Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill, a bill that has captivated the attention of government members who are taking copious notes and paying deep attention to the debate today. By not presenting speakers any more shows the profound lack of commitment the current government has toward a transportation strategy for this country, for the ability to actually address some of the transportation situations that are going on around our nation from coast to coast to coast.
While most of Bill C-11 occupies what we call the administrative side of things, it is a bit of a housekeeping bill, which I am sure the government will call a progressive and aggressive form of legislation because there is nothing else going on when it comes to transportation, particularly when it comes to sustainable transportation.
I represent a riding in the northwest of British Columbia that relies very much on the rail system to move goods in and out of our communities, particularly processed goods and, increasingly, the entire nation relies on the Port of Prince Rupert. It is a terminus that is meant to be an alleviation of the pressures on the other west coast ports, in particular the Vancouver area ports which have been clogged for far too long, mostly due to government neglect and lack of planning both at the provincial legislature with the Liberals in Victoria, the previous government, and the present government seems to be taking up the charge just as slowly.
With no national public transportation strategy or planning of any kind, communities are left to struggle along as best they can attempting to alleviate the congestion in urban and, in many cases, rural communities.
I want to talk about the need for a strategy. If only the bill, in addressing some of the major aspects of transportation, had within it the opportunity to show what this so-called new government might present to Canadians as a vision for our transportation sector. Instead, it chose to allow that opportunity, like so many others to this point in this hopefully short mandate of a minority Parliament, to pass it by, the opportunity to actually invest in the places that the manufacturing sector has been calling out for, for too many years.
I would also like to talk briefly about Transport Canada and the role that it has played in my community and in communities across British Columbia in particular.
The Library of Parliament did a study for us earlier this year to assess what has happened in rail safety just in the province of British Columbia over the last number of years.
We have what some have called the diabolical sale of BC Rail to CN by the Liberals in Victoria, British Columbia, with little public input and few conditions upon that sale. We have now seen an absolutely dramatic increase in sometimes fatal accidents. These are not simply a slowdown of trains or an inability of shippers to get their product to market. Those things were going on and are going on even more so. What is even more drastic is that when a company comes in it is the responsibility of the government to hold that company and the transportation sector to account for its safety practices but the government has neglected its duties, as the previous government did. The present government is continuing that bad practice and it is putting the lives of people working on that rail at stake. We have seen a tragic loss of life in British Columbia.
We have seen increasing numbers of accidents month in and month out with ne'er a word from the transportation minister and not a murmur from the government at all about the concerns for what is happening in British Columbia along our rail system that, as I said, the entire country is now coming to rely upon, certainly if they want to ship anything to the Far East or to other countries and cannot get it through our currently congested ports. This is an absolute shirking of responsibility.
In researching the accidents, we looked at not only the negligence of the companies involved but of the Transportation Safety Board, again filled with appointments by a previous Liberal government who may or may not have had experience in the transportation sector but they all had at least one thing in common and that was a strong allegiance to a formerly misguided Liberal government.
Now we see the current government proposing appointments for this commission which speaks much to transparency but walks in the opposite direction. We have had no assurances to this point of what that process will look like.
Will it be an open and fair transparent process? Will the public have input? Will there be local community involvement in that commission, or will it simply be people who wrote the appropriate cheques prior to the last federal election and made good with the current bastions of power?
It is important to consider that many Canadians watching the debate will not realize that many of the goods being shipped by Canadian rail are somewhat innocuous in nature. There are parts, widgets and various things, but there is an increasing amount of hazardous materials being transported on the rail system as well. When we combine that reality with a deplorable record on safety, we start to create the perfect forum for not only ecological disaster, but also grave consequences for the communities in these regions. They rely on the ability to trust the government to do what it is meant to do, which is to protect the interests of the public, not the narrow interests of a CEO from Texas running a rail line, but the interests of the people who voted all of us into this place. To this point, the government has not shown a commitment to that.
A rail shipment passes through my riding of Skeena once a month. It passes into a community through shipping, lands on our shores at Kitimat and travels up major waterways, which thousands of people rely on for food sustenance. Businesses absolutely depend on these river systems. These rail systems are now carrying some of the most noxious and hazardous goods we have. Has there been an environmental assessment of this process? Has anyone looked at what would happen if yet another CN car tipped off the tracks? Absolutely not. Has there been any public accounting for what it means to destroy a major tributary or to destroy a major river habitat for what could be years?
The substances contained in some of these tankers are used in the oil and gas sector in northern Alberta: condensates and various substances that are far more toxic than any oil spill could really be. Here we have a government that is hoping it can simply slap the blinkers on, as the last government did, and not account for proper protections. It holds the public trust in its hands.
Recently CN sent letters to the various volunteer, I stress the word “volunteer”, fire departments up and down the rail line to notify them that if there were a major spill on this line, if a hazardous material spilled into a river or alongside a river, they were to hold the fort for a minimum of 12 hours. These fire departments survive and subsist on the many thousands of hours put together by these teams of dedicated people and the donations from our communities. After that point, CN might show up with a hazardous materials crew. It is an absolutely deplorable sense of responsibility.
This is a place where clearly, in the interests of the public, the government needs to step in and say, “We have licensed you to operate a rail system in this country, but we have not licensed you to play Russian roulette with the communities and ecosystems through which the rail systems pass”.
Whether it is through a major urban centre or through the ecosystems and the environments upon which we rely, this company has decided, for the interests of profit and the maximization of that profit, to change the length of cars against Transportation Safety Board recommendations and to lower the amount of braking that these cars can do in some of the most mountainous areas of the world and the government has been silent, allowing this to go on and accidents have happened.
The trust that has been eroded has been dramatic. This goes across all partisan lines and interest groups. People no longer trust the regulators to regulate the industry because there have been accidents after accidents, spills into lakes and rivers near communities where people survive on the drinking water into which this toxic sludge is seeping. The government to this point has been quiet.
The bill does not speak to it. It does not address a need for an increased level of assurance and safety and a clamping down on those companies that refuse to listen to their workers and to the communities. They simply fire off missives every once in a while to tell volunteer fire departments that is it their responsibility, departments that do not have the training nor the equipment to handle a major hazardous spill. CN will relegate all of that responsibility to those communities. It is absolutely unacceptable by any standard and any stretch of the imagination.
The investigations that have come from Transport Canada have laid blame. We are still looking for answers, and I am sure the parliamentary secretary can answer this question. To our knowledge it has not levied any serious fines and reprobations for the company even when there has been loss of life and even when negligence has been proven in the maintenance of the rail system on various bridges, on the capacity of engines to break when going down these mountains. When there has been negligence at that level, what has the punishment been? It has been near to nothing.
The commission appointments that are called for in the legislation must be taken into the public realm. They must be given the clear light of day so communities can feel confident with the few people appointed, of which there are only five to my understanding. They are meant to oversee such a broad ranging mandate and must have the confidence of the public, those who use the rail system, work on the rail system or have a rail pass through their community or environment.
A second and critical point, which we are looking to the government to respond to since the last one did not, is on the required infrastructure developments, particularly for rails like the ones that pass through Skeena. After much browbeating, haggling and demanding the last government at the eleventh hour, it decided in its benevolence to fund in some small way the Port of Prince Rupert. Everyone in the industry and across the country who had anything to do with this issue had asked that the Port of Prince Rupert be given the capacity the country needs in order to ship its goods. The government finally showed up.
In showing up, the government neglected to talk about the other aspects of this deal. Overpasses need to be created. Safety regulations do not exist with regard to carrying double stacked cars through some of the most mountainous regions in the world. The government must step up to the plate. It must join with the citizens in the northwest, the people of Prince Rupert, who have staked much on this development. They want to become facilitators for the trade our country needs so much, in light of the disastrous so-called softwood lumber deal negotiated yesterday, which will rob the communities in my area of their ability to attract investment dollars to manufacture wood products any more.
We have a government that has somehow twisted itself into the perverse notion that self-imposing a tax on Canadian industy is the wise way to create wealth and generate prosperity and jobs, Canadian companies that are lawfully transporting materials across a border, which was supposedly open under a previous government's claims of free trade. If only we could have free trade with our American partners, instead of being dragged into court and being punished over and over again with illegal tariffs. At the end of the day, when we are on the edge of winning important court cases that would mean so much to the communities I represent, when victory is within our grasp, defeat is put in its place.
For the communities I represent, a major infusion of economic diversification dollars is needed if these communities will have any hope whatsoever. According to the forestry council of British Columbia, the effects of climate change ravage our forests with fires and pine beetle infestations and it is because of negligence. The previous governments and governments around the world have refused to act while some of the more progressive and noble ones have chosen to do the right thing and make something happen with climate change.
Due to that fact the communities got kicked in the head once. Now, after years of punishing duties and illegal tariffs, they are being kicked in the head again. They are being told that investment dollars have not been secured for the diversification they need. They are being told that companies wish to invest in Canada, to process some of our wood rather than just ship out raw logs and jobs to other countries. I can remember the slogan in the last election, standing up for Canada.
We are lying down in front of our American counterparts and saying, “Please don't kick us, we will kick ourselves”. We'll pound away happily on ourselves for years to come. If you don't like the deal, by a simple whim and demand of your own decision decide that we are falsely supporting our exports again, you can pull out of this absolutely erroneous and silly deal”.
For goodness sake, the communities of this region finally was able to cajole the previous government into supporting proper infrastructure and transportation investment. We need to move it to the second level if these communities have any hope of surviving whatsoever.
We saw it on the east coast when the fish stock started to collapse. There were calls from members of all parties for the government to step in after so much mismanagement and bad decision-making. The communities simply could not survive. It was just not a fair setting of the table. How can they compete? How can they survive if a government is enacting policies that go counter to the interests of the communities? They are not asking for help.
We conducted a study through the Library of Parliament last year and we asked simple questions. With respect to the federal riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, a very proud and hard-working riding, we asked people: Of all the tax money collected and then given back through program spending, what has the ratio been over the last decade? They were able to pull up information between 1995 and 2005. Revenue taken from Skeena was close to $1.1 billion. The federal government has done very well off the mining, resource and forestry sectors in my riding. All transfer payments into the riding through the province was one-tenth that figure. It was 10:1 ratio of tax dollars out to tax dollars in.
The provinces are asking for fairness. Fiscal imbalance is an absolute joke with respect to the resource economies of our country. Canadians work hard, earn honest livings and pay their taxes. Industries pay their taxes, some of them better than others, but when the taxes are paid and when it is time to reinvest back into these communities, the federal government says that it has a lot of pressing needs such as a critical highway between Vancouver and Whistler that needs its immediate attention, or a conference centre that needs to be expanded, or a rail line somewhere else.
Communities ask for some sort of basic notion of investment, investment in the truest sense where tax dollars are collected from the public, invested into an area, returned back to the public coffers and increase economic growth. As if there had been a single economic study by the federal government before it started shovelling money into the VANOC. As if there was any concept of what a dollar was given and what dollars would be returned. The government believed the false promises of VANOC and the Gordon Campbell government as to what this thing would actually cost. So much for prudence. So much for true fiscal imbalance.
The government claims to listen to Canadians. The bill talks about noise, traffic congestion and the need to listen to Canadians. Here is an opportunity to listen to Canadians. This is an opportunity to finally get serious about a national public transportation plan, a strategy that would allow the country, as vast and broad as it is, to realize its full economic potential. This would allow those regions that have for so long contributed to the public coffers, that have so long supported the growth of our cities and enabled the folks, who push papers from one desk to another in those cities, to earn a living, the places that the hewers of wooden haulers of water, it has often been called, the places that generate wealth in the truest sense of the wealth of this nation, to receive wealth in return.
Here is an opportunity for the so-called new government to move away from such misaligned and inappropriate actions like those we saw in the former Mulroney government. We now see our current Prime Minister doing his best to emulate what it is to sell out, what it is to lay down. This is an opportunity for our country to grow, to prosper and to achieve the dreams of all Canadians.
The legislation needs a bit of work. We need some answers from the government. We ultimately need a plan and a strategy for the country and for regions like mine to prosper. It needs to come from this Parliament.