the safety and the security of Canadian firefighters and Canadian communities.

The key point is very straightforward. Firefighters want direct, on screen access via laptop computer when they are in the critical first stages of identification. The CANUTEC system does not provide this. Right now firefighters have to go through a CANUTEC middleman by telephone, even though most professional fire departments already have computers and modems.

Let us augment and improve the CANUTEC system. Let us work together with major carriers who have indicated they are prepared to co-operate. Let us make sure that Transport Canada is not just sitting on the sidelines observing. Let us make sure that it is the major player in this very important process.

This motion has support, not just from firefighters and many communities across Canada, but from other emergency responders. The Canadian Police Association, for example, has written me a letter in which it says that the Canadian Police Association, representing approximately 40,000 frontline police officers, supports any additional tool, such as the motion proposes, which will facilitate the safe storage, handling and shipping of hazardous material within Canada.

The United Transportation Union, which represents more than 8,000 rail and bus transportation industry employees, is in total support of Operation Respond in its efforts to provide first responders with on site, up to the minute, safe and reliable hazard information. UTU members are all too familiar with the dangers of incidents involving hazardous materials. As railway employees they have experienced hazardous material incidents. They say that the CANUTEC system leaves unquantifiable reasons for which Operation Respond should be implemented immediately.

Imagine being put on hold for upwards of three hours while trying to access needed information. That is just not acceptable.

I urge all members of the House to support this motion. I ask the Standing Committee on Transport to hold hearings. That committee is chaired by the hon. member for Winnipeg South. That member was not able to be here today for this debate. However, I spoke to him and he indicated his strong support for this motion. I am very pleased that he also indicated that he is prepared to encourage and to support hearings of the Standing Committee on Transport on this motion.

Firefighters and other emergency responders from across Canada are going to be watching this debate very carefully and will be watching the outcome of the debate. I am concerned about any attempt by any member of the House, particularly on the government side, to water down or amend this motion to suggest that we should study it, examine it or observe it. The time is long overdue to implement a test site. We do not need any more observation. We do not need any more study.

It is fitting that this week Canadians are observing Fire Prevention Week. Two days from now, Saturday, October 12, is Fire Service Recognition Day.

When the Minister of Labour spoke earlier this week about this day, he noted that our full time and volunteer firefighters often put their own lives in danger in order to save other lives. He said: "We want to use this day to express our appreciation and gratitude to all firefighters across Canada".

In closing, let me say that there could be no more fitting tribute to the dedication and commitment of firefighters and other emergency responders in Canada than passing this motion and establishing a Canadian test site for Operation Respond to improve the safety of firefighters and to help save lives and property.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, for the government members here and elsewhere, obviously we would echo the kinds of praises the member for Burnaby-Kingsway offers to those in emergency response teams.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway concerning the establishment of a test site for "Operation Respond".

The motion stipulates that the federal government should establish without delay a test site for the "Operation Respond" program. This emergency response system, which was first set up in the Houston area, in the United States, is now in use in selected localities in that country.

"Operation Respond" provides basic information to people and organizations in selected areas, who have access to the appropriate software. The promoter is "Operation Respond Incorporated", a non-profit organization, which is marketing an emergency response computer system, that includes procedures, software and content.

The primary goal of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act is to promote public safety during the transportation of dangerous goods. This dangerous goods program has two dimensions. The first is to prevent an accidental release. The second is to ensure adequate responses should there be an accidental release or should one appear imminent.

Accident prevention includes proper identification of dangerous goods, appropriate means of containment and proper markings on these containers. In addition, a shipping document describing the dangerous goods accompanies those shipments.

Adequate response to any accidental release of dangerous goods requires knowing what is involved, its properties and what should be done. Canada already has in place a comprehensive, national emergency response service called CANUTEC.

CANUTEC is equipped to handle these types of situations. Operation Respond is limited in its activities. Indeed I should point out that the response information provided by the Operation Respond program is essentially that which is contained in the "North American Emergency Responds" guidebook which was co-authored by CANUTEC and the U.S. Department of Transport.

My colleague opposite knows that this guidebook was developed to provide responders with immediate guidance at an accident and is only an introductory element in CANUTEC's program. As an aside, I would like to point out that Transport Canada has this summer provided sufficient copies of the recently released 1996 version of this guide for distribution at no charge to all fire department vehicles and to all police highway vehicles in Canada.

In addition, this year the department also distributed in the form of a video to all fire departments in Canada the results of research work on explosions associated with liquefied gases. The video makes reference to the tragic accident in Quebec where several firefighters lost their lives as a result of a boiling liquid expansion vapour explosion involving liquefied gas.

I make reference to these items and to the support CANUTEC provides firefighters to highlight the fact that the department has a great respect for firefighters. It recognizes that providing effective support to firefighters is one of the more important emergency response activities that the department can undertake.

I am certain the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway is familiar with CANUTEC. The centre operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its primary goal is to provide information, guidance and advice.

CANUTEC provides a bilingual chemical and regulatory information and communications service to emergency responders and industry at an accident. These responders may include volunteer firefighters, full time firefighters, police or industry response teams, such as teams from the major petroleum and chemical producers.

CANUTEC is staffed by professional chemists, trained in accident situations, who are capable of providing information and advice to any level of detail required by responders.

It gets around 30,000 phone calls a year, 600 of which are for serious accidents. Pursuant to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, any accidental release of a dangerous substance must be immediately reported to local police authorities. However, if the accident involves a train, Canutec must be the first organization to be informed.

In Transport Canada's continuing effort to provide for a safe and efficient transportation system, two officials from Transport Canada are currently observing the Operation Respond program in the United States. Their role as observers is to attend Operation Respond meetings and to identify any new activities which would be considered effective tools for responders in Canada.

Finally, let me assure all members that Transport Canada will continue to closely monitor the Operation Respond program and will consider any activities which are shown to be effective in assisting emergency responders.

My colleague opposite has already given an indication that there is support for these kinds of initiatives and for the Department of Transport's initiatives by members of the transport committee. I leave it to my colleagues on that committee to speak for themselves and to address this issue when it appears again during private members' hour. I do not presume to speak on their behalf, but I know they share with me the considerations that I have just outlined not only for themselves but for the department as well.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the motion by the member for Burnaby-Kingsway, which strikes me as an interesting one. We could even say that it is a good opportunity to point out where the work of parliamentarians can have an influence on departments when they are a bit slow to implement something.

We have a member who has just told a minister, a department with several thousands of employees, that they perhaps should have done something a little sooner, the question having first come up in 1991. Some things could have been done and the motion introduced is certainly interesting from many points of view.

It should be noted that what we are talking about is implementing a test site to ensure that computerized data about hazardous materials can be made available very rapidly to fire fighters called to accidents.

It is a rather complex situation, because it also involves the provinces. There is WHMIS in Quebec, which concerns the handling of all hazardous materials, and these various programs must be linked up so that the computerized system works and so that everything is done legally and in accordance with provincial jurisdiction.

It is understandable that the member for Burnaby-Kingsway has included the word "rapidly" in his motion, because Transport Canada has been slow to act. This is clear from the letters of support he has received from the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Canadian Police Association. It is something that people have been waiting for.

These are the groups who have been dealing with the problems for a long time now, those with the expertise, because, in the case of hazardous materials, it is important that the information be available in the first five minutes after they have been informed of an incident.

It is also important to have very precise information, on electrical and mechanical systems, for instance, anything that can help avoid a misstep that would create a problem worse than the original one.

For some time, Transport Canada depended on the CANUTEC telephone system, but now it is obvious this is not enough. What is needed is a faster, more suitable, more accurate system which provides us with access to the computerized tools developed in recent years. There is no excuse for being behind the times, like

dinosaurs, particularly in areas where vital actions have to be taken quickly.

I feel that this is all the more vital because there are volunteer fire fighters, as well as professionals. This summer, I attended the KRTB (Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata, Basques) fire fighter competitions. About ten different fire brigades were involved. It was easy to see just how vital physical dexterity, courage, tenacity and endurance are to a fire fighter.

I was thinking, as I examined the motion of the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway, that it was important for this type of service to be made available to people who perform these duties on a volunteer basis, and quickly.

One might think that rural fire fighters will not run into major fires and major problems, but then the railway comes to mind. All that is needed is one train wreck, since the rail lines cut through the whole region, one incident with a hazardous waste spill. Without the necessary information , we would find ourselves in a very touchy situation in which volunteer fire fighters, children's fathers and mothers, could find their lives in jeopardy if the wrong steps were taken.

A society can be judged by the protective services it offers. Those who are supposed to intervene in hazardous situations should have access to a quick and effective source of information so they can provide a satisfactory service.

This is an interesting motion that will compel the government to take action as soon as it has been adopted. Awareness of the problem has already increased thanks to today's debate and to the vote that will follow so that this motion can be put into effect.

To the Bloc Quebecois, it is also important to ensure that this test plan is implemented in accordance with provincial jurisdictions, taking into account the practical aspects of operations and of quick intervention, but to ensure that data bases are made available to those who manage the system so that the information is available and this sort of service is provided in the proper way, it will be necessary to guarantee free access to information and to ensure this is done in accordance with existing legislation.

For instance, after testing the site in British Columbia, we cannot afford to wait six months, a year or two years until it can be used in Quebec, just because the provincial jurisdictions were not taken into account. This aspect must also be considered when establishing the test site, so that here in Canada we will be able to establish something similar to what is already being used in the United States. The system will provide the kind of service that will help us avoid major accidents involving humans, sometimes loss of life or financial loss. The service will help people who already serve the public and are prepared to face hazards in the course of their daily lives.

In this context, Parliament would do well to support a motion of this kind, especially since the Canadian government seems to be dragging its feet. It is not a bad idea to do some moving and shaking to ensure that this project gets off the ground.

One wonders if we had a system where jurisdictions were clear cut and the responsibilities of all concerned were clearly identified, whether this type of action would not have taken place more quickly, because there would have been one authority responsible. There would be no passing the buck. I hope that some day we will have that kind of system, for the benefit of Quebecers and Canadians.

But meanwhile, the motion presented by the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway is a very interesting one. I think it deserves support. In concluding my speech, I move:

That the motion be amended by adding after the word "should", the following:

", in agreement with the provinces,".

So this experiment should be carried out to reflect the responsibilities of all levels of government so that, in the end, we will have a better way to protect both fire fighters and all those who may be involved in disasters as a result of accidents across this country.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion is admissible.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Daphne Jennings Reform Mission—Coquitlam, BC

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.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Rey D. Pagtakhan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join the debate on the motion before us which asks the House to advise the Minister of Transport to proceed rapidly to establish a Canadian test site for Operation Respond, a computerized data base of hazardous materials that would improve the safety for firefighters and help save lives and property.

That we are debating this motion during fire prevention week is a happy happenstance. I take this opportunity to salute the courageous staff and volunteers of 4,061 fire departments across Canada for their dedication and service that helps secure the safety of Canadians and their properties. They have done a most laudable job.

Yearly there are approximately 27 million shipments of dangerous goods, for a total weight of 2 billion tonnes. Yet less than 0.002 per cent of these shipments are involved in an emergency where people, property and/or the environment is threatened while waiting for an effective response.

Canadians can take pride in our existing legislation. The Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, together with Canada's dangerous goods program, is the basis for this strikingly small percentage of accidents involving the release of hazardous materials.

We continue to want to do better. We would like to reduce this already small percentage of accidents to an irreducible minimum and so we must continue to search for a better tool, a better system where one exists.

Earlier the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health spoke about the twin goals of Canada's dangerous goods program, to prevent an accidental release of hazardous materials during transport and to ensure an adequate response is at hand should there be such an accident.

It is in continuing vigilance for the latter goal that Canada has had in place since 1979 a comprehensive national emergency response service called CANUTEC, short for Canada urgence en transport emergency centre.

This emergency centre is nationwide in scope and it is operated by Transport Canada 24 hours a day every day of the year, giving valuable information and communication service to emergency responders, including our fire fighters, ambulance personnel and police forces. It is staffed by professionals, trained in accident situations who can provide immediate advice on chemical, physical and toxicological properties of dangerous goods, on health hazards and first aid, fire, explosion, spill or leak hazards, remedial actions for the protection of life, property and the environment, evacuation distances, and personal protection clothing.

Federal regulations require that CANUTEC must be contacted in the event of an accident or incident involving radioactive materials or infectious substances.

To ensure its high quality service keeps with the times, CANUTEC scientists research and investigate developments in emergency technologies and new information regarding dangerous goods. Joint international research projects are developed and undertaken.

I am pleased to inform the House that in keeping with its commitment to high quality service, officials from Transport Canada have been observing the implementation of Operation Respond at the Buffalo test site in Texas, including the ones held as recently as last month.

Let me share some of these observations. It requires a lot of co-ordination between various emergency services, police, fire and ambulance services. It could not substitute for the lack of familiarity of emergency responders with dangerous goods response procedures. One county was cited as an example. The communication equipment did not make it easy for one service from one county to talk to a different county with a different service.

Most road carriers do not have computerized data banks showing in real time the content of their vehicles. Operation Respond had to negotiate with trucking firms so that they could gain access to companies' data banks through a modem necessitating the need for compatibility of the systems.

Operation Respond works better on the rail side of transportation. Operation Respond was not able to provide information on the type of protective clothing required for a test situation. Operation Respond could not give the on-scene commander answer to the question of how he could determine whether to evacuate an industrial plant to which smoke from the accident was drifting toward. This latter observation, I might note, would have been addressed by Canada's CANUTEC service had the accident happened in Canada.

But my purpose in sharing these observations is not to criticize. Far from it. No system is ever perfect. Operation Respond trials only made some of its weaknesses visible. They will have to be solved for any safety program to work, Operation Respond or any other program.

I would like to go one step further and respectfully submit that a careful comparative study of the capabilities of the two systems, Operation Respond versus CANUTEC, in Canadian or American sites or both, may well be the approach to take, were we to find the better system which I alluded to earlier in my debate. I support the continued search for a better system. This search should be done with speed.

Our firefighters and our emergency responders deserve our respect, our help and our support. They are the Canadian public's first line of defence in the event of an accident. We in the House have a duty to provide them with all the information they need to protect the public and themselves. We shall provide them with the tools necessary to achieve this goal.

We must have the foresight and the imagination to envisage new uses for new technologies in a way which will help our firefighters and all other emergency responders.

Operation Respond certainly opens new horizons. Hence we must continue to monitor it and to test it. We should examine the feasibility of allowing the American company, Operation Respond Institute Incorporated, should it wish, to conduct a Canadian test site. Conceivably, this may be a joint international effort.

While we must also display the reserve that keeps us from jumping on the bandwagon that in the end may lead us away from our real goals, we must not hesitate to accept a tool when after thorough research it is demonstrated to be better and which will make our country safer for all.

Having had some background in the clinical trials of drugs, in clinical research, I know that one treatment 15 years ago was deemed to be the best in North America but 15 years later it was shown to be not so. We must listen carefully and examine all data carefully. We must not jump on the bandwagon, but at the same time we must not hesitate to move and move with speed if it can be demonstrated that possibilities for a better system exist out there.

Our ultimate goal is a safer country for all citizens, including emergency responders at the scene of an accident, particularly when the accident involves hazardous materials.

I would like to reiterate the concept that when we are presented with the opportunity of a new and better system, we must not detract from examining that system. Of course, when we examine a system, costs will be involved but we must equate the costs to the real benefits that will ensue. We have to measure that against the lives that will be saved, against the properties that will be lost and against the environment that will be threatened for eternity.

I congratulate the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway for taking this particular initiative. We must examine it with great care, for a better system demands great care in handling it. We cannot conclude that it is best when at the same time we say that we must test it. The very essence of testing a particular system tells us that we have not yet made the final conclusion on the quality of the particular system. And so I submit that we must look at this with a very positive mind because what is at stake are the lives and property of Canadians.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member for Burnaby-Kingsway on a point of order. The member will realize he is using the time of the hon. member for Lévis.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief. I wonder if the hon. member might be willing to accept a very brief question at this point with the unanimous consent of the House.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to extend the debate by two or three minutes to allow a question?

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to take care when we are examining the impact of any policy on human-

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is getting too complicated. I am sorry to all colleagues. The hon. member for Lévis.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government's attitude is indicative of its unwillingness to be questioned, even though on this side we are in agreement.

I have been here all afternoon and I notice some inconsistencies in the government's attitude. For instance, with regard to the single food inspection agency, it took the federal government 18 years more than the Quebec government to solve the problem of overlap among its departments with regard to the setting up of a process to replace manganese with ethanol. It is urgent since the impact in Ontario is very significant. This is a matter of great urgency.

The proposal by the member for Burnaby-Kingsway is very interesting and would cost very little. I asked him because he had an assessment made of this. The cost for the implementation of this new measure would be $50,000 for the federal government and $60,000 more if we also applied it to the railway. For a mere $110,000 the federal government is requesting time, more time for a study. This is something they use in the United States, it has been scientifically proven and it will improve the situation.

Once again the government is showing it cannot react at the drop of a hat. It is taking an inordinate amount of time just to study a small measure which would greatly improve peoples' safety. Just

imagine, within five minutes of a call, fire fighters would know if there were hazardous substances in a place.

Let me relate a incident that happened in a company in my riding. Because of the products that were found there, water could not be used to extinguish the fire because it would actually cause the fire to spread. It would have been important to have this type of information. The government side, as always, is procrastinating, asking for time to get involved.

I know the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway agrees with the amendment moved by the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup. He would agree with it. What he is proposing is an amendment that says "in agreement with the provinces". Why does he propose that? It is simply because fire fighters are under the authority of municipalities in general and municipalities are under the authority of the provinces.

All we are asking the federal government to do is introduce a system that would be used from coast to coast in order to improve the information for firefighters and facilitate their work.

As you know, in large centres, the knowledge and the information available to fire departments can be rather advanced. However, fire departments in small municipalities of Quebec, and elsewhere, are often made up of volunteer fire fighters. These people need a system that is easy to access and to operate, and one that will provide them with the available information. These are not permanent employees. They need a tool of reference to help them do their job and do it better.

It is unbelievable that the government would hesitate, study, ponder and wonder about a measure that would cost $110,000. The costs related to the proceedings of this House during the hour that was just spent on this issue are higher than that. But the government wants to continue to review and analyze the issue. This is unacceptable.

I wanted to make these comments in support of the motion proposed by the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway, and the amendment of the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Hazardous MaterialsAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Warren Allmand Liberal Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, on September 26 I rose in Parliament to note the historic signing that week of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty at the United Nations by 80 countries, including Canada. I should point out that as of today, 111 countries have signed the comprehensive test ban treaty. This treaty will reduce the development of new nuclear weapons because if nuclear weapons cannot be tested, new nuclear weapons cannot be developed.

On September 26, I also noted that several key countries, sometimes known as nuclear threshold states, had refused to sign the treaty. These are countries that have a nuclear weapons program and are trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Prominent among these countries which did not sign are India and Pakistan. I should point out that Pakistan was willing to sign if India signed, but India refused to sign.

I would like to point out as well that to bring this treaty into force, it is required that 44 nations which have a nuclear capability must ratify the treaty and deposit the ratifications at the UN.

The signing of this historic treaty, especially by the five nuclear powers, is indeed a great accomplishment for the security of our planet and a great accomplishment for the security of mankind. I might say as well it is a great accomplishment for those of us who have been working for many years to ban all nuclear weapons.

This treaty properly complements the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which was extended indefinitely several months ago.

However the signing of this treaty is not enough. The job is incomplete. Not only is it essential to get the 44 ratifications to bring the treaty into force, but it is also essential to bring on side those nations such as India that have not yet signed. There will be no advance in global security if the old nuclear powers stop testing and reduce their weapons, while other nations continue to test and become new nuclear powers.

India's argument that the present nuclear powers should first commit to a timetable to reduce and eliminate all their nuclear weapons is a good argument, but it does not justify its non-signature nor any future testing or any attempt to develop new nuclear capabilities.

Such countries as Germany, Japan and Brazil, which are also large powerful countries and do not have nuclear weapons, are not blocking the treaty and insisting that these other countries do what India is insisting.

Once again I ask the government, what can Canada do to bring India and other non-signatories on side and to assure the implementation of this important treaty?

Hazardous MaterialsAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Richmond B.C.


Raymond Chan LiberalSecretary of State (Asia-Pacific)

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to respond to the hon. member's question.

Thanks to Canada, a conference is scheduled to be held some time late in 1999 to discuss the status of the CTBT. This conference is called for in the treaty and is a Canadian initiative. At that conference, signatory countries will review the situation of the treaty and, if it is not yet in force, will seek ways by which they might ensure its early implementation.

Clearly it would be premature to specify what actions might be taken, as what would happen depends on the exact status of the treaty at that time. Also the policies and positions held by countries may change by that time.

It is our hope that those countries which have said they will not sign the CTBT will reflect on their position and eventually sign this treaty and other non-proliferation treaties which they may not have signed yet. Canada will use every diplomatic opportunity to press for universal adherence to the treaty.

Along with Canada, more than 90 countries had signed the treaty by the end of last week, including the five nuclear weapon states: the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China. The number of signatory countries increases daily and they already include one of the so-called threshold states, Israel.

The treaty requires that 44 countries listed in the text sign and ratify the treaty in order that the CTBT enter into force. In the meantime, under customary international law, countries which have signed a treaty are obliged to do nothing that would go against the purpose of the treaty.

What about the countries which do not wish to sign the treaty? Canada respects the decision of sovereign nations to take whatever action they see fit, including not signing a treaty which has the overwhelming support of the international community. Canada believes that this treaty, with the strong support that it enjoys, will establish a legally binding international norm against testing and will be a powerful political and moral lever even on non-signatories.

Hazardous MaterialsAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m.

(The House adjourned at 6.48 p.m.)