Madam Speaker, I wish to begin by condemning the fact the Liberal government has put this bill on the order paper at the last minute, without any advance notice. Our speeches today should therefore be considered preliminary only and not definitive. Overall, judging by our first cursory overview, we are in favour of the bill, but will certainly have certain reservations and amendments to make at committee.
I wish to address one particular point, the new section 23.1, which I shall read to you:
23.1 (1) No person shall use the whistle on any railway equipment in an area within a municipality if:
(a) the area meets the requirements prescribed for the purposes of this section; and
-this therefore involves the area of a municipality-
(b) the government of the municipality by resolution declares that it agrees that such whistles should not be used in that area and has, before passing the resolution, consulted the railway company that operates the relevant line of railway and has given public notice of its intention to pass the resolution.
The reason why I wish to address this particular point is that it deals with a problem that is a very real one in our region; cities such as Sainte-Thérèse, Rosemère or Blainville are bothered at 4 a.m. by a train coming through and waking everyone up.
This clause banning the use of the whistle under certain circumstances must be viewed with favour, in principle, provided safety is not compromised by the absence of an audible warning. Level crossing safety is ensured by the use of the whistle, then the bell and finally a flashing red light. All that would be left is the flashing lights and the bell.
In many countries, level crossings are protected by barriers, but I do not believe that is necessary here, because of their high cost. There is absolute safety with such an arrangement, but it is very costly and we are not calling for that much.
This clause on not using the whistle in an area within a municipality contains two noteworthy points: it is not general, and assumes that the municipality concerned has passed a resolution declaring that it is agrees that whistles not be used. This is a good thing, because obviously it is better that the decision-making power rests with the municipality, the government level that is closer to the population than Ottawa, when the decision is to be made as to whether or not whistles are to be used, for the sake of peace and quiet, while not compromising safety.
It is therefore a good thing that the municipality takes the decision. If it wants whistles not to be used, it passes a resolution. No resolution, no ban. That is reasonable.
Another aspect which strikes me as less reasonable is clause 23.1, which states that no person may use the whistle in an area within a municipality if the area meets the requirements prescribed for the purposes of this section. This assumes that the minister has, under this bill, the power to set regulations and impose them on the municipalities, so that their resolution approving the whistle ban may be enforced. The municipality must therefore comply with certain conditions set by the federal government.
Here we see that, once again, the federal government has not been able to resist the temptation to take advantage of any new legislation to try to interfere with areas of provincial jurisdiction, for municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction. They are creatures of the province and their powers are under trusteeship from the provincial level. Now we find the federal government, once again, trampling over the powers of the municipalities, if I understand this clause properly, stating that they, the federal government, the Minister of Transport, will set out requirements to which municipalities must comply with if their resolutions banning the use of the whistle are to be implemented.
At this point, I believe that this clause must be condemned, for it goes over the heads of the provinces and thumbs its nose at their areas of jurisdiction, one of which is the municipalities. It is, therefore, obvious that we shall have an amendment to propose concerning the second paragraph of section 23.1.
In closing, I wish to stress, as did the first speaker, that we agree withe the bill's principle.
It claims to improve railway safety, and who can fault virtue. Overall, these provisions seem to us to be good ones, but we will have a few reservations to express. These will take the form of amendments. In closing, I reiterate my protest against the cavalier fashion in which the bill was presented to us.
You will recall that today's session started in the same casual way. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also made an impromptu statement and took us unawares. Now we are closing the day on the same note, so it is bracketed at both ends by high-handed actions, and one might well wonder whether the government's plan B has now been brought to bear on the committees.