Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the second reading of Bill C-9, our proposed amendments to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992.
Some of my Ontario colleagues might remember what happened on Saturday, November 10, 1979 in Mississauga, Ontario. A few minutes before midnight, CP train No. 54 derailed while carrying a shipment of chlorine and 250,000 people had to be evacuated from that area. Indeed, this particular incident stands as the second largest peacetime evacuation in North America, surpassed only by the evacuation of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina in 2005. Very fortunately, no one was injured in that incident, but the risk was indeed extreme. As is the case whenever we are dealing with transportation of dangerous goods, no chances should be taken.
We can never predict when incidents like that may happen, whether accidentally or on purpose. That is why this government has the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act in place. Originally introduced in 1980 and updated in 1982, it provides the federal government with the authority to develop policy, to verify compliance, to conduct research, to guide emergency response, and develop regulations and standards to manage risk and promote public safety during the transportation of dangerous goods.
In the bill before the House today, our government is proposing amendments to the act as yet another example of how the Conservative government is taking steps to protect and improve Canadians' way of life and public safety in Canada.
Today there are more than 26 million commercially available chemicals sold around the world, and more than 46 million organic and inorganic substances registered with the Chemical Abstract Society. Indeed, more than 30 million shipments of dangerous goods are transported every year in Canada alone. That is right, over 30 million shipments of dangerous goods in Canada alone.
Trade, whether between the provinces or across the border with the United States, continues to grow steadily. Dangerous goods are likewise being transported across national and provincial boundaries more often than ever before.
The provinces approached the federal government to bring forward federal legislation that could help deal with this trade and provide Canadians with the appropriate public safety protections that provincial legislation by itself could not do.
Between Canada and the United States, agreements ensure ease of trade while maintaining safety. In most cases, this permits a shipment of dangerous goods originating in one country to be transported to its final destination in another country without interference, provided, of course, that the shipment is in compliance with the rules of the originating country.
As I said earlier, our transportation of dangerous goods program is based on the premise that proper classification of dangerous goods is absolutely vital to its safe transportation.
Our program is actually harmonized and aligned, as appropriate, to international, United Nations and United States conventions. This new bill will be no different. In fact the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 is under criminal law and applies to all matters relating to the importation, transportation and handling of dangerous goods.
Provincial legislation addresses mostly local transportation on highways. Federal regulations are adopted in one form or another by each and every province and territory.
The current act and regulations are enforced by federal and provincial inspectors. Agreements on shared enforcement result in the provinces focusing primarily on highway inspections and the federal government dealing with marine, rail and air transport and shipping activities.
When the current act came into force, no one at all could have envisioned a new security environment that would emerge following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the transit bombings in London in 2005, or the attempted bombing of the Glasgow airport in 2007.
The current act is based primarily on prevention of disasters during the transportation of these dangerous substances and right now focuses less on the safety and the response capabilities of the government.
This government's proposed amendments in this bill, on which my colleagues will elaborate further, would significantly expand the measures used by the federal government in cases involving dangerous goods.
By working with our provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as key stakeholders and law enforcement, these new safety and security requirements will keep Canadians safe.
In March 2004, the department began broad-based consultations to provide an appropriate review of the act. Meetings were held with industry shippers, manufacturers and producers, industry associations, unions, provincial and territorial governments, first responders to matters of safety, and the public and cities all across Canada. These consultations generated extensive and substantive input, which is reflected in new Bill C-9.
What is more, in 2005 Transport Canada hosted meetings with officials from provincial and territorial governments to discuss the new concepts and potential amendments to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992. Discussions continued at each of the twice annual meetings of the federal-provincial-territorial task force on dangerous goods and also at the twice annual meetings of the minister's transportation of dangerous goods general policy advisory council.
Results of the department's consultations with industry, provincial and territorial governments and the public certainly underscored the value and relevancy of the current act while supporting the existing safety program and new security concepts being considered in the amendment of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.
Following the tabling in the last Parliament of Bill C-9, the department again met with the federal-provincial-territorial task force and the minister's transportation of dangerous goods general policy advisory council, as well as any interested parties on an individual basis to consult on the contents of the bill. This government wants to make sure that all consultations lead toward the best results for Canadians.
Under this revised legislation, shippers of dangerous goods would be required to submit an emergency response assistance plan, an ERAP, to the federal government prior to shipping dangerous substances. These plans outline detailed actions that would be taken by the shipper in case of an accident, including a list of specialized equipment needed to clean up the area. Preparation is the key to this. The plans also provide on-site assistance to local authorities. In the event an incident did occur, this new legislation would allow the federal government to use the measures and resources outlined in the corresponding ERAP to respond to the situation accordingly.
The proposed changes would also allow the federal government to use resources from the private companies that transport the substances in question to respond to the emergency itself, with the understanding, of course, that they would be properly compensated for whatever they were out.
On the security and prevention side, the bill would provide the authority to establish performance regulations for security plans and for training. These would be based on international and United Nations recommendations and in line, quite frankly, with existing U.S. regulations.
With respect to the safety amendments, consultations to improve the existing ERAP indicated that any proposed bill should include automatic activation as well as an authority for an inspector to activate a plan. I think that makes sense. I am pleased to say that these recommendations are reflected in this legislation.
It would also enable the development of regulations to establish security requirements for tracking dangerous goods, as well as regulations that would require companies to report lost or stolen dangerous goods. With the threat of global terrorism affecting all nations, including Canada, the government's proposed amendments also address the security of dangerous goods while being transported, stored or otherwise.
To do this, we will require: security plans and security training for all personnel handling or transporting those said goods; additional transportation security clearances for individuals transporting dangerous goods, such as truck drivers, et cetera; and the ability to track dangerous goods during transport.
Canada's role on the world stage continues to grow in importance and we are very fortunate to host a greater number of international events here in Canada. As such, there is growing concern about the need for these important security measures to be in place, and as quickly as possible.
The Vancouver 2010 Olympics is a prime example of this. If there is an incident involving dangerous goods, we need to ensure we have the necessary resources and the capacity to respond appropriately.
Under the proposed bill, the minister or deputy minister would be given authority to establish security measures and interim orders. An interim order would be used as an immediate regulation to respond to an urgent and immediate identified threat where the normal regulatory process, for instance, would take too long to protect public safety. The interim order would become public 24 days after Governor in Council approval. Only the Minister of Transport can put in place an interim order, and this interim order can only be established if the government has the legislative authority to currently make a regulation. Let me be clear. An interim order cannot be used to make regulations that the government does not already have the authority to make under the legislation.
The interim orders we are looking to introduce in this proposed bill would work exactly the same way as they already do in 10 other pieces of legislation across federal departments and agencies, including the Public Safety Act.
Conversely, a security measure is a regulation that would be used to respond to an immediate and urgent identified threat where publishing the regulation would compromise its intent and indeed public safety.
Security measures are required to be reviewed every two years to ensure that they are still valid and required, and to determine if at any time they can be made public. If a security measure is no longer required, it can be repealed immediately.
This bill would also give an inspector the authority to access facilities involved in manufacturing, repairing or testing means of containment according to identified standards and procedures. This is absolutely critical and of very great importance to the success of the safety program. Without the access to manufacturers of means of containment, it becomes very difficult and very expensive for the government to verify that the means of containment are built to the required standard. Failure to build a means of containment to standard may lead to major failures, putting public safety again at risk, and this is simply not acceptable to this government. We will not let that happen.
The federal government has consulted with industry, with provincial and territorial representatives and other key stakeholders that wanted to have input and all of them agree that these amendments are necessary.
It is important that we move forward with the amendments to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. If we do not move forward, we will not have the tools necessary to promote the security of the Canadian public arising from the modern security environment in which we live, including the risk of terrorist activities involving any dangerous goods.
Moreover, our continental partners are expecting Canada to bring forward security requirements for the transportation of dangerous goods and to do our part to keep North America safe and secure.
These initiatives brought forward today would harmonize security requirements for activities, such as security plans and security training, and enable the government to have a prevention and response security program for what all of us in this place and all Canadians are looking forward to, that being the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
I must reinforce that not moving forward with an amended Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act may expose Canada on both the safety and the security fronts, two significant trade implications with our North American partners, something this government has no intention of doing, especially during these times of economic challenge and global economic downturn.
This government remains very committed to doing what is right for Canadians to ensure that we have the appropriate security and safety prevention and response program in place, to maintain and enhance public safety around the transportation of dangerous goods.
We look forward on this side of the House to the co-operation and the input of the other parties, as we believe that this is a tremendous time for Canada to move forward to keep Canadians safe, and we are looking for their support in this.