Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the Senate amendment concerning Bill C-11. I do not think I can drum up as much steam as the member for Hamilton Centre did. That was quite the performance. I agree with everything he said. I certainly agree with the concerns my colleague from the Bloc outlined about this amendment.
For me, my riding and the communities that I represent in east Vancouver, this issue goes back to the day that I was elected. In fact, as I am sure the Speaker will remember, even a former member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Margaret Mitchell, a great member of Parliament who represented east Vancouver in the House, she herself dealt with the issue of excessive train noise, vibration and disruption for residents in the Burrardview and Wall Street areas of east Vancouver. This is an issue that goes way back.
Over the 10 years that I have been here I have met with local residents on numerous occasions to respond to their very legitimate concerns. I have attended community meetings. I have met with railway officials in Ottawa and Vancouver to put forward those concerns and demand that there be a response not only from the railway company but also from the government.
I actually rode the tracks. I forget the name of that little vehicle that goes up and down the tracks, but I rode on that to see firsthand what was going on in the marshalling yards that was causing so many problems. We have approached it from a health point of view and have laid complaints with the medical health officer in Vancouver. We have pursued legal options. I have worked with local residents and the saga goes on and on.
As recently as April of 2007 I wrote to the Railway Safety Act Review Advisory Panel pointing out that I regularly receive letters, e-mails, faxes, phone calls and visits from local residents, all of whom vociferously protest against prolonged and excessive train noise. They feel they are under constant siege from the noise by trains and they have not been able to find any recourse. All the complaints are remarkably similar and focus on noise in the early hours of the morning from whistles and horns, idling, shunting, et cetera. That was just in April.
Before that, in July 2006 I wrote to the then minister of transport with the same issues, concerns and complaints. I actually received a reply from the minister at that time. Lo and behold, the minister of transport said, “You may be interested to note that Bill C-11, which will enable the Canadian Transportation Agency to address issues such as noise levels, received first reading in Parliament in May 2006”. We finally have a bill that is going to address these long-standing systemic concerns from local residents.
Prior to that, in June 2005, I wrote to the Canadian Pacific Railway articulating the concerns that I had heard. In 2003 I wrote to the then minister of transport, who basically took no action. In 2002 I wrote to the minister of transport, as I had in 2000. This is just a sampling of letters that I have written.
It is very illuminating to hear the debate on this bill after the various readings it has gone through and hear members, even at this stage of the bill, coming forward with a sense of frustration that this bill still does not adequately respond to the legitimate concerns of local residents. That is coming from across the political spectrum. We have heard members from the Bloc today articulate very well the ongoing nature of these concerns.
In my own community, it has been the outstanding vigilance, neighbourhood spirit and activism at the local level that has kept this issue on the political agenda. It has been the work of local residents such as the member for Vancouver--Hastings in the B.C. legislative assembly, Shane Simpson. When he was a resident activist before he was elected, he was very active with the Burrardview residents association in pressing this issue. There are people like Barbara Fousek, who is now with the Burrardview residents association, who have never given up and have always addressed the concerns of local residents.
To be frank, people have tried to work within the system. They have tried to use processes and avenues they believed were available to them. Whether it has been the City of Vancouver with the whistleblowing, whether it has been the railway company itself, whether it has ben the federal government, people have used all of these avenues to the absolute fullest.
I would like to quote from a few of the e-mails and letters that I have received, for example, from Robert who has focused on a particular engine. People actually identify the number of the engine that is causing the problem while it might be idling in the marshalling yards at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. disrupting people's sleep when they have to go to work the next day.
Bonnie wrote at great length to the transportation committee. She pointed out that this issue in east Vancouver goes back to 1991 with the closure of the rail yard in Vancouver's Coal Harbour. There were operational changes that increased the length and the weight of trains. This has had a significant local impact. She points out that the CPR began the marshalling of trains below Wall Street in the Burrardview neighbourhood. The operational change was made without any public consultation or consideration of the impact that the change would have on local residents. This change has had a drastic effect on neighbourhoods and has increased noise and vibration to industrial levels.
In fact, the residents went so far as to ensure that a study was done of the noise levels. Our party's transport critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, in his speech quoted briefly from that study dated December 2005, entitled, “East Vancouver Portlands Community Noise Study”. As he pointed out, what was found was excessive noise levels that were far beyond anything that could be considered reasonable or standard for people living in a high density residential area.
I have other letters, for example, one from the Pacific Terraces strata council, which states:
Also, the drone of trains idling have often kept me from falling asleep. On occasion, I have incurred ear damage, with severe symptoms lasting for days. Again, I see no reason why trains need to idle for hours in areas where one can only surmise that many people are being denied their natural right to respect, peace and tranquility.
This should not be seen as just an issue of inconvenience, but one of health and mental well being. It is my opinion that the disrespect railway yards seem to show neighbourhoods crosses the line of abuse. I hope this situation can be resolved soon.
In an email, Finn points out:
The Alberta wheat pool is close to our house and we are subjected to, among other things, shunting of trains which occurs at all hours of the night causing extreme noise levels, Freight trains travelling from West to East working so hard and travelling so fast that the vibrations shake our whole house and wake anyone who may be sleeping.
I do not want to use the word “complaints” when referring to these issues, because that would imply that people are just complaining. These are very severe impacts on people's quality of life. The documentation that I have on these issues is endless.
I want to get back to the bill. Before us today is a Senate amendment and I want to retrace the steps of where this amendment came from.
I want to thank the NDP transport critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, for his very strong work in bringing local residents to the committee so that they could be heard and for receiving the issues that people have pressed.
The NDP member brought forward amendments to this bill. We supported the bill in principle. We said that maybe there finally could be some resolution. The member brought forward amendments at the committee that would have, for example, prohibited trains from performing certain activities such as shunting in high density residential areas between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Those amendments were shot down in committee, regrettably, because they did not have the support of other members. In fact, we ended up with a compromise proposal from the government side which said that at least there could be as little noise and vibration as possible.
We went along with that. We wanted to get through as much as we could in order to respond to people's concerns. We agreed finally to that amendment. The NDP amendment, which I think was far superior, was lost.
Where are we now? The bill was approved by the House. It went to the Senate. Now there is a Senate amendment that is watering down the government amendment which watered down the NDP amendment. The 10th report of Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications states:
Finally, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communications amended clause 29 of Bill C-11 to require railway companies to cause “as little noise and vibration as possible”....Canadian railway companies believed that the new standard could present a significant threat to their economic viability as there is no jurisprudence on its interpretation. As such, the railway companies recommended that the standard of “reasonableness” be restored to the provision.
That is exactly what the other place did. It went ahead, put forward its own amendment in the unelected Senate, which is what we are now debating in the House.
That is why we in the NDP feel we have to take a stand, that we have to say that this is unacceptable on two grounds. One is the amendment from the Senate is not reasonable and is actually watering down a provision so much that it will have very little effect which to us is really undermining the value and the intent of what the bill was intended to do in the first place. The bill was to provide real relief to local residents who have been suffering for years. On those grounds alone we feel we cannot support the Senate amendment.
In addition, as has been pointed out by the member for Hamilton Centre and other members of the House, it seems to us completely unacceptable that we are now debating an amendment from the Senate that is based on accommodating what the railway companies consider to be reasonable from a place that has no accountability to those local residents. Here we are with this amendment that is not really going to respond in any fashion to the very legitimate concerns that I have documented exist in my own community and we know exist right across the country. I find it very offensive that we are now having to respond to this amendment.
On those two grounds we are saying today that we want to reject that amendment. We believe that this should go back and that the government should be very clear that this is an unacceptable practice. We have seen it on other occasions when the government has taken issue with the Senate and has said that what the Senate has done is not legitimate and so on, but on this issue the government seems to be quite willing to go along with it.
I wanted to speak in the debate today just to lay out what this has meant for the thousands of people in my community who are still suffering from the impacts of excessive train noise. I want to make one thing clear. They are local residents who are well aware that they live adjacent to a working port. The history of east Vancouver is built on port activity and train activity. We understand that. It is part of our history. It is part of the history of our community. There are many people who work at the port and in the rail yards who live in east Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. We understand the importance of the economic activity of our rail operations and the port generally.
However, there is a significant issue about the interface and the conflict that can arise. What I find problematic is that often those issues are presented as somehow being mutually exclusive, that we have to say that everything the port or the railway company wants for their economic viability we have to go for or somehow we are on the side of the residents.
I believe, and I think many members in this House believe, that our job is to ensure that there is a balance between those things, that they are not mutually exclusive, that we can protect the economic viability of the port of Vancouver and the rail operations. Our job is also to ensure that we address the concerns that residents have in a meaningful way.
Some residents have lived in that neighbourhood for three, four, five decades and some have moved in more recently. Some of the letters I get are from recent residents. I always ask them if they were aware that they were moving into an area next to the port, and they always tell me they were. In principle, that is not the issue.
People are very respectful of those who work in the port and those who work on the rail operations. There is a legitimate case here about the excessive noise. People were not consulted when operational changes were made 15 years ago. I find that railway officials listen to us, but they really feel that they have no mandate and do not have to respond to these concerns. I have had that experience myself, which points out why this legislation is so needed.
Overall, we support Bill C-11. We want to see it go through. The bill has gone through the House, but I am very disappointed and frustrated that it has now come back to us with this Senate amendment that will undo the very premise on which it was advanced by the government. I am sure the House is going to hear the same thing from other members today.
I hope that we can convince enough members of this House to send a strong message back to the Senate saying that this is not acceptable. We have to tell the Senate that we have to do a better job and that we are not prepared to water the bill down and weaken the already weak provisions to protect those local quality of life concerns. That is what we in the NDP hope will happen today. We believe that we have one last shot at this.
I thank the members of the transport committee who worked very diligently on this bill. I especially thank our transportation critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who has pressed this issue very well and has worked hard to get the best possible arrangement.
Now we have to respond to the other place that has no accountability to those local residents. Let us do the right thing and stand up for their quality of life. Let us make sure that the bill is not undermined and weakened.