Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand in support of the legislation, but as will become clear in my presentation to this House, I have some reservations on the commitment of the government to actually deliver on the legislation.
As the parliamentary secretary said in his comments on Bill S-4, the government should do what only governments can do and he noted that one of those things was to ensure public safety. However, he then added that it was important to move toward greater privatization and less government control, including over the rail industry.
I would suggest these are rather contradictory statements. It is that very contradictory approach to governance, frankly, by the current government that has caused increasing risks to public health and safety.
Nonetheless, the government can be commended for including many of the recommendations made over the many years of review of the legislation to improve it, including the introduction of administrative penalties and the stricter or higher penalties for serious infractions.
The introduction of administrative penalties is long overdue. I in fact participated in an initiative by Treasury Board and the Department of Justice in 1989. I was then chief of enforcement for Environment Canada and one of the few officials in the government who was actually supportive of this measure. We had a very productive measure. We travelled in the United States and examined some European jurisdictions for more innovative approaches to ensuring compliance with federal statutes. One of those measures was administrative penalties, which have only recently been put into environmental laws. It is encouraging to see them put into this law.
However, what causes me great concern is another comment by the parliamentary secretary. He may have misspoken. He may not understand fully what is included in enforcement of compliance policy and the criteria that are normally put in place in determining what kind of penalty should be exercised.The parliamentary secretary suggested that the value of administrative penalties was in a case of persistent non-compliance. I would like to assure the House that certainly in the case of environmental statutes, a case of persistent non-compliance is generally a trigger for a serious investigation and, in all likelihood, a prosecution.
The very purpose of legislation and the very purpose of an enforcement compliance system is to show to the regulated industry that there is a threat of detection and, in turn, enforcement.
As an aside, Mr. Speaker, I did not realize that I was splitting my time with the member for Drummond. If you could let me know when my time is up so I do not speak over it, I would appreciate that.
It is very important when tabling an important piece of legislation like this to make it clear within the agency that is going to be responsible for ensuring compliance that a very clear and consistent enforcement and compliance strategy has been put forward.
I would like to bring to the attention of the House, including to the government of the day, the fact that a predecessors of theirs, a former environment minister, Tom McMillan, of the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Mulroney, actually took that measure and had a very commendable approach to regulating at the federal level. On the day he tabled his bill, the now Canadian Environmental Protection Act, he simultaneously tabled an enforcement and compliance policy. Why did he do that? He said that a law without effective enforcement was a hollow measure.
I think that would make sense to everyone in this House. In other words, we can have the strictest penalties in the world, we can showcase the law and say that it is the best one in the western world, as we often say about our Canadian environmental statutes, but it is of little value if there is not equal commitment to effectively enforce that law and to ensure compliance.
Hearing the responses today from the government members to questions asked in this area, I am not reassured. I look forward in the future, perhaps in further discussions of the bill, for that matter to be clarified.
Why am I raising this? One of the most serious problems with rail safety in this country, in some cases, has been the failure to regulate and the failure of successive governments actually to enact the necessary regulations to give credibility to the Railway Safety Act. We have had review after review, including by the rail safety board, identifying regulatory gaps. However, the most significant problem with rail safety that has been identified by independent review bodies has been the failure of the government to effectively enforce that legislation.
I will refer to a report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled in the House in December 2011, very recently. What did the commissioner find? He and his review found:
Transport Canada lacks a consistent approach to planning and implementing compliance activities [in transportation]. As a consequence, it cannot ensure that sites are inspected according to the highest risk.
He further stated:
Transport Canada has not ensured that corrective action has been taken on instances of non-compliance.
In addition, he stated:
Transport Canada has given only temporary, interim approval for nearly half of the emergency response assistance plans put in place by regulated organizations. As a consequence, many of the most dangerous products regulated under the Act have been shipped for years without the Department having completed a detailed verification of plans for an immediate emergency response.
I have personal knowledge of these deficiencies. I happen to own property on Lake Wabumun, where in 2005 there was largest freshwater spill in the history of North America. Three-quarters of the spilled bunker C oil still lies at the bottom of Lake Wabumun. There was somewhat of an attempt to clean it up. I have to say that the Government of Canada, regrettably, did not appear on the scene until a week after the spill. Why is that critical? It is because there is a first nation located on that lake, which was monumentally impacted by that spill. The end result of the spill was a special commission by the Government of Alberta to ensure there would better emergency response measures in the future. I am sad to say there was no parallel review conducted by the Government of Canada.
It is not only the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development who has identified problems with the regulations under the statute. By the way, the new statute does provide for additional regulations, but, regrettably, the government has not simultaneously tabled the listing of regulations and the timetable wherein these regulations will be put in place. The statute is fine insofar as it is an enabling legislative measure, but the substance of this act comes with the regulations. We do not have any knowledge of when the government plans to come forward with these regulations, what the timetable and consultation program will be. I would encourage the government to bring these forward because it would give a lot of assurance to the people in the communities who live and work along the rail lines.
I would also encourage the government to table an enforcement and compliance strategy. Why is that critical? It is because it has been determined in review after review by the rail safety board that the system that the present government and the government before it have put into place is simply to abandon enforcement. It has been turned over to a self-inspection and self-enforcement system by the rail lines. That would be fine if we were not dealing with an industry that is increasingly carrying heavier loads and more dangerous cargo.
By the way, this cargo runs along most of the waterways of this country. The rail lines were originally built along the waterways to cool the trains' coal-fired engines. A good deal of the Canadian environment is potentially at risk, hence, the reason for the amendments to ensure greater rail safety in Canada. However, that is all the more reason it is incumbent upon the government to ensure those provisions are actually effectively inspected and enforced.
I would bring to the attention of the House a report by Transport Canada following the Wabumun and Cheakamus spills. It stated:
The Railway Track Safety Rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there common industry standards for rail life based on accumulated tonnage and the properties of the steel.
...Neither the quality of steel nor the accumulated tonnage is factored into this decision.
It further stated:
Recognizing the limitations of existing inspection tools, there is a requirement for additional strategies to ensure that maintenance rails are not installed where they are likely to have a shorter fatigue life than the parent rail.
It made a number of recommendations on putting more specific binding criteria in place for the maintenance of rails. Again, as I mentioned at the outset, that is very critical because many Canadians live and work along these lines and we need to ensure the public safety of Canadians.