Mr. Speaker, I am quite appalled by what I see here this afternoon. We have the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois helping the Conservative government do something that we know is not in the interest of Canadians. We know full well that this is not in the interest of Canadians because they are telling us that they are increasingly concerned about the escalating accident rate, the loss of life, communities devastated and environments destroyed. CN has refused to treat any of those safety issues.
Now, after the employees are crying out to Parliament to take action so they can start addressing these safety issues, we have Bill C-46.
What does Bill C-46. do? It allows the government to hand over a blank cheque to the CN management to impose whatever final agreement it wants to see. The government will be given, through final offer selection, the right to appoint the person who will impose this settlement. Employees at CN have been trying desperately to have members of Parliament from the four corners of the House recognize the safety issues that have arisen over the last few years and that have reached a critical point in the last few months. Instead they are completely forgotten.
The government has the right through this legislation to impose whatever situation CN decides to put forward. There is no arbitration. There is no negotiation. There is an imposition by American management in the United States on what conditions the railway will function under.
It is absolutely appalling that any party would try to impose safety standards through CN management. What is most appalling is earlier today we saw the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois support closure so we cannot have a full debate on this issue and we cannot have a full addressing of the issue of safety, even though we have seen problems across the country. Instead we are simply going to hand over a blank cheque to CN management in the United States to decide what the future of our rail system for CN is going to be.
What has it done so far? We are giving these rights to CN management to decide on safety issues. That is the major point of contention. Employees have not hidden that. They have been raising this concern for months and months and years. Over the last five years we have seen a rapid escalation in the number of accidents, derailments, collisions, fires and explosions. Over the past five years they have escalated at CN.
The former Liberal government did very little. The Conservative government has done nothing to address this issue of safety. Instead of addressing it, instead of having the Minister of Transport sit down with the Minister of Labour and work out some way of addressing these legitimate concerns raised by employees, we have Bill C-46 being imposed with the support, as they say the accomplices, of the Liberal members and the Bloc members.
What happened earlier this year? After we had seen this rapid escalation over the past five years, we saw a spike up, a doubling, of main track train derailments since January 2007. What does that mean?
Let us look at some of the examples over the last few weeks. On January 4, CN rail engine crew had to be rescued from B.C.'s Fraser Canyon after a locomotive plunged down an embankment. On January 8, 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed in Montmagny, Quebec, about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. On March 1, a CN freight train was derailed in Pickering, which disrupted train service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and disrupted commuter rail service in the Toronto area. On March 4, grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C. On March 10, train traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted by a 17 car derailment.
We are seeing derailments across the country. What we have had from CN management is utter contempt for Canadians. It is not addressing it at all.
The employees have implored us through their actions to say that the government needs to take action. Safety issues are the number one concern. Instead of addressing any of those safety issues, we have the Minister of Labour handing over a blank cheque to CN management.
It is not just the employees, and Canadians generally, who should be concerned about this. We know that shippers are facing, increasingly, these roadblocks and obstacles. Because successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, did not take action on safety and on these derailments, we are seeing a permanent state of uncertainty in our rail transport system where we know any day there are three to four major accidents, any one of which can shut down rail service.
To say that we are helping shippers by ramming through this draconian legislation, with the support of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois, rather than addressing the fundamental safety issues that the employees have said are their chief concern is ludicrous. We have seen shippers shut down as a result of these various accidents, collisions, derailments, fires, explosions, and the government has taken no action at all.
This leads to the question: Why has the government not taken action? Why did the government not, months ago, start to address safety concerns?
It is throwing its weight around now, imposing a situation where CN management decides how safe the system will be based on how many executive bonuses it wants to pay and what it wants the profits to be for CN in the United States. There has been absolutely no consideration given to Canadians, not even to shippers, who have been complaining about the increasing number of derailments, who have been complaining about the increasing concerns that parts of our rail system is being shut down because CN has not been treating safety as a major concern.
There was one thing the government did, and that was to actually do a safety audit at CN Rail. After prompting and pushing from the NDP, it was finally released. Let us just read some of the conclusions of that audit. This is an audit that was conducted in 2005 and it was held onto by both Liberals and Conservatives.
The two-phase audit revealed problems with both targeted safety inspections and with CN safety management practices.
Investigators found a number of safety defects in CN's equipment, defects that could cause derailment, personal injury or property/environment damage.
Auditors found a significantly high rate of safety defects on the locomotives they inspected, with problems ranging from brake gear defects to too much oil accumulated on locomotives and fuel tanks.
The audit recorded a number of different system and brake gear defects and defects with the cars themselves, including 27 occurrences of an unsecured plug-type door.
The audit also found more than a third of the locomotives inspected violated parts of the Labour Code regarding trains. Problems included: out-of-date fire extinguishers, incomplete first aid kits, and missing protective covers on electrical equipment.
The report also found that many front line employees say they felt pressured to get the job done. It said current practices allowed locomotives with safety defects to continue in service.
The audit revealed in part, and commented, the view of many employees and front line supervisors who reported that they felt pressured in regard to productivity workload and fear of discipline to get the job done, compromising safe railway operations.
We have an escalating accident rate, collisions, derailments, fires and explosions. We have concerns raised by employees about the lack of safety standards and the government's only action, rather than addressing that, was to hide a report for a year until the CBC pressed for a release and the NDP pressed for a release. And then, instead of dealing with any of those safety issues, the government brings in this draconian legislation to help CN management in the United States decide what the rail system is going to be like even though we know that escalating rate hurts shippers and hurts people across this country. The escalating rate of railway accidents means that parts of the system are shut down virtually every week.
We would have a permanent state of uncertainty in our railway system if this bill were to pass. Rather than addressing the safety issues, rather than acting responsibly, this government acts absolutely irresponsibly. Whether it is a wheat farmer on the Prairies or whether it is a company in Ontario, what this would mean if we were to allow CN management to impose its low safety standards on Canadians is a permanent state of uncertainty in our railway system.
Mr. Gordon Rhodes, who is a long time locomotive engineer, the only survivor of one of the most egregious recent accidents where two CN employees were killed due to CN's poor safety management practices, was at the transport committee yesterday. Here is some of what he said about safety management in his testimony, which is the first of what we certainly hope will be many opportunities to inquire into the low safety standards that we are seeing with CN.
Mr. Rhodes said:
--I can speak about the fact that from my experience working for CN when it was Canadian-owned and my experience working for BC Rail, and now we've gone to CN again which is American-owned, the contrast is immense...When you opened up your rules books, when you opened up your timecards, safety was number one when it was Canadian-owned.
Now it is not. He talked about the lack of proper enforcement:
I think that Transport Canada has dropped the ball and I'm not pointing fingers at individuals, it's the system.
He is referring to a system that has been put in place of course by the Liberals and continued by the Conservatives.
He went on in his testimony:
How does a bridge fall down with a train on it? Sorry, I'm emotional as I've been part of something very awful. I've witnessed two of my friends die right in front of me. Why? Because people don't want to hear the truth. People are afraid to talk about the truth because the truth is going to cost money.
Mr. Rhodes, in his testimony yesterday at the transport committee, went on to say:
I'm not American, I'm Canadian and I used to be proud to call my company Canadian National Railroad back in the 1980s. Now I'm not even allowed to. I'm supposed to say CNR. What's this?
Referring to the American management, he said: “They're telling us how they're going to run things”. In referring to government and to members of Parliament around that table at transport committee, he said: “I think it's time you guys tell them how it's going to be run”.
That is part of the message from Mr. Rhodes, the only survivor of one of the many accidents that CN has had, an escalating accident rate over the last few years. These problems were identified through the safety audit and identified by the employees who have, in a real sense, said to parliamentarians, “You have to help us with this. Communities are being devastated. Environments are being destroyed. Lives are being lost. You as parliamentarians have to help us with this”.
Instead, in three corners of the House, we are seeing three parties, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc, saying to employees that they do not care about that, that they are not going to address any of those safety issues. They do not care about the communities that are devastated. They certainly do not care about the shipping problems that happen as a result of the devastation of these derailments, collisions, fires and explosions. They are not going to address any of those issues.
They are going to toss the entire weight of the government behind a plan to simply hand a blank cheque to CN management to decide really what it wants to have as a railway. They are not going to impose any standards. They are going to impose a piece of legislation that allows CN management to keep its big executive bonuses and decide what the future of the rail system is going to be.
I certainly hope that every single member of this House reads Mr. Rhodes' testimony before they vote on this draconian legislation brought in by the Conservatives. He speaks to what should be important to every member of Parliament here: the safety and the continuation of our rail system, and not allowing CN management to decide what the rail system is going to look like. He said:
CN has gone in the opposite direction and they're very adversarial. I call it the poisoned work environment because that's what it is. Nobody wants to go to work there. Everybody's counting the days, the months and years, till they're gone, they're out of there, and that's not the way it was, and that's not the way it was at B.C. Rail. [...]
The way I look at it is this: CN is a big multinational corporation. Their railway goes from Mexico to Canada. They have amalgamated many or absorbed, and I don't know the proper terminology, but they've bought many railways and they've absorbed them into their system. They're experts at doing that. The problem here is that they absorbed one railway that they had no expertise on. They thought they did, but they don't. Their arrogance is what happened in the sense that they came in, they took our GOI, General Operating Instructions, with 50-some years probably of railroad knowledge of how to run trains on that track, but you're going to do it our way because we want it all homogenized. We all want it one way and that's it. They didn't listen to anybody, they just ploughed ahead with their system.
Their system, as we know, was running railcars and locomotives that were appropriate for the Prairies and the mountains of British Columbia, with the loss of life that resulted from that foolish managerial move, foolish, shortsighted, irresponsible and reckless. That is, indeed, the company to which the Conservative government wants to provide a blank cheque.
It is saying, “Sure, you have been reckless and irresponsible, you have disregarded safety standards, but here is a blank cheque. You decide whatever you want. The sky is the limit. We are going to impose it on the employees of CN. We are not going to listen to their safety concerns. We are not going to listen to the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast, no, sir. We are simply going to allow you, as CN managers, to keep your executive bonuses and American managers can impose whatever solution they think is appropriate”.
Mr. Rhodes talked about the difference between the United States and Canada. He said, for example, that in the United States there is no requirement yet to have a safety alerter on the head end of the train for the engine man, a dead man's switch. In the United States there was no requirement for the SBU, which is the replacement for the caboose.
Transport Canada insisted there be an emergency release feature, which means that as an engine man I can release the air brakes, set up the brakes from the tail end, release the air out of the train and the brakes will all be set up. In the United States that is not required because it is an extra $1,000 a unit. Six men died back in the 1990s in the United States because of this.
Mr. Rhodes said it was not better in the United States than here. The safety standards were better here. Of course, our system is eroding and declining. That is exactly why we have had this very clear direction from employees of CN to start addressing these safety issues. Instead of addressing any of these safety issues, we have the draconian legislation being brought forward today.
CN employees are imploring us to look at the safety issues. Communities in the Fraser Canyon, Montmagny in Quebec and across this country are saying safety has to be put back on the agenda. The employees had only one way to do this and that is by pushing the collective bargaining process to start bringing the safety standards back up to what Canadians want to see.
Instead of the government in any way being responsible by looking at the bigger picture and saying that CN has been irresponsible and that it is going to address the safety concerns because it knows those are the chief problems and if addressed we know that there will be an agreement, instead of doing any of that, we have what we have before us today, Bill C-46. Bill C-46 imposes whatever CN wants on the employees. With final offer selection, it is simply giving a blank cheque to impose whatever lack of safety standards it prefers to see, a blank cheque which is completely and utterly irresponsible.
It begs the question: why did the Bloc Québécois support this entire process of a forced return to work? We know very well that the people of Montmagny, Quebec were seriously affected by the company’s lack of safety measures. We know very well that CN’s employees have been deeply affected by what the CN managers did.
The Bloc preferred to support the Conservative government and be its accomplice. It is clear, now, that this bill will be imposed, likely because of this action, this support, this complicity on the part of the Bloc and the Liberal Party.
To conclude, the chair of CN in the United States receives over $1 million a week in salary. Canadians deserve much better than Bill C-46. They deserve to have Parliament listen to them.