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House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was railway.

Topics

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not trying to make this an issue of partisanship. This is not about being partisan. This is about the facts, and the fact is that at the provincial level we are dealing with a myopic government that does not understand the need for investing in infrastructure. It thinks it can just walk away and infrastructure will magically take care of itself. Its real message is that it figures it can just walk away from it and the people of northern Ontario will just shut up and take it, just as they are supposed to take it every time Queen's Park pulls out another service.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Timmins—James Bay. He certainly represents his riding quite well. I am sure his constituents are quite happy with the member.

The member referred to “Rick the anti-minister of northern Ontario Bartolucci”. He made the announcement about the cuts to Ontario Northland hundreds of kilometres away from Ontario Northland's headquarters. He made the announcement in Sudbury instead of North Bay.

Why does my colleague think this minister would make such an important announcement so far away from the headquarters of Ontario Northland?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. Before I go to the member for Timmins—James Bay, I would like to remind all hon. members that the matter before the House is Bill S-4, which deals with certain matters. I would encourage all hon. members to make their comments relevant to that, and the questions as well.

The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for that excellent intervention, because we are talking about rail safety, which means fundamental investment in order to ensure safety.

I do not want to talk about whether Mr. Bartolucci has invested in safety or not. I like the man; Rick is a good guy. However, he would not even come into the communities that are affected and are worried about rail safety.

I would invite Rick Bartolucci to come with me to North Bay, Englehart or especially Cochrane to see how well the McGuinty lack of investment in northern Ontario is going down.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough Southwest.

I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this matter as the NDP critic for high-speed rail between Quebec City and Windsor. The dream is eventually to connect with Detroit and Chicago. Rail provides our future with an incredible opportunity, and I will come back to that in a minute.

I want to note a number of important things with respect to Bill S-4 that are important in terms of jurisdictional changes in updating and modernizing the act. These changes are important not only in terms of Canada's overall economy but also in how they relate to people in our constituencies.

In relation to a rail issue taking place with CP right now, I would like to thank Mary Reaume and Mary Kavanaugh in Windsor. I am pleased as well to note Robert Taylor and Randy Marsh from CP and councillor Allan Hoberstadt and staff person Ian Bawden. These individuals have agreed to meet to work on a rail noise, vibration and flooding issue.

I would like to talk a little about that, because modernizing the act would provide a little more accountability, and hopefully more co-operation will take place with respect to rail issues.

We were able to get funding from the Let's Get Windsor-Essex Moving fund to separate a grade on Howard Avenue in Windsor. This is a fund for border infrastructure improvements. It is a very busy area, and there were a lot of issues with regard to pedestrians and with trucks and cars backing up.

A proper process was not in place or it was missed somehow in the planning process, and residents suffered repercussions when the grade separation took place. Consequently, residents living behind on Memorial Drive have been subjected to flooding, noise, vibration changes—a whole series of things. They have submitted a petition asking for a panel to look into this. I would like to thank those residents for their patience. Perhaps we can identify this with a meeting coming up.

It is important to note that rail was the birth of the country in many respects and is still important daily to our constituents. Companies need to be held accountable and changes have to take place.

We are going to see the macroeconomics of the importance of rail in the future with the opening of the Panama Canal. A lot of goods will be coming in through the Port of Montreal and Halifax. It is anticipated that a lot of these goods will be shipped on the rail system as we transfer them into the midwestern United States. That country does not have deep enough ports, and the ports are not as attractive as what we have on the east coast.

The safer railways act review is really important. I was a former transport critic, and we held many hearings at committee and looked at everything on this issue from safety management systems to the necessary infrastructure requirements. We have the romantic notion of rail being part of our past, but it is really going to be much more for our future.

It is important to note high-speed rail as well. The Railway Safety Act would modernize some of the issues with respect to high-speed rail, and that would be very important.

We all heard about how the recent tragic VIA incident took place. I wish to send my condolences to the families and to those who were injured.

The rest of the world is moving forward with investments in high-speed rail. Many G8 countries are doing that. Canada is the only G8 country that does not have high-speed rail. We are the only ones who have been left out of the equation. Modernizing the act is important, but at the same time we need funding allocation.

I have been working on the Quebec City to Chicago run. Last year I went to Michigan and met with officials of a department there. I wrote a letter to Kirk Steudle of the Michigan Department of Transportation inquiring about what is happening on the American side, because tens of millions of people live along the Quebec City-Chicago corridor. This would provide us with an opportunity for great urban planning as well as for improving the environment and bettering our economy.

I asked Mr. Steudle what his department is doing. He replied that improvements are being made that would eliminate a series of choke points, thereby relieving congestion and resulting in an increase in speed to a maximum of 110 miles per hour. The long-term vision also includes doubling the number of daily round trips in the Detroit-Chicago corridor.

There are rail tunnels that connect Canada and the United States. There are two in Windsor. We did have passenger rail between the United States and Canada through this corridor in the past. However, it stopped in the 1930s. We still have that infrastructure today available to us. It is exciting that the tunnel for passenger rail service is available again.

Improvements include: the Kalamazoo - Dearborn Service Development, for $200 million; the Ann Arbor Station Project; and the Midwest Corridor Regional Equipment Pool, where another $268.2 million was awarded to purchase 48 more passenger rail cars.

I want to quote Kirk Steudle, who was appointed director of the Department of Transportation for the state of Michigan. He states:

It is our understanding that the investments being made in high speed rail service in Michigan will prompt similar projects and studies in Canada, which would allow expansion of the high speed corridor from Chicago-Montreal. Improved and expanded service along this corridor will enhance our economic competitiveness,promote energy and environmental efficiency, and support interconnected communities by providing a more reliable passenger rail service.

MDOT looks forward to working closely with you to bring new investment to our region.

Sadly, I have seen the department of transportation on this side cut $200 million from VIA Rail. The United States is going in exactly the opposite direction. It sees the merit of this project. It is open to it and wants to connect to this corridor. It sees the bigger vision. Imagine, we could have Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, and maybe eventually extend the improvements to Ottawa. We could have good passenger rail service around this corridor. This would be an economic investment that is critical at this point in time.

I proposed what I think is a modest strategy similar to the Detroit corridor. The Minister of Transport could convene a special working group. It has been done before with the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council. I think it is important to lay out the strategy behind this. The CAPC model not only brought in the auto manufacturers, it also brought in the union, the dealers, the parts people, the tool and die/mould makers, the entire automotive chain. The CAPC laid out a business plan and a measurement system for how to deal with our auto sector.

Sadly, the government has not convened a major meeting of this kind in two or three or four years. It has only had some executive meetings. It is sad because that is a model that I could envision. I was hoping the minister would take that up and would bring in the cities.

I have had a chance to meet with Mayor Fontana of London. He is interested. The mayor of Quebec City is interested. The mayor of Windsor has been supportive. A number of municipalities would provide opportunity and guidance with regard to this project. Then, on top of that, we would have the railways, CP Rail, CN Rail and VIA Rail, and other groups that could look at the overall business plan with regard to passenger rail and rail issues. They could look at the things that are preventing some of the improvements from taking place, and get them out of the way.

The goal is, and this is what they are doing in Michigan, to improve the overall line. It is really critical to eliminate some of those things, whether they be separation grades or improvements to the lines so they can go faster. Michigan is buying some lines, and those municipalities will know the problems and weak spots. It would be very important for us to get them together and look at the costs and how we make the improvements. That would be a positive way to approach things.

Once I conclude, I really hope that the government and the minister rethink their decision and take advantage of this opportunity for economic development and environmental development along the corridor with Michigan. That would be a real benefit to all of us. It would be an economic issue championed by municipalities, the province and the federal government.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about looking at rapid transit and the potential of rapid transit in many of our municipalities. He highlighted one area where there is a great deal of support to move ahead and look at the possibilities, such as feasibility studies.

The bottom line is that for many of the municipalities we are talking about in that Toronto corridor, there is great merit.

I would ask the member, when looking at rail line safety, to look at the whole concept of a high-speed corridor. It is something that, ultimately, could even be incorporated into future amendments. We want to ensure that it is done in such a way that it preserves the integrity and safety of rail lines.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree, I think it can be. However, I think it becomes a larger issue. When looking at that corridor and high-speed rail, we could also be protecting, for example, farmland and other types of areas where there is urban sprawl. We would have development along the corridor through strong urban planning. It would become a natural attraction to live and work along the corridor, and use the corridor. For example, we can look at how many people now commute from Kitchener to Toronto.

Improving our rail safety, whether through the act or improvements for VIA passenger rail, would also improve our capabilities to protect our other infrastructure, such as the 400 highway system which gets pounded by excessive car and truck traffic. I would look to see the benefits there as well.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member opposite's intervention about high-speed rail. However, since Bill S-4 is about a safer railways act, I wonder if the member has any comments on the requirement for a rail operating certificate.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, no, I do not.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, Pensions; the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, Asbestos; the hon. member for Davenport, Housing.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for his tireless leadership on the rail issue, his involvement in the rail caucus and everything he does to try to improve rail and rail safety in the country.

It is certainly a shock that today a country as vast as Canada still does not have a high-speed rail link. We are even having trouble speaking about a higher speed rail, which would involve getting rid of level crossings in some of the corridors. This would help to improve rail safety.

With its far-flung population centres and vast land mass, Canada is unique in its geography. As such, our railways have always been an integral part of how we connect with each other across this massive country. Railways are not just a means of transportation, they tie us together at a much deeper level, as many of the speeches today have done, in particular, the member for Timmins—James Bay's speech just a while ago.

I know a great number of members in the House, myself included, rely on VIA Rail as a means to getting to and from our constituencies. In just the one year since I was elected I have already travelled over 25,000 kilometres on our rail network.

Railways are used every single day by thousands of people and it has been this way for hundreds of years now. The benefit of railways are clear. Trains are substantially more fuel efficient than motor vehicles when it comes to moving passengers, and especially cargo, over great distances. Of course, by potentially electrifying rail lines, greenhouse gas emissions could also be reduced in the coming years.

Despite the shortcomings of safety regulations, travelling by train is still roughly five times safer than using a car. It is still the main mode of transportation for Canadian goods. With 70% of all freight in our country shipped by rail, it is literally the backbone of our economy. Every interruption to our rail network comes at great cost to our economy. Rail lines provide crucial links to our biggest trade partner, the United States, and of course also connect to our ports in Halifax, Vancouver and Churchill, to provide access to important overseas markets for Canadian companies.

In large urban centres, commuting by rail is a vital component of our public transit networks, helping to get millions of Canadians to their workplaces every single day. VIA Rail connects to our country's most vibrant cities, carrying more than four million passengers a year. It could do a lot more with more government support.

The Railway Safety Act was implemented in 1989. It sets out a regulatory framework to address, for railways under federal jurisdiction, matters of safety, security and environmental impact. Transport Canada has noted that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since the act was amended in 1999. Operations have become increasingly complex and traffic is growing rapidly.

The department points out that in February 2007, the minister of transport, infrastructure and communities launched a full review of the operation and efficiency of the Railway Safety Act through an independent advisory panel. According to the department, the findings indicated that although the Railway Safety Act is fundamentally sound and efforts have been made to improve rail safety, more certainly needs to be done. The advisory panel's final report, Stronger Ties - A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety, published in November 2007, included 56 recommendations for the improvement of rail safety, some of which require further legislative changes to the Railway Safety Act. Then in 2008, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities issued its own report, which included an additional 14 recommendations.

On February 26, 2012, a VIA Rail train derailed in Burlington, Ontario, killing three VIA employees and injuring 42 passengers. We are still in the early stages of investigation but the indications would seem to suggest that speed and a lack of signals inside the train may have played a role. The crash reinforced what the NDP has long said, that although railways in Canada are relatively safe, tragic accidents can and do still occur. These preventable accidents should be avoided at all costs.

The federal government has a key role to play in the effort to make train travel safer. Federal initiatives, like Bill S-4, would go a long way toward making train travel safer for passengers and rail employees. However, other initiatives, like the NDP's call for positive train control and calls for the Conservatives to reverse their cuts to VIA Rail and transport safety programs, including rail safety, would also help to create a safer rail system.

While we applaud the eventual passage of Bill S-4, it is unacceptable that the bill and the important provisions it contains has taken so long. Now more than ever we need to see these changes realized. The NDP welcomes the bill and we see it as a step forward for Canada's rail safety. However, it is time for the Conservative government to take action and satisfy the long-standing demands from the independent experts at the Transportation Safety Board. More talk is not what we need. Action is what we want.

By the time the bill is passed, it will have been five years since the recommendations of those experts were first published. That is too long when making changes where safety is concerned. Canadians are demanding that we make the railway safer and we are more than happy to oblige.

We are happy to see the bill before the House, but it is a pity that it has not been a priority of the Conservative government, the government that likes to boast that it is the champion of the safety of Canadians. Let it try to say that to the families and victims of the derailment in Burlington, or to the families who lost their homes in St-Charles-de-Bellechasse in 2010.

The safety of Canadians is important. The bill is needed for railway workers, passengers on the trains and people who live near railway lines. It is also important to our economy, as I said before. Every disruption to the rail network potentially affects millions of dollars worth of goods and time.

The government likes to advocate for smaller government and for getting the government out of everyone's business. Large oil companies and their employees, the shippers that use the rail lines, citizens who live near the railways and passengers who travel by train would all disagree. They understand that government does have a role to play. It has a role to play as a regulator and protector to ensure the safety of all Canadians. It is a shame that it has taken the Conservative government so long to provide this measure that would ensure safety is enhanced, and it could go further.

Unfortunately, in the ideological zeal of the government, safety and well-being are often left to free market forces to decide. The government expects industry to regulate itself, but that rarely happens and so unnecessary accidents and tragedies occur.

I would like to now focus on some propositions we have made since the bill was introduced.

The first proposition from our party is that the government should not cut safety from its budget. The upcoming budget would cut money that could go toward safety. The parliamentary secretary mentioned that the amount of money spent on something should not be the measure of its effectiveness. Yet the people who enforce safety regulations and who have developed new safety systems need to be paid. They need to be remunerated for their work and it is not work that anybody can do. It takes experts to do this work. We cannot shortchange them. Nor can we cut corners in this area. When corners are cut on safety, we see the results. People who work in the transportation sector say that it jeopardizes safety. The government cannot say it defends safety on the one hand and then cut safety with the other.

We also ask that the proposed cuts of $200 million to VIA Rail be reversed. VIA Rail has challenges and it needs to implement certain systems.

The NDP would like positive train control implemented in Canada. It was done in the United States. In California there was a tragic accident in 2008 and the leaders decided that positive train control should become part of the system. There are positive benefits to implementing it. Yes, it is costly, but there are companies in Canada that contribute to this technology. Therefore, investing in this technology to improve safety would also be an investment in our economy. It would stimulate the innovators who contribute to positive train control and other technologies that make our railways safer.

We would also like to see voice recorders in locomotives. This would help to find out what happened when things went wrong. When there is an accident, it is in the interest of everyone to find out the full story of what happened so things can be improved in the future.

We must always be vigilant in working to ensure that we never take our hands off and that we are always working to ensure that life becomes safer for Canadians as they travel, going about doing their business and contributing to the economy.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good point in terms of how frequent we should be looking at railway safety and bringing in legislation necessary to make changes. The last time it was done, prior to this bill, which is yet to pass, would have been during Jean Chrétien's era back in 1999. A great deal has changed since then.

The Conservatives have dropped the ball. Given the type of support that the bill has received, there is no reason why this legislation did not get passed years ago. Many of the measures being proposed were in fact known and well-established even a few years ago.

How often should the bill be reviewed? Should it be reviewed every four or five years? Does the member have any thoughts on that?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that it had taken a little while. As I said in my speech, it has taken five years from the time the recommendations came out to the point we are now with this bill. With the support from all sides, one wonders if it could have passed in a minority Parliament that existed for the last several years, and I think it would have. It probably would have been one of those bills that all sides of the House could have looked to proudly and said, “This is how minority governments work when we work together”. Unfortunately it was not a priority for the government and it did not happen.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill was in the last Parliament and I will point out that the NDP did not have much zeal to pass the bill at that particular time, but it did have zeal to cause an election that caused the bill to die.

To the issue of voice recorders, and I know the member has raised the issue, unions have been clear that they have some difficulties with the idea of voice recorder technology being implemented on trains precisely because the issue has not been settled at this point about who would have access to the voice recorders. The point is well taken that voice recorders can have some positive impact.

However, is the member suggesting that the government should make a decision that the other partners in rail safety, the unions and the companies, have not arrived at a solution on yet? Is he suggesting the government should move ahead with that right now and mandate the technology, or should he wait until the working group has first resolved that issue so the government can then move ahead on it?

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest the government take a vastly different approach than it is taking with practically every other labour issue that has come up since the Conservatives were elected in May 2011. We look at the workers at Canada Post and at Air Canada. The government shows absolutely no respect for labour and for labour agreements that have been negotiated. Therefore, we would say that the negotiations have to take place, we have to treat all of the stakeholders and parties with respect and come to an agreement on the issue.

We have voice recorders in airplanes. We can certainly implement them in a way that respects all sides and where that information would only be used in the strictest of circumstances, and privacy laws would apply.

Breach of Privacy AllegationsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to respond to the question of privilege raised yesterday by my hon. colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie.

To begin with, I thank my colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the House leader of the official opposition, for having risen yesterday, as well as the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, who, despite being unfamiliar with the facts, also spoke.

Without further ado, I want to offer my sincerest apologies to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie for the loss of the items that were intended for him. The mistake was entirely mine and I unequivocally acknowledge this now. I wish to make amends to the member as soon as possible. I also want to say that despite the comments made by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, it was an honest mistake, made in good faith.

The incident occurred more than two months ago now. I learned about it last Thursday, when my assistant informed me of an email received from a member of the staff of the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie who had contacted my office to inquire about a lost parcel.

After personally conducting all the checks—I even went back to my riding office in Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord to inquire about the entire incident—I can confirm that it was indeed an honest mistake, made without malice or any intent to harm or cause prejudice to another person. I repeat: it was an unfortunate mistake for which I accept full responsibility.

The facts are as follows: the parcel in question, which was addressed to my colleague but mistakenly delivered to my office, was opened by a member of my staff who failed to notice that the parcel was not addressed to me and did not take the trouble to verify the addressee. As my colleagues know, we all receive many letters and parcels, and as everyone will understand, not every piece of mail is necessarily examined carefully. However, that is no excuse.

I also note that the email referred to by my hon. colleague may have added to the confusion. It read, and I quote, "We received the parcel on the member's behalf." The member in question was me. A member of my staff still believed, until yesterday, that the parcel had been addressed to me.

The objects in the package were mistaken for promotional items, such as we all receive at our offices and do not always know what to do with. I usually distribute those kinds of items to the people of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. Unfortunately, that is what happened to the items addressed to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

I note in passing that the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie never tried to contact me directly to clarify the matter. The first time he addressed me was in the House on a matter of privilege. I believe this misunderstanding could have been resolved more quickly if he had reached me directly at the earliest opportunity.

Whatever the case may be, I admit that I am entirely at fault in this matter, but I deny any suggestion that this was a wilful act committed out of pettiness or spite. I formally apologize to the member and to the charity affected by this misunderstanding.

To show my willingness to make amends, I formally undertake before this House to pay all costs incurred to rectify the situation. I also promise to make a personal donation to the charity those items were supposed to benefit.

Breach of Privacy AllegationsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair thanks the hon. member for that and I believe this may bring this matter to a close.

Breach of Privacy AllegationsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, although I appreciate the sentiments that have been offered by the member, I know the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie was quite concerned, as was the Liberal caucus, in regard to it. I would like to take this opportunity to advise the Speaker that at some point I believe the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie might want to provide additional comment.

Concern was expressed yesterday in regard to the contents of the package which, from what I understood, was toy shuttles meant for a fundraiser for children. I think people can make the association of it being a shuttle, given the former background of the Liberal House leader.

At this point, I would suggest that we leave it for the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie to report back. We believe it is of a fairly serious nature. It involves not only the opening, but also the consuming of the contents of a package, as opposed to opening it, finding out that it is not ours and then returning it. That would have been more understandable as an innocent event.

I would like to continue to leave the matter open. Let us wait for the Liberal House leader to respond to the member's statement.

Breach of Privacy AllegationsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before others rise on the same point of order, maybe the House could agree that the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie ought to have the opportunity to review the statement made a few moments ago and, if he feels it necessary to further pursue the matter, that it would be left to him rather than to others in this place.

The hon. member for Welland on the same point of order.

Breach of Privacy AllegationsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, in hearing my colleagues I can appreciate the comments of the member for Winnipeg North.

However, Mr. Speaker, after we had heard the member speak, I heard you say that closes the matter. Therefore to be fair, I believe my colleague from Winnipeg Centre was really no longer involved in the point that the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie was talking about. It seems at that point in time this becomes a matter of debate because clearly you had said after the intervention by my colleague that you felt, from the Chair, that this matter was now settled. Therefore I would suggest that perhaps this matter is now settled.

Breach of Privacy AllegationsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair would like to reiterate what I said a couple of minutes ago, which was that I think the best course forward is to allow the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie to review the statement that was made, and that the hon. member has the right, at any time, to bring forward a point of privilege in this place, and that rather than members speaking on behalf of others, we could proceed and we will see where this takes us. We will put it in that context.

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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 third time and passed.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for your intervention, which I found very fair.

With respect to Bill S-4 and rail safety in Canada, this bill is certainly of interest to my constituents. We have a railway that is over 100 years old. It has an unusual history that I will share with my colleagues in a moment or two.

On the one hand, the government says that it wants to improve rail safety in Canada, but on the other, it wants to privatize Canadian railways. I do not know how the government can square those two objectives without considering the fact that Canadians railways have been neglected and have deteriorated to the point that rail service to some of the regions has been cancelled.

We have been waiting quite some time for a bill of this scope that can improve rail safety. However, we must also work together to ensure that our railways do not deteriorate. A railway's safety cannot be assured if the rail line itself has deteriorated to the point where trains can no longer travel on it.

In Canada, for instance, two railways have deteriorated to such an extent that trains no longer use them. I am referring to the Malahat railway on Vancouver Island and the Baie-des-Chaleurs railway, which no longer travel on the rail lines. This is precisely because the railways were left to deteriorate to the point where passenger safety could no longer be guaranteed and commercial goods could no longer be transported on these rail lines.

Some communities are now in a precarious situation because they depended on the railway, the tourism it created and the goods it transported. These communities no longer have access to the railway because the government drags its heels when it comes time to ensure the safety of the railway. The communities affected by these deteriorations are now in dire straits. They are no longer able to do what the Conservative government is proposing that they do and that is to take over. Remote communities are told not to worry because they can restore the railway themselves. There are also told that legislation will be passed once they have finished restoring the railway.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that I would be sharing my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, if I may.

The bill the Senate is proposing today on improving the safety of our railway is meaningless if the railway has deteriorated and the means are not in place to restore it. By the way, I am a little disappointed in everything the Senate proposes, regardless of the bill, but that is another issue.

The Conservatives would have us believe that privatization is the answer to just about all Canada's problems, but this privatization will not work.

In the Gaspé, a consulting firm was hired to assess the condition of our railway and to determine what it would take to restore it. The cost of upgrading our railway was estimated to be $93 million. The government is saying that the municipalities in the Gaspé are supposed to find $93 million to repair their railway. That does not work. They cannot do it.

Furthermore, the government sold them on a project in 2006 when it told them that their section of the railway would be privatized, the ownership transferred to the municipalities and a co-operative of municipalities would be created and would be responsible for the work to be done. At the time, CN and its allies did not conduct a real assessment of the government's needs and trotted out any old figure.

They said it would cost $19 million to restore our railway. That was not the case. Today, five years later, we see that $93 million is required. There is a $73 million deficit to make up in order to restore our railway. We asked the Conservatives whether they were prepared to help us improve our railway, and the answer we got was total silence. We got no answer.

The communities in the Gaspé, and it is apparently the same on Vancouver Island, depend on their railway. It is a job creator and a wealth generator. It is worth a lot more than the $93 million that has to be found in order to restore it. It creates jobs and it means that tourists can come to our region and spend money. It makes it possible for new businesses to set up and have a safe and effective shipping service. But we do not have the money to restore it.

We want to get serious and enact a bill that says safety is the primary concern. Safety is important, but people still have to be able to use the railway. But it has closed down. I am very happy for this bill to be passed, but the railways outside the major centres are going to be left behind, and that is not going to change. They are going to continue to deteriorate. The government has privatized them. It no longer believes in railways for remote regions and it is abandoning them.

Now it is deciding to focus only on railways in urban areas. I am very happy about that, but even there, the Conservative government is abandoning us. Certainly there is no money in places outside urban areas. The Conservatives are not prepared to give us a hand. We do not have the money to hire people ourselves and buy the resources that are needed to improve our railway.

I would like to give the House an idea of how the railway stands in the Gaspé. The railway network in the Gaspé is a section that is unique in Canada. It is 202 miles long, and it is probably the section with the most bridges anywhere in Canada over the same distance. There are 93 bridges in 202 miles. That is why our railway is so expensive. It has been let go and our bridges have been allowed to deteriorate. That is why we have no VIA Rail service today. We have a “VIA Bus”.

The railway in the Gaspé is supposed to be class 3 track. Trains are not supposed to exceed 45 mph, which is about 70 km/h. At present, trains go over some bridges at 5 mph. That is why VIA Rail no longer wants to go there, because it has become ridiculous. Not only do the trains travel at 5 mph, but they cannot brake on the bridges. If they do, even at 5 mph, the bridge could collapse. This is really very disturbing. It is very important that money be invested so the railway is brought up to standard.

It is all well and good to pass legislation that is, in theory, very useful to Canadians, but if the Conservatives are not prepared to allocate the appropriate resources, at the end of the day, this bill is worthless. This bill is more theoretical than anything else. It needs to go much further than what the Conservatives are proposing. We need a real national transportation plan, a plan that improves transportation for Canadians and that sees it as a given that the environment must be protected, in short, a green plan. That is what we need, a cost-effective plan that generates jobs and wealth.

For the time being, I do see that happening. I am waiting for the Conservatives to propose something appropriate.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to finally see the rail safety bill at this stage. I know that it has been many years and many people, including members of our party, have fought to pass this legislation. We know It is not perfect but anything that makes rails safer for our workers and passengers can never be a bad thing.

As we do have some time to speak to this bill, it is important to highlight some of the issues that are missing in the legislation for the future. This bill is an important first step that everyone wants to see but it is not the final one.

The Transportation Safety Board has had a wish list for some time, and it should come as no surprise that one of the safety issues needed is positive train control. This will improve both passenger and freight trains. Voice recorders are essential on airplanes and naval ships but not on trains. Without voice recorders, we have a hard time knowing exactly what went wrong. The TSB has been clear about this since 2003 and it is now 2012.

Did we leave this out of the rail safety bill because the United States does not have this regulation? That is what we heard in the committee. Is the government afraid of creating a regulation that will keep our people safe just because the Americans do not have the same rules as we do?

Every time there is an accident, we do not know what happened. We cannot get to the bottom of it because there are no voice recordings. The voice recorders are essential to train safety. They should be reviewed by independent safety experts so that the employees do not feel that they are only in place to spy on them in their place of work. The minister has supported the idea of voice recorders on trains, as does the Department of Transport.

When this law is passed, it will be important to continue to move on rail safety to ensure every Canadian is protected. It will put more emphasis on safety management systems, or SMS. This is not a bad thing when we first look at it. SMS provides a nice check when it comes to ensuring that all the safety inspections are done. However, I do have a worry, not with the concept but with the implementation.

The bill's amendments have allowed for a discussion between employers and their union in the development and implementation of SMS. This is a good thing. I sit on the committee for transport, infrastructure and communities and I have the Dorval Airport in my riding. So I get to see many transport issues.

SMS has been implemented in the airline industry and, if they are working properly, they are a great thing. What has been happening, however, is that the safety management system takes over the job of real inspectors. The workers have alerted us that they have less access to planes since the takeover of safety management systems.

With the passage of this bill, we, as legislators, must always be aware of the problems with implementation. There is little sense in creating unnecessary regulations that only detract from rail safety.

As I will repeat several times for the benefit of my colleagues, the companies and the workers, this bill must be passed but we must remain vigilant to the problems that could arise. We cannot rely too much on the paper checks. Safety management systems cannot be used to take jobs away from workers. That would comprise safety and defeat the purpose.

The bill does not mandate research and development which could be helpful in creating new ways to make rail even safer. Although it is nice to see that the bill will encourage introduction and use of new technologies under the rules, it still comes down to implementing positive train control which all sides agree will be a good idea, employers and workers alike.

Railway companies can be forced to implement positive train control today under the act, so I trust that we will come together in this House and ensure that we improve the safety of our trains even more.

Finally, we will get to see punishment for those companies that break the law. The only possibility for punishment for these offending companies was prosecution. That method of punishment takes so much time and costs a lot of money to the taxpayers, which makes it basically ineffective for many violations. Civil aviation and varying modes of transportation already have monetary punishments for violators, which have given those industries extra tools to improve compliance.

Now we are bringing in punishment for offenders who violate the act. Punishment is not the only way to improve safety. We must ensure that the trains have all the safety features they need.

After many years and many passages through this House, it is time to do the right thing and pass this into law. My speech is to remind all of us that this is just a first step and not the end of the race. Rail safety is something serious and should be taken seriously. We must work together on protecting all Canadians. I look forward to the passage of the bill.

Safer Railways ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I did catch the beginning of the member's comments when she indicated that her party would support this. She would like to see the bill ultimately moved forward but thought that it could have been done at an earlier time.

I think most Canadians recognize and share the concerns that all parties have expressed in terms of seeing this particular bill passed because we recognize the importance of rail line safety.

Does the member anticipate that the bill will pass today or at what point in the future?