Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this important bill.
I noticed that the parliamentary secretary who just spoke stated “the bill which we are about to pass”. I just cannot let that go without comment. He is presuming that all members of parliament will vote in favour of this bill. Maybe he heard rumours that the official opposition will be supporting it. Perhaps he has also heard rumours that the Liberals will be voting for it, so maybe it will pass.
That was just a little comment there, a little sarcasm. I guess Hansard does not report that the member was dripping with sarcasm when he said that.
I would like to address this whole issue of transportation. When we look at the broad picture, Canada is a vast country. I think that members of parliament from Ontario probably do not recognize it, but I am presumably a member of parliament from the west. When I cross over from Ontario to Manitoba my flight from Ottawa to Edmonton is half over. In other words, the Ontario-Manitoba border is approximately the midpoint before we start hitting what is called the west. Then of course there is another equal distance from the border all the way to Edmonton and another 1,600 to 1,700 kilometres from central Alberta to the west coast.
To unite and serve our people with delivery of goods and services and to move our products across the country, not only to each other but also for the export markets most of which then goes on to ships at various places, we need to have an efficient transportation system. We also are very aware that the transportation of people is very important, so we think of trains, planes and automobiles. I make no reference to the very famous movie in which John Candy starred. However, nowadays some of the things that we go through in Canadian airports reminds one of that movie.
There are many aspects to transportation. Certainly the magnitude, the very size of our country, is one of the largest considerations. The fact that we are fragmented to the point where each province has its own rules and regulations, in some cases makes it very difficult if not impossible for transporters from neighbouring provinces to enter into the neighbouring province. That is a detriment to our economy, our efficiency and indeed our productivity. Productivity is a buzzword which the government is starting to use, that is, how productive are we? How much productivity do we get for each worker?
This bill is paying specific attention to the safety aspect, which is of course that is important. We want to do everything that we can to provide for the safe transportation of people and goods. That has to be of primary importance to all Canadians. I am sure they would support some level of co-operation between the federal and provincial governments so that this goal could be reached.
It just so happens that transportation, like health care and education, is constitutionally a provincial jurisdiction. Therefore, the federal government has a substantial challenge in trying to bring the provinces together in the area of safety.
I would like to say a few things about the safety aspect.
I guess when I look back at my life, some of my happiest years were spent in a truck. I drove the big rigs when I was a youngster. I put myself through university driving the semi-trailer units. I was fortunate to live in an age before young people were automatically discriminated against as they are now.
Right now if a young person of university age would like to get a job driving a big rig, he or she would be out of luck. Young people are considered to be high risk. Therefore, most transportation companies will not hire youngsters under the age of 25 because their insurance rates escalate.
I would like to say one thing about that. During my tenure as a truck driver, I worked both behind the wheel and also in another aspect of trucking during the years. In all those years most of the accidents I saw involved people who were older than 25. The young guys were eager and like myself liked to drive.
I took great pride in handling my unit. I used to practise driving with my right wheels on the edge of the right line, so I gave the maximum space to the left. People behind me could see if they wanted to pull out to pass and also it gave the maximum distance for people coming from the front.
I always practised an exit route. When two cars were coming toward me I always practised in my mind what would I do if the one following the first vehicle pulled out to pass and suddenly was in my path. I practised that exit strategy in my mind.
I was always very careful when I had a load. One thing I hauled was machinery. I always inspected my load to make sure that none of it was insecure. I was not the driver but I know of one instance where a shaft from an implement came off a truck and dug into the pavement. It made about a six inch hole in the pavement. Fortunately there was no car there, because this thing landed in the oncoming lane.
The act in Saskatchewan where I worked specified that it was the driver's responsibility to make sure the load was secure. I took that responsibility very seriously. That is certainly an area where there should be agreement among all provinces so that these types of accidents do not occur.
Another thing which I find interesting is the evolution with respect to brakes. Surprisingly enough, back in the mid-fifties and early sixties when I was driving, the braking system on the trucks was entirely different from what it is now. At that time we had an auxiliary tank on the trailer so that when the trailer became disconnected from the tractor unit the air in that auxiliary unit would automatically activate the brakes on the trailer. If the trailer became disconnected the brakes were on.
Unfortunately, the whole system, whether the units were connected or not, was dependent on the supply of air. If the air failed and if the driver failed to take note of it, then he or she would suddenly be driving a unit down the road that weighed many tonnes without any brakes. It was a very uncomfortable feeling, if the truck was approaching a hill.
There were all sorts of warnings. The trucks I drove the most had two warnings. One was a buzzer that buzzed if the air pressure in the system went below 90 pounds per square inch. One truck I drove actually had a little metal flag that was up behind the sun visor. It was held up there by air pressure. If the air pressure failed, the thing came down and waved right in front of the driver indicating that the air pressure was below 90 and that driver had better stop the truck while there were still some brakes.
We always carried chocks for blocking the wheels if we had to stop. When the air was gone the only brake we had was that little emergency brake which did very little.
The braking systems on trucks now have been vastly improved. In my day the loss of air supply meant the loss of brakes. Now they are set it up in such a way that the part of the braking system is inactivated by air pressure. There are huge springs that actually apply the brakes when the air is removed. I think we would have to say that is a good plan and is certainly better than in our day. Now if the air system fails, our emergency brakes on the trailer unit, as well as the tractor, come on. This is much safer.
By the way, I have never heard of a unit actually becoming disconnected from the towing unit because the safety mechanisms are in place. However, I suppose it could.
I want to digress and tell the House a sidebar. One thing we did was pull a travel trailer. This is another issue where perhaps governments across the country should start looking at some better restrictions and better training for drivers who drive the big motor homes and the travel trailers.
Having grown up on a farm in Saskatchewan and having been taught by my dad that safety always comes first, I always paid close attention to the hookups when we pulled a trailer. I had that mandatory hookup so that if our travel trailer became disconnected from the towing vehicle, then the emergency brakes would be activated by the onboard battery in the trailer.
We were in Los Angeles with this unit. In Los Angeles there are some intersections where U-turns at the intersections are permitted. One could either turn left or do a U-turn and go back. We missed our turn and had to make a U-turn. Somehow the little cable which pulled the plug on my emergency brake became tangled in my hitch mechanism. My emergency brakes came on in the middle of an intersection in Los Angeles. Of course I could not drive forward because my brakes were on. Fortunately or unfortunately in the trailers, electric brakes only work in the forward direction, so I was able to back up to straighten my vehicle enough so I could free up that little thing and get back underway. It was a rather embarrassing, however it shows again a mechanism to provide for additional safety.
Unfortunately, the trailer brakes on travel trailers are woefully inadequate. Electric brakes are activated only in the forward direction. Their backward braking effect is almost zero, which means that if people end up with a motor failure when going up a hill with a travel trailer combination, then start backing up, they better depend on the towing vehicle for brakes because the towed unit does not have adequate brakes in the reverse direction.
Now back to the issue. We are talking about interprovincial transportation. When I was driving, again I hauled across the provinces and also into the United States. For efficiency sake, for cost sake and for safety sake it is important for there to be constant regulations. People should not be required to do something in one province, then when they cross the border into the next province suddenly the vehicle is illegal. There should be standardization. I believe this can be accomplished in co-operation with the provincial ministers of transport. That needs to be done in order to provide for safety.
I think of the issue of drivers. Truck drivers generally do not make as much as airline pilots. Airline pilots are given a work regimen which theoretically would prevent them from ever flying an airplane when they are totally fatigued. They have only so many hours that they fly, then they have mandatory time off until their four week work cycle has ended. Then it repeats again.
Last fall we had a number of flight cancellations because the union said a number of Air Canada pilots had put in their hours. Therefore, Air Canada no longer had any pilots at the end of the month. That is important for airline pilots but it is also important for truckers. Truckers should be able to drive only when they are awake and alert. They should not be driving when they are sleepy.
I have another personal anecdote. One of my colleagues where I worked got married. He was the boss' son. He happened to have the nicest truck in the unit. When he got married he said to his boss, his dad, that he did not need anybody else to drive his truck. He said “Only Ken Epp can drive it because he is the one who is fussy”. I got to drive the boss' son's truck for a whole week while he was away on his honeymoon.
Of course that meant that the truck I usually drove was driven by another person, but I had a wonderful time driving that big Mack H-67. Anyone familiar with the old units knows that there are two sticks, three on one and five on the other; it is a 15-speed. It is quite a good experience. Once one gets to know the gears, truck driving is actually not a boring job.
I was driving from Edmonton to Saskatoon on a beautiful moonlit night. At about two o'clock in the morning as I came around a corner, off in a field I saw a semi-trailer with its wheels up in the air. Obviously the driver had gone to sleep, had gone off the road as he went around the curve and rolled the truck. Since it was the middle of the night and I knew the truck had not been there when I was driving toward Edmonton, I stopped because I thought I should check to see whether the driver was still there and take whatever action was necessary. I took my flashlight and went out there. I was totally surprised to realize that the truck with the wheels up in the air was my truck. It was the truck that one of these other sleepyheads took over while I was driving the boss' son's truck.
The truck driver was not there. I looked all over the field for him, all the way from the highway up to where the truck had stopped. I checked with my flashlight and in the moonlight to see whether I could find him. He fortunately was not hurt and got a ride before I got there. However, I again underline the fact that this was a driver who was obviously driving while he was not alert.
We need regulations, but what regulations? How are we going to come to a conclusion on this?
I usually drove single. I had a single unit so I could drive for as long as I wanted to or for as short a time as I wanted to. In the outfit I worked for the boss said that we needed to be sure to sleep when we were sleepy. He assured that by picking up any hotel bills we encountered. When we were sleepy, we stopped and slept and then we carried on with the load. That was a very important principle in this firm I worked for.
In those days I had my own personal motto, which was “If you don't have time to get there safely, what will happen if you don't get there at all?” I used that motto and I often thought of it. If I got tired I would stop and sleep for a while. Sometimes if it had been quite a while since I had slept, I would stay in a hotel for a while, get some rest and then carry on.
However it is very important that this is balanced, because as I said earlier, truck drivers do not make the money that airline pilots do. They do have to work and most of them get paid by the mile or kilometre, some by the hour. It is mandatory that they be given the right, without harassment or without any negative ramifications, to stop and sleep when they are tired. At the same time, I am totally opposed to arbitrary rules. The one size fits all rule usually does not.
If somebody had told me when I was driving that I had driven 12 hours and had to quit, what would I have done? Who gets up at eight o'clock in the morning and goes to bed at eight o'clock at night? No one. We are able to survive on eight hours of sleep very nicely, which means there are sixteen hours left. When a truck driver is on the road, there is really nothing else that he should be doing but his work. There is no point in walking around in a park somewhere and using up the waking hours that way. That is non-productive. The only thing that must stand is, as I said, that every trucking organization must be such that there is no penalty for the person who does stop when he or she is sleepy in order to ensure public safety.
I know there were times when we probably drove more hours than we should have, yet my rule was that if I was feeling sleepy I would stop and sleep either inside the truck or sometimes in the shade underneath the truck if it was a nice day. Somebody would wake me, and that time was usually sufficient to get me going again and away we would go.
Let me speak about vehicle safety. Over the last number of years there has been quite a bit of publicity about various parts of trucks coming off, particularly in Ontario, where wheels have actually become dislodged, a very unnecessary and devastating thing. Something should be done by way of regulation regarding this, just as private aircraft are required to undergo a total inspection and in some cases a motor rebuild after a certain number of hours. Perhaps there should be some sort of regulation to require that wheels be taken apart, with x-ray techniques used in order to determine whether or not the steel holding the wheels onto the truck is beginning to fatigue.
Most reputable trucking and busing companies would agree to do this to keep their vehicles safe, but most times laws are designed in order to pull into the plan those who refuse to go into it voluntarily. Some companies have to be forced into it. I think that a set of uniform regulations should be enacted and enforced all across Canada. There is no excuse for truckers who do not keep their loads and their vehicles intact, thereby endangering the lives of other people with whom they share the road.
Speaking of roads brings me to the next topic in my presentation today, that is, I think we rely too much on our road system. Our national transportation system has so diminished the use and importance of railroads in Canada. I really regret that. I am thinking particularly of the prairies where I grew up and where many rail lines have been abandoned and are now being torn up. That puts huge pressure, literally, on all the roadways in the country, especially when it comes to hauling grain and potash and the other commodities that we trade around the world.
Canada must have a strong railroad system. I am disappointed in the federal governments of the last 25 or 30 years for allowing the deterioration of a very valuable railroad service in Canada. There should be more room for competition. Farmers and others should have the ability to move their product to market by using a very efficient railroad system which is designed to carry heavy loads and is certainly less harmful than a lot of trucks plying Canada's rural roads.
Many of these roads are now in deplorable condition. I believe that the federal government has a responsibility to use more of the money collected in fuel taxes to support Canada's infrastructure. There is a huge lack in regard to this. The government takes millions of dollars out of the economy in the form of fuel taxes and yet the amount of money it puts back into the provinces' coffers in order to provide for the building of roads is something like three cents on the dollar. It is deplorable and it is not acceptable. There is no reason why Canadians who pay fuel taxes and provide transportation should not have those taxes used to provide them with decent roads.
I would also like to say something about our millennium project. We had quite a celebration in the year 2000. The Prime Minister and the finance minister announced millennium projects three years before this event and had people from all across the country send in projects and proposals. There were all kinds of projects such as trees being planted in a pattern to represent this or that, and there were many other projects that may have value in themselves.
At the time I promoted a project that I think would have been a true millennium project. It did not get anywhere but I believe it should still be done. It would have been an ideal time to say “The millennium is the year when the Canadian government will undertake to build a modern, divided highway system right across the country”.
We have a highway called the Trans-Canada Highway. I remember when it first came in, way back in the 1950s and 1960s. I suppose parts of it were already called Trans-Canada before that, but then it was designated Highway No. 1 in every province.
Mr. Speaker, you will smile at this, I am sure, but when I was a youngster the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway No. 1, where I lived was a gravel road. Of course that was early in our history. When I was a youngster, it was very early in Canada's history. Subsequent to that, of course, the roads were paved.
I want to remind the House of the former member of parliament from southwestern Saskatchewan, Mr. Lee Morrison. Many times he stood up in the House during private members' statements and on other occasions and talked about the deplorable conditions of Highway No. 1 in the western portion of the province of Saskatchewan. I happen to be very familiar with that road because I grew up at Swift Current. It is from Swift Current west that the road is in really bad condition. It is a narrow, single lane road, with vehicles passing each other just feet apart. There are numerous places without adequate visibility because of hills and curves. It is a very dangerous road. Only a year or two ago there was a devastating crash there involving two buses and a semi-trailer truck. I think five people were killed.
That was just one of those situations that could be attributed at least 80% to the design of the road. It is inadequate. It is archaic. It follows the path used when we travelled across the country with ox carts, for heaven's sake. Here we are, following that path, calling it the Trans-Canada and having these devastating accidents on it.
What is a life worth? We spend a lot of money on health care and other measures. We are talking about reducing cigarette smoking to help prolong people's lives. I think it is high time that we spent money on infrastructure for a true Trans-Canada Highway, a two lane, divided road right across the country, built to standards of safety.
Here again we need to look ahead a little. In many areas of the United States if the Americans had a road the quality of the Trans-Canada Highway they would label it an unsafe road and advise drivers to stay off it. I remember driving down there on a road that was two lanes divided, with crossing traffic every four or five miles. Huge signs warned people of crossing traffic. We can hardly find a place in Canada where it is more than five miles or eight kilometres from exit to the other. In most instances we have crossing traffic. For example, in Edmonton on the major roads there are stoplights, crossing traffic and accidents galore. Every week there are tragedies.
I am appalled at the indifference that the government shows when it comes to actually building safe roads. Sure, we can have rules and regulations affecting truckers and we can have rules and regulations that limit the things that bus companies, the people transporters, can do, but how about the role of the government itself in designing, building and funding safe roads to start with? I believe that so much can be done in that area.
Another aspect of the lack of standardization is with respect to traffic lights.
In some provinces, when people approach a traffic light that is red they stop. In some provinces, when there is a green arrow people can make a right turn without stopping. In other provinces, people have to stop first and then make a right turn. In some provinces, if people approach a red light without a green arrow they must stop and then make a right turn after ensuring it is safe to do so. In other provinces, people who come to a red light cannot make a right turn even if it is safe to do so because it is against the law. We need to have standardization because truckers, bus drivers and many Canadians travel from province to province.
I have another serious gripe with red lights. We have this presumed problem of people running red lights. That is a simple mathematical problem with a very easy solution and yet no one seems to be willing to implement it. I would like to see it implemented right across the country.
What am I talking about? When I drive my motorcycle and the light turns amber, I can stop every time. A motorcycle can almost stop on a dime. The thing we need to worry about the most is how close the person behind us is because if we stop too suddenly the person behind us will end up going through the intersection with us sitting on his hood ornament. We need to be careful about that.
If the light turns amber, I can come to a grinding halt with my little Mazda. It is a different story when I am pulling my travel trailer with my Suburban. It then takes a little longer to stop. When I am driving a semi-trailer unit with a couple of trailers behind weighing 50 or 60 tonnes, I am talking a whole new kettle of fish. It now takes a long distance for that unit to come to a stop. Surely in our modern day with the technology that we have available there should be a way of determining how long lights have to be amber before they turn red.
In many provinces now, Alberta included, we have politicians who think they are going to solve the problem by putting in cameras and taking pictures of people who run red lights. I have done the math. Everyone knows I love math and I like solving math problems.
I went to some intersections in Edmonton and Sherwood Park and used my stopwatch to see how long the light stayed amber before it turned red. It was mathematically and physically impossible to stop at many intersections in the country. No one could clear an intersection from the time the light turns amber until the rear of the vehicle clears the intersection unless he or she were going 400 miles per hour, and I do not think we would advocate that. Even then we would be in trouble because the point at which we would make a decision is farther back.
There is a very simple solution and I am proposing it today. I hope it hits the front page of every paper across the country. What we need to do is very simple. Whether I am 100 metres from the intersection or 1,000 metres back, at a certain speed I am either going to get through the intersection on a green light or I am not. It will turn amber before I get there.
Why are the legislators withholding the warning to the point where it becomes an emergency stop if someone is going to stop in time? It is unconscionable. Currently we know how the green light goes off and the amber comes on, which tell us it will turn red and we should prepare to stop. If someone is very close and cannot stop, then he or she proceeds through. If that same person is back far enough to make a judgment, then he or she will stop.
I would simply do this. Five hundred metres back from the intersection, farther back on highways, I would put up a sign. That sign would be round with a line through the middle with green on the top and amber on the bottom. It would be a two coloured green and amber semicircle sign. It would indicate that when someone sees the green light up ahead with the amber, in other words when both lights are on, it would mean that a person would not be able to clear the intersection when travelling the speed limit and should prepare to stop.
As a semi-trailer driver I can now start gearing down. I can come to a safe stop and there is no danger. As an ordinary vehicle driver I would be going along at the speed limit. I know I will not be able to make the next light because I have just been given a warning. The cost is almost zero.
In advance of some intersections a flashing light is planted. That is very costly as wires have to be run, a big standard has to be erected for the light and electronics have to be built in. My solution would be very simple. We would just have both lights on, the green and the amber. If a vehicle is behind such a sign it means it has to stop. If it is ahead of it when that happens, the vehicle can safely go through at the speed limit. I believe it would save thousands of lives.
I wonder whether you would mind, Mr. Speaker, using your influence to make sure that this is on the front page of every newspaper across the country. Let us get this thing rolling and let us start doing something tangible to save lives instead of thinking it can be done by passing laws which defy the laws of science as surely as we cannot pass a law to ban airplane crashes by repealing the law of gravity. We cannot do it, but there are things that can be done.
We cannot physically change the amount of time it takes to travel from point A to point B. We cannot physically change the length of time required to stop a vehicle safely. Every youngster who takes a driving test knows stopping distances. We know that the average reaction time is three-quarters of a second.
Another three-quarters of a second is used in Alberta as an awareness time. That province says that for normal drivers it takes three-quarters of a second from the time they see a reason to stop until they actually start the motion to stop and it takes on average three-quarters of a second from the time they have actually moved their foot from the accelerator to the brake. Then there is the physical part of stopping the vehicle.
Simple physics says that the amount of distance required to stop varies as the square of the speed. If we are going twice as fast as another vehicle of equal mass, it will take four times as long because of the energy that has to be dissipated.
Those changes can be made. Why does the federal government not take some leadership? Why does it not take the idea I have proposed to every transportation minister? Let us get it going in the United States as well thereby saving literally hundreds of lives at intersections instead of losing them. It happens over and over.
Another lack of standards has to do with left turns. I am appalled at the number of intersections in the country at which we can make a left turn from the second lane. In other words there are two left turning lanes but the left lane is also the overtaking or the speed lane. That is wrong. If there is an intersection where we are permitted to make a left turn from two lanes, it should be an absolutely mandatory standard in every province that the left lane is not a driving lane.
There is one intersection in Edmonton that I would be ashamed of if I were the engineer who signed off on that plan. There is a left turn lane which is out of the way and then there is the next lane which has the up arrow and a left turn. People stop there and big trucks pile into them and kill them.
The city engineers there had the gall to put up a sign that says “Caution: dangerous intersection”. I say why the dickens did they build it. There is lot of space there. All they would have to do would be to design the road one lane wider and have the lanes go through. They would then have two lanes that turn left and we could not do anything but turn left if we were in that lane. It is just an anomaly and unfortunately it is a life taking anomaly.
I could go on and on. I am sure the Liberals would love me to because there is so much for them to learn when it comes to a safe transportation policy. I am appalled we are so far behind in terms of our thinking and in terms of our application of true science.
The reason is that too often we simply allow political considerations to enter into these decisions. We do not use our heads and do true math and physics in making our calculations. I urge the government to do what it can to bring the provinces together to work co-operatively to save lives on our highways.