That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend the Canada Transportation Act and the mandate of the Canadian Transportation Agency to give the Agency the additional responsibility of protecting public health by controlling noise, emissions and vibrations caused by rail cars being moved on the tracks and in the rail yards on interprovincial lines.
Mr. Speaker, members of an opposition party are often told that they “are there only to criticize”. Well, as this motion shows once again, we often suggest to the government solutions that could change things.
In this case, the problem is a real one affecting citizens day and night. Since the CN has been privatized, approximately when this government came to power, the activities have intensified, traffic has grown and some rail yards have undergone some streamlining.
For example, the Taschereau station was closed and its activities were redirected to Montreal and Saint-Lambert so that, in my region near Quebec, there is more freight train traffic and more coupling activities every hour, day and night, at the Joffre station in the former municipality of Charny, which is now part of Lévis. Previously, the traffic was not so intense and the railroad employees could do most of their work during the day.
Since 1998, however, the people of Charny, who have always been aware of rail activities in their area—this being the main rail centre in Quebec, next to Montreal, being located in the middle of Quebec—have noted increased traffic and changes in methods. With privatization, staff has been cut and technology has improved.
For example, trains were made up by human beings, local people who were concerned with respecting the people of the community. They therefore made up the trains with as little commotion as possible.
Today, many mechanisms are more or less set off by remote control. The railway employee is often quite a distance from where the train is being made up and has a tendency to couple more cars than necessary in order to be sure not to have to do it again. This can produce up to 75 decibels of noise, which hon. members will realize is an awful lot.
People started to complain back in 1998 and I got complaints in my riding office. I have always been, and still am, pro-railway. At first, I was a bit hesitant, and told people “It's normal to have noise when there is a marshalling yard”. There is a golf course a bit further on and the golfers do not seem to be particularly bothered. This is not, however, the case for those living nearby. Families with young children have them wakened up several times during the night, and this is becoming more and more frequent.
That is why people started complaining to the CN, but their complaints fell on deaf ears. The people at Transport's response was “There is a case before the courts in Oakville Ontario and CN appealed, because it contended that present jurisdiction did not allow the transportation agency to monitor and regulate this aspect of the problem”.
I will read a paragraph from the July 21, 2001 letter in which CN explains to the city that:
Departmental representatives are monitoring railway activities on an ongoing basis in order to ensure that they are operating safely.
Hon. members will see that safety is emphasized here. Certainly, the department and the transportation agency still have authority over safety. However, there are no regulations on pollution from trains and no federal power exists to deal with the noise and pollution resulting from railway activities.
For this reason, even though they had formed a citizens' committee—and the ruling for other cities confirms the fact that the Canadian Transportation Agency has no authority—, people had a noise study produced by an engineering firm by the name of Dessoprin Inc, in the hopes of influencing CN. The study demonstrated that the level of noise sometimes reached 75 decibels.
This is high. The World Health Organization says that no human should be exposed to sound levels greater than 60 decibels for extended periods of time, they even say 20 to 30 decibels.
This elevated sound level, given the frequency as demonstrated in the aforementioned study, was apparently not enough to convince CN of their case. The people therefore went to the Régie régionale de la santé et des services sociaux de Chaudière--Appalaches. A study was done to see if the noise was affecting people's health.
Obviously, I will not reveal the entire contents of the report, it would take too long. However, the representatives of the Régie said that the noise did indeed affect residents' health, because it occurs mostly at night and because it is continuous. People are forced to close their windows in the summer, and in addition to the discomfort, it is stressful, which in the longer term can affect the health of vulnerable people, such as children and seniors.
In fact, Maréchal-Joffre Street is located adjacent to the Joffre rail yards. The high level of activity in the yards—given that all of the routes are now being used—, means that trains are being moved and connected in close proximity to residents.
In the standing committee on health, there was a proposal to negotiate with CN—which did happen—to have a sound barrier built, as is done with freeways, as well as undertaking other measures to rectify the situation. I spoke publicly on this for the first time during the election campaign in order to meet with the citizen's committees following these studies.
I went to the citizens' committee and local authorities in Charny. This was before the municipal amalgamation, and negotiations with CN were underway, but behind closed doors. It was during the election campaign in the November 2000.
I told them they should rely on good faith and the negotiations, because passing legislation can take a long time. But the negotiations were so protracted that when I introduced this motion, a few weeks ago, and even now, they are still not concluded.
Patience is wearing thin, especially during the summer. Recently, people made representations to the municipal authorities and they were in touch with me. That is why I decided to introduce this motion. This is not a private member's bill, but simply a motion. I wish it were votable, but the committee decided otherwise. Everybody knows it is not all motions that are votable.
I think that this debate in the House will drive the message home and that the government will come up with and introduce a bill over the summer in order to amend the Department of Transport Act concerning railways. It could grant additional powers to the Canadian Transportation Agency, so that people who have this kind of problem can be heard by the agency.
In my opinion, this should exist in all cases. This is a neighbourhood—that is what originally led to the presentation of my motion and I think other members will speak about this today—the neighbourhood of Saint-Lambert in the Montreal region, where the residents complained to CN for the same reason, as they did in Oakville, Ontario, where authorities lost to CN in appeal. That region of Ontario also agrees, and I am convinced that other members have the same problem in their area.
Personally, I want to be clear. I am not trying to stop operations or to get the rail yards to close. I simply want to ensure that an organization called the Canadian Transportation Agency has the mandate to deal with complaints, and that, contrary to what one of its officials said, the Department of Transport has the power to control noise. If this were made clear to CN, the negotiation process would be different. CN would be more receptive to the public's representations.
Sure, we want CN to be a profitable venture and it is, which is fine. Sure, we want it to create jobs and I agree, because there are 400 jobs in the Charny area that depend on the railways. However, we do not want this to be achieved at the expense of people's quality of life. When we talk about people's health and the stress generated by this noise, I think CN should be more receptive.
Therefore, I invite members from all parties to support my motion. I realize that I filled in for another member at the very last minute. Normally, my motion should not have been on the order of the day, but the hon. member who was scheduled to present his motion today could not do so. Therefore, I was told on Friday that I could bring forward my motion. I am pleased to do so before the summer recess, although no one on this side of the House knows when this will come.
Therefore, I am very pleased to present it this morning. All the concerned citizens in my riding will also be pleased to see that this issue is debated. I will of course save five minutes to reply or urge my colleagues at the end.
Since this is a very important issue, I would ask, through the Chair, the unanimous consent of the House to make this motion a votable item.