Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-43 amending the Railway Safety Act.
This bill, you will recall, to provide a bit of a background, was introduced in the House of Commons on May 30 by the Minister of Transport to amend the Railway Safety Act. It aims to give the railway companies greater responsibility in the management of safety, although Transport Canada will continue to set requirements.
Bill C-43 provides as well for more feedback from the public and interested parties on matters of railway safety.
It also establishes a framework for communities wanting to stop the use of the train whistle. I would like to add to the comments made earlier by my colleague, the member for Blainville-Deux-Montagnes, who said that we agreed with most of the provisions of this bill and particularly a certain relaxation in the use of the train whistle. When I was the Bloc transport critic, I received many representations from residents of municipalities requesting the discontinuation of train whistles. These include the people of Rimouski and of the Cap-Rouge sector of the riding of Louis-Hébert.
The amendments in this bill are drawn from the recommendations made by the committee reviewing the Railway Safety Act in the report it tabled in February 1995 entitled: On Track: the Future of Railway Safety in Canada . We should note that Transport Canada accepted 60 of the 69 recommendations.
Those of my colleagues who spoke before me expressed the Bloc Quebecois' position on this bill. We must criticize the Liberal government, which arrives at the last minute and puts this bill on the Order Paper without any prior warning.
I also want to say that I am very surprised by the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, the member for Hamilton West, whom I sat with on the Standing Committee on Transport. I do not know if the parliamentary secretary's new job has-dare I say "gone to his head", I have to watch my language. The member for Hamilton West has really changed his attitude. He was much more flexible when he was with us on the transport committee. This does not bode well for the future. Perhaps he is thinking about his personal career, a spot in the next cabinet shuffle, but, in any event, that is the attitude he has adopted.
This aggressiveness by the Liberals is all the more unjustifiable in light of the fact that we did not systematically oppose all the measures proposed in this bill. We would have liked to co-operate with the government in order to improve this legislation, but the government preferred confrontation, adopting a strategy of holding a gun to our head. The official opposition is worried and hopes that the government's plan B with respect to constitutional matters, which has become the government's policy, is not making itself felt in transportation issues.
The Railway Safety Act review committee must examine the act every five years, an initiative we feel is useful for all concerned. The official opposition views the ongoing improvement of railway safety as a constant concern and priority. Nonetheless, we note that the federal transport minister has created an advisory committee on railway safety composed of members chosen by him, a representative of the railway companies, shippers, railway workers' organizations, the public and so on. Provincial transport departments or their representatives are not members of this committee. We feel that the transport department of Quebec, and of other provinces as well, should be on this committee.
One concern was raised by the Government of Quebec with respect to level crossings. It feels that the federal government has devoted a large part of its bill to the safety of level crossings and to intrusions, but it has proposed nothing to improve safety in yards, even though these accidents, as the government has already admitted, often involve dangerous goods representing a high safety risk.
Railway companies like CN and CP have the expertise, the experience and the responsibility to manage safety in their yards and sidings, but the number of accidents in these areas continues to increase. The number went from 191 accidents in 1989 to 358 in 1993 and 460 in 1994. It should be pointed out that most of these accidents involve dangerous goods. Such cases involve not just railway safety but public safety.
For your information, main track derailments have increased 15.9 per cent between 1989 and 1994, and approximately 20 per cent of derailments recorded in 1994 involved dangerous goods.
Under another part of the bill, short line railways, or SLR, will be required to call upon their own expertise to develop safety measures, including performance standards, security plans, building standards, maintenance standards and so on. This change could indeed prove to be a good thing, but somehow we doubt that SLRs are prepared to take on this responsibility. Short lines may not have the technical expertise or the human and financial resources required to fulfil this responsibility. Bill C-43 should not increase the risk of rail safety deterioration.
Finally, the last comment I would like to make is the following. The bill calls for Transport Canada to set up a co-ordinated and nationally applied mechanism for the regulation of railway safety.
Quebec, however, has its own legislation, the loi sur la sécurité du transport terrestre guidé, and its own inspection mechanisms, so why should it take part in this co-ordinated process? Quebec does not necessarily need a co-ordinated national mechanism to regulate railway safety in order to co-operate with the federal government in certain specific instances for inspections or ad hoc investigations.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois criticizes the Liberal government, the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and member for Hamilton West in particular, for having rushed this bill in without any consultation, when the basic bill had little basis for contention in it, the official opposition readily lending its support.