moved that Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present to you today for second reading Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.
I believe this is the first time I have ever had the honour of presenting a bill that is as finely crafted, broadly applauded and widely supported as Bill S-4.
This legislation has been in development for more than three years, with constant consultation and input from all levels of government, industry and labour stakeholders. It has also been commented on by witnesses, dissected clause by clause by standing committees on two separate occasions, and approved unanimously by all parties both times.
Clearly, the debate is over. It is now time to pass this important bill as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of Canadians.
Bill S-4 is clearly a progressive and forward-looking bill, and the amendments it contains will mean better safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, better protection for our fragile environment, and a stronger Canadian rail industry in a stronger national economy.
All of these things are priorities for our government, and I believe that they are priorities for all members in the House.
There is nothing more important than the safety and prosperity of Canadians.
As many members may know, the bill has quite a bit of history. For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, which originated at the turn of the century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for an older era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open up new territories to encourage settlement.
In 1989, the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of the national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in recent years. The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport, to be administered by Transport Canada where the responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides.
Following a review of the Railway Safety Act in 1994, the act was amended in 1999 to further improve the legislation and to make the railway system even safer. Those amendments were designed to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system. They were also designed to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely and to give the general public and interested parties a greater say on issues of railway safety.
These changes were commendable, but there was a problem. A number of high-profile train derailments in 2005 and 2006 across the country—in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and in other provinces—resulted in fatalities, serious injuries, significant environmental damage and negative economic impacts for railways and communities.
These tragic accidents caused concern for the public and the government and focused national attention on rail safety. They also provided the impetus, in part, for the Minister of Transport to launch a full review of the Railway Safety Act in 2007. The objective of the review was to identify possible gaps in the act and to make recommendations to further strengthen the regulatory regime.
The seriousness of those derailments also provided the incentive for the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to begin its own railway safety study. The Railway Safety Act review was led by an independent panel of experts who commissioned research and held extensive public consultations across the country. Interest in the consultations was high and all key stakeholders participated, including railway companies and associations, labour organizations, national associations, other levels of government, municipalities and the public.
The panel's final report, “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, was tabled in the House by the Minister of Transport in March 2008. In the report, the panellists noted that although the Railway Safety Act and its principles are fundamentally sound, more work is needed and a number of legislative improvements are required. The report contained 56 recommendations to improve railway safety in Canada.
The standing committee, which also conducted extensive stakeholder consultations, accepted the panel's recommendations and tabled its own report in the House in May 2008. The committee's report also made 14 recommendations, many of which built on those that came from the Railway Safety Act review.
The authors of both reports identified the main areas that required improvement and recommended increasing Transport Canada's resources in order to increase its ability to monitor compliance and enforce the legislation and take new rail safety initiatives.
Transport Canada agrees with the recommendations made in both reports and has taken steps to implement them through a variety of government-industry-union initiatives and through these proposed legislative amendments to the Railway Safety Act, which are required to address key recommendations and enable many safety initiatives.
In fact, Transport Canada took action to address these concerns almost immediately after receiving them.
In March 2008, following the publication of the report on the review of the Railway Safety Act, we established the Advisory Council on Railway Safety in order to get the process of consultation started again and to consider future directions in railway safety, the development of rules, regulation, policies and other matters of concern. The advisory council is made up of representatives of the main stakeholder groups, including Transport Canada, railway companies such as CN, CP and VIA, short line and commuter rail companies, the Railway Association of Canada, shippers, suppliers, other levels of government, and unions. The council has met three or four times per year since it was established, in order to work collaboratively on the strategic matters of railway safety that were raised in the report.
Additionally, working with the railways and the major unions, Transport Canada has established a steering committee, made up of representatives of Transport Canada, the industry and the unions, to oversee the development of action plans for implementing the recommendations in the report on the Railway Safety Act review and the report on the study conducted by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The committee has been supported by six technical working groups in addressing ways in which to implement the recommendations of concern not only to the regulatory body, but also to the industry and the unions, and in keeping the ACRS informed of their progress.
These joint technical working groups included teams devoted to the rule making process, safety management systems, information collection and analysis, proximity and operations, environment and new safety technologies. Together, those groups were assigned 24 recommendations by the steering committee. All of them have completed their work. Their recommendations have been, or are being, implemented. In addition to the work of these groups, Transport Canada implemented eight internal recommendations. Industry implemented three recommendations that pertained to the companies. The final 21 recommendations are related to legislative changes which we are discussing today. In short, these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are the final component of a well-orchestrated and well-funded drive to make our railways safer.
In budget 2009, the government affirmed its commitment to a safe, reliable transportation system by earmarking $72 million over five years to implement important rail safety measures and legislative initiatives. These amendments to the Railway Safety Act that we see before us today are the fruit of that commitment. This initiative also shows how important these amendments are to the government, and it reflects the government's commitment to seeing these amendments implemented as soon as possible so that Canada can reap the benefits from them immediately.
In March 2010, the government introduced Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act. It contained essentially the same range of changes as the bill before us today does. Bill C-33, which all the parties in the House supported, was considered in detail by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and then approved unanimously by all hon. members after some minor changes were made.
Unfortunately, Bill C-33 died on the order paper after many consultations, analyses and a very favourable reception, because the opposition chose an unnecessary election over the safety of Canadians. Knowing how important these essential amendments are with regard to safety, we reintroduced the same bill in the Senate, with the changes that everyone had agreed on.
Since then, a number of witnesses representing stakeholders have expressed their views and the bill has been reviewed and discussed at length in the standing committee of the other place. I am very pleased to say that the Senate committee, like ours, unanimously approved the bill with a slight change that was essentially administrative in nature.
There is clearly a lot of support for this bill from all parties. There have been thorough consultations over several years. The bill has been agreed upon in its various formats by all key industry stakeholders, as well as members of both the House and the other place. It is our responsibility to end this long debate and expedite the passage of this important legislation for the benefit of all Canadians. The safer railways act is acknowledged as the blueprint for the future of rail safety in this country. It would directly address the safety challenges that have been identified by two national reviews with innovative legislative solutions that would help make our railways and communities safer for years to come.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to highlight some of the key amendments included in Bill S-4. Each one is an important part of a comprehensive safety package.
In accordance with the recommendations arising from the Railway Safety Act review and the study by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the amendments under review will improve Transport Canada's oversight capacity by conferring on the Governor in Council the authority to require railway companies to obtain a railway operating certificate, attesting that they have met basic safety requirements, before commencing their activities.
The operating certificate, which will demonstrate that the company complies with baseline safety requirements, will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction. Existing companies will have a two-year period from the coming into force of the amendments under review in which to meet the requirements for the certificate.
The amendments in Bill S-4 will also strengthen Transport Canada’s enforcement capacity in order to ensure better railway company compliance with safety rules and regulations. To that end, the department will apply monetary penalties to improve rail safety. The maximum amount of the penalties will be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.
The new act will also strengthen Transport Canada’s enforcement powers by increasing fines to levels consistent with those for other modes of transportation. Maximum fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would be $1 million for a corporation and $50,000 for an individual. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would be $500,000 for a corporation and $25,000 for an individual.
One of the most important benefits of Bill S-4 is the increased focus on the importance of safety management systems. As members may know, a safety management system is a formal framework for integrating safety into day-to-day railway operations. During the Railway Safety Act review, stakeholders were supportive of the SMS approach to safety, but some felt that improvements were required before SMS could be considered fully implemented.
The amendments we are discussing today address those concerns. For example, under Bill S-4 all railway companies would be required to appoint an accountable executive responsible for all matters of safety. The legislation would also require all railway companies to implement whistleblower protection so that employees felt encouraged to report safety violations without fear of reprimand.
Railway companies would also be required, through the auditing process, to demonstrate that they continuously manage risks related to safety matters through the use of safety management systems. Changes like these would encourage the growth of a true culture of safety at both the corporate and operating levels of railway companies.
I noted earlier that the Senate committee had unanimously approved this bill with one minor change related to safety reporting. Although this bill originally called for the development of a new safety reporting process with the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada, all parties agreed that a reporting system already exists—the Transportation Safety Board—so that clause was struck. The rest, as mentioned, was agreed on unchanged.
The Safer Railways Act is clearly a step forward in terms of oversight, enforcement and the implementation of a safety system in the industry. It also advances safety in the administrative area by clarifying the authority and responsibilities of the minister in respect of railway matters. For example, these amendments will clarify that the legislation applies to all companies operating on federal track and will ensure that those companies are subject to the same high safety standards.
Bill S-4 is about safety. It is also about protecting our environment. By expanding regulation-making authorities, this legislation will allow Transport Canada to request an environmental management plan from all railways for federal review.
It will also allow a requirement for increased environmental information collection and railway equipment labelling related to emissions. These amendments plus an additional amendment to provide regulatory authority to control and prevent fires on railway rights-of-way are critical to strengthening environmental protection in the industry.
And that is what the amendments to Bill S-4 are basically all about: better oversight tools to ensure safety; enhanced safety management systems to build a stronger rail safety culture; and additional authority to help protect our environment from unnecessary degradation.
It is hard to argue with the importance of these amendments. Railways are an integral part of our infrastructure now, and they will be so in the future. We need them to be strong. We need them to be dependable. And we need them to be safe. All Canadians can benefit from that.
We believe that these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are essential and timely. Bill S-4 modernizes the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry, and I believe that we can all agree to the important safety amendments contained in this bill both quickly and unanimously.
The bill is a step forward for Canadians, for safety and for the rail industry. With the agreement of the members today, we can take these steps together today, for a safe, reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system in Canada. The bill has been extensively debated over several years and has received wide support. I recommend that it be submitted to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for further discussion.
I urge all hon. members to give this important bill their unanimous support.