House of Commons Hansard #139 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was csis.


Protection of Canada from Terrorists ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the opportunity to share with members some of my personal thoughts and to express some thoughts and ideas from the Liberal Party.

It goes without saying that Canadians have a burning desire to see security measures in place that will allow them to feel safe in the communities in which they live, whether it is here in the parliamentary precinct or in communities throughout the country.

On that note, it would be a mistake not to pay tribute to all those individuals who put in the effort to make us safe. Whether it is the intelligence officers of CSIS, the RCMP, border patrols, or other policing agencies, there are so many individuals who play a proactive role in ensuring that we have a sense of security. I wanted to express my appreciation for that.

It is not easy to provide a 100% guarantee that Canada will never have to endure a terrorist attack. What we can do is work hard to prevent one, wherever possible, and adequately support the different agencies. In particular, today we are focusing on CSIS.

We can bring in new legislation, but at the end of the day, legislation is only one aspect. We have to challenge the government to ensure that it is putting in other types of resources to support the different agencies that are there to protect us. Whether the government is in fact doing enough can at times be called into question.

This is really the first opportunity I have had to comment on what we all experienced just a couple of weeks ago. In the days that followed, I happened to be on a flight to Ukraine. Whether it was at the airport in Frankfurt or in Ukraine itself, I saw our beautiful Parliament buildings on the news. What took place a couple of weeks ago made international news, as many people around the world were quite concerned about what was taking place in Canada. Constituents, family, and friends at the time also expressed a great deal of interest and concern and offered their prayers and best wishes.

As has been pointed out, from Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers all the way down, people did a phenomenal job, and they should all be applauded for their efforts in ensuring that there was minimal impact because of what took place.

We have heard some amazing speeches. There were political speeches from leaders and others who paid tribute to Corporal Cirillo, who ultimately made a sacrifice that has reached into the hearts and minds of all Canadians. I raise that because I want to put it in the context of Bill C-44.

The bill would do nothing to address the national security concerns related to the events in Quebec and Ottawa a couple of weeks ago. It would simply amend the present legislation to meet current CSIS practices and would expedite the CIC amendments in Bill C-24.

The government needs to explain why the provisions already in place in the Criminal Code have not been utilized in response to those individuals who represent a threat to this country.

The sections of the Criminal Code in question are section 83.181, relating to the laying of charges against an individual attempting to leave Canada to participate in terrorist activities; section 83.3, which could be used to place recognizance with conditions on those suspected of terrorist activities; and section 810, relating to peace bonds and possible detention.

I was intrigued by some of the discussions. One of the most interesting statements I came across was from the Minister of Public Safety on October 8 at the public safety committee. This is in regard to the 80 individuals who returned to Canada after having travelled abroad to take part in terrorism-related activities. This is what the minister stated to parliamentarians and Canadians at committee:

Let me be clear that these individuals posing a threat to our security at home have violated Canadian law.... These dangerous individuals, some skilled and desiring to commit terrorist activity, pose a serious threat to law-abiding Canadians.

This begs a number of questions with respect to whether we are acting on the current legislation that has been passed.

What would Bill C-44 actually do? There are three things I can detect. First, there would be protection for informants. I can appreciate why that would be necessary. Second, it would provide more clarity on the need for warrants. CSIS needs to investigate, and this legislation would provide more clarity with respect to warrants from judges to complete those investigations. Third is the issue of dual citizens. The House voted on this not that long ago, and it is being expedited.

The government needs to be aware of what is missing, and that is oversight. Oversight was mentioned today in questions.

In an hour, we will be voting on Bill C-622, an important piece of legislation. Bill C-622 was introduced by my colleague from Vancouver Quadra. She has done a wonderful job in recognizing the importance of parliamentary oversight. The government has been negligent on this issue, and I do not say that lightly.

What the member from Vancouver Quadra is asking of the government is already being done and is in place for our Five Eyes partners. In Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom, it is already being done. They have recognized the value of having parliamentarians provide oversight.

I do not understand why the government is resisting that idea. This is not necessarily the first time, but it is definitely an opportune time for the government to recognize that the House of Commons and parliamentarians as a whole do have a role to play.

We hope that the Prime Minister will allow for an open vote on this issue. I would encourage the government to reflect, to seriously consider the benefits of accepting what the member for Vancouver Quadra, the Liberal Party defence critic, has put on the table for us today, and to vote for parliamentary oversight.

Oversight would go a long way in providing peace of mind, in many different ways. Oversight is a good way to ensure the protection of the rights of all Canadians. It is in our best interest, I would argue.

Parliamentary oversight is not just a Liberal Party proposal. As has been pointed out, our other partnering nations have already done this. Why would the government not respond in kind and recognize the value of oversight?

We in opposition recognize how important it is to provide protection for informants. It only stands to reason that there would be protection of informants, who provide critical, valuable information when a CSIS agent is doing an investigative report or conducting an investigation into the potential for some form of a terrorist act here in Canada or abroad. We have to depend on informants.

I have no sense of the actual number of informants out there, but I do understand and appreciate the need for us to protect them. In looking at this piece of legislation, we see that protection as a positive thing.

In terms of warrants and the need for warrants, again this concern does not come from any individual political party. Based on the discussions and comments I have heard here this afternoon and even previously, it seems there is virtual unanimity in recognizing how important it is that we provide additional clarity to CSIS as an organization and in terms of the role of warrants in ensuring that investigations are conducted in a proper fashion. There is an understanding that unusual circumstances come into play when terrorist activities and organizations are investigated.

As a whole, Canadians are very much aware of what terrorism is all about. We understand and appreciate that we are living in a very different world. Through the Internet and all forms of media outlets, we know there is a much higher sense of awareness. It is there and it is very real.

That, I believe, is one of the reasons that Canadians expect the Government of Canada to do what it can to ensure that they have a sense of security in the communities where they live, and I suggest many of my colleagues would concur. However, at the same time, there is an expectation that we will demonstrate leadership at the international level.

In bringing forward legislation such as we have before us today, it is very important that we consult with the different stakeholders and ensure that the legislation is, in many ways, a bit more inclusive in terms of having the right balance. I am not convinced that we have the right balance here. That is why, in my last 15 or 20 seconds, I would ask the government to recognize the importance that parliamentarians have when it comes to ensuring that Canadians feel much safer in their communities. Parliamentarians need to be, and should be, more engaged in the process. Whether it is oversight or whether it is parliamentary committees, we can make a difference.

Protection of Canada from Terrorists ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Winnipeg North will have three and a half minutes remaining for his comments when the House next resumes debate on the motion and, of course, the usual 10 minutes for questions and comments.

CSEC Accountability and Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:53 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-622 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #270

CSEC Accountability and Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion defeated.

The House resumed from November 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-597, An Act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Holidays ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-597.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #271

Holidays ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

(Bill read a second time and referred to committee.)

Holidays ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 6:43 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

moved that Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely honoured to open the debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act, regarding safety of persons and property.

The bill proposes amendments to the Railway Safety Act that would help ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.

I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that rail safety is an issue that matters to them. As the servant of Winnipeg South Centre, I chose to use my private member's bill to achieve greater rail safety in the constituency with the happy consequence that all Canadians across this great country would be safer and more secure because of my bill.

This is why I ask all of my colleagues in the House to support my bill. When I say “all of my colleagues”, I mean my colleagues from every party and my colleagues representing every Canadian. It is all of these colleagues from whom I seek support.

The amendments I propose to the Railway Safety Act would give additional powers to the Minister of Transport to intervene, when required, to help better ensure the safety of Canadian citizens, their property and our communities. My proposed legislation seeks to empower railway safety inspectors so that they may quickly intervene to restrict the use of unsafe works and equipment, and to forbid or restrict unsafe crossings and road crossings.

This is a very important issue to me, because in my riding I have been receiving a number of calls from my constituents about the condition of some rail crossings. This led me to take action. I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that rail safety is a vital issue to Winnipeg South Centre and to Canadians everywhere.

I want our crossings to be safe for a child riding a bike, to be safe for a senior on a motorized wheelchair and to be safe for a family out for a stroll or bike ride together. I want our crossings to be safe for vehicles and not, as has recently been the case, have wood planks fly up and hit vehicles as they drive over a crossing area even at very limited speeds.

Rail crossings criss-cross my riding, and the safety of them can be enhanced. This bill is a bill about prevention. The essence of the bill is to solve problems before they occur.

When I was first considering this issue, I approached officials at Transport Canada to find out if such provisions already existed. To my surprise, they did not. When I then approached the minister to seek her support for my bill, she indicated that she always welcomed such measures to improve rail safety in our communities.

My proposed regulation would improve safety at federally regulated grade crossings, including approximately 14,000 public and 9,000 private grade crossings along 42,650 kilometres of federally regulated tracks in Canada.

I think it is important to give a little background on what has already been done to achieve rail safety in Canada by my government.

On October 29, the Minister of Transport announced Transport Canada's response to the final Transportation Safety Board recommendations on rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods.

Transport Canada has taken and continues to take meaningful and timely action to improve railway safety and the safe transportation of dangerous goods by rail. Transport Canada is committed to ensuring that the Canadian railway system is safe. Transport Canada continues to work with stakeholders very closely to protect the safety of all Canadians.

Our thoughts and prayers will always remain with those people of Lac-Mégantic who were so affected by last year's tragic accident. Immediately following the derailment, the Government of Canada took very decisive action to enhance the safety and integrity of Canada's rail system. We will continue to implement each and every recommendation made by the TSB in its report on this incident.

Transport Canada has accepted and is committed to implementing all the recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board in its final report. In fact, effective immediately, Transport Canada is requiring railway companies to meet standardized requirements for handbrake application and to put into effect physical defences to secure trains.

It is increasing oversight by recruiting additional staff to carry out more frequent oversight through audits and creating processes for increased information sharing with municipalities. It is conducting further research on crude oil properties, behaviour and hazards, and is launching targeted inspection campaigns to verify the classification of rail shipments. Finally, it is requiring certain railways, including short lines, to submit training plans to Transport Canada for review, and is conducting an audit blitz of short lines to determine specific training gaps.

These measures would further strengthen Canada's railway system and the transportation of dangerous goods by rail.

The department would continue to work with the Transportation Safety Board to do all it can to maintain and enhance the safety of Canada's railways and the railway system. By announcing these measures, Transport Canada is being proactive in developing concrete solutions in a timely manner to further strengthen Canada's railway system and safety.

My proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act seek to give additional powers to the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors so that they may intervene when required in order to better ensure the safety of citizens, property and communities.

Additionally, this proposed legislation seeks to empower railway inspectors so that they may quickly intervene to restrict the use of unsafe works and equipment, and to forbid or restrict the use of unsafe crossing works and road crossings.

Our government takes the safety of Canadians and the Canadian railway system very seriously and is committed to ensuring that appropriate levels of safety are maintained. We have invested $60 million to support response and recovery efforts, and committed $95 million for decontamination and remediation efforts.

Furthermore, our government took very decisive action to address the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations, and this past April, directed Transport Canada to remove the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from service, require the DOT-111 tank cars that do not meet certain safety standards to be phased out within three years, and require emergency response assistance plans for even a single tank car, which is carrying crude oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel or ethanol.

We created a task force that brings municipalities, first responders, railways and shippers together to strengthen emergency response capacity across the country, and we require railway companies to reduce the speed of trains carrying dangerous goods and implement other key operating practices.

We have issued a protective direction directing rail companies to share information with municipalities. We recognize the responsibilities of all parties involved in maintaining safe railway transportation in Canada, and our government remains committed to two-way dialogue and information exchange with key transportation stakeholders in communities across Canada.

The health and safety of Canadians is a priority for our government. We announced a directive that would ensure that all crude oil being transported is properly tested and classified and that results are sent to Transport Canada. This provides Transport Canada with an additional means to monitor industry compliance and focus our efforts for the greatest safety benefits for all Canadians.

Our government has completed more than 30,000 rail safety inspections in one year alone, invested more than $100 million in our rail safety system, continued to hire more inspectors, increased the fines for companies found to be breaking our regulations, and created whistle-blower protection for employees who raise safety concerns, as well as requiring each railway to have an executive who is legally responsible for safety.

Earlier this year, as part of rail safety week, our government marked the occasion by investing $9.2 million in improvements to over 600 grade crossings across our country. Our government has also proposed new regulations that would improve safety at rail crossings by establishing comprehensive and enforceable safety standards for the grade crossings, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of railway companies and road authorities, and also ensuring safety information is shared between the railway companies and road authorities.

Members might think that with all of those actions taken by this government, a seemingly exhaustive list, we would be done. However, I want to do more to build upon that momentum. They are all positive systemic actions and directives taken to ensure railway operational safety. My bill is really a bill focused on the security and safety of people. I believe it is very complementary to actions already taken by our government to enhance rail safety.

In the course of preparing my bill, I reached out and spoke to many individuals and organizations. They include a great number of constituents in my riding of Winnipeg South Centre who voiced their concerns with safety at rail crossings in our community. I was very proud to bring together the private sector, law enforcement, various levels of government and unions to enhance the safety of all Canadians. It is apparent to me from the conversations I have had that all stakeholders in this industry want to have exceptional safety records.

My private member's bill is designed to assist in expediting the quick resolution of safety issues encountered at crossings, all in order to ensure the safety of the public. This is always our number-one priority, and it is my number-one priority.

I am very proud to be part of this government and contribute to the service of this nation. I am equally proud of the work that has already been done by my government on rail safety, and I am happy to present this private member's bill to further enhance the safety of people, particularly at rail crossings in our communities. I am asking my colleagues on all sides of the House for their support of my private member's bill, Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act, regarding safety of persons and property.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg South Centre for her speech and her bill.

She mentioned that rail safety is very important and that is why she introduced this bill. She spoke at length about what the government has done with regard to rail safety.

I would like her comment on the budget that the Conservative government has allocated to rail safety. In 2012, it was $38 million. In 2013, it was $34 million—which is already a reduction of $4 million—and last year it was $33 million. The budget for rail safety has therefore been reduced by nearly $5 million.

To make matters worse, $3 million set aside for level crossings has not been spent. A program that exists to get things done with regard to—

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport is rising on a point of order.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly hope that since we are debating a private member's bill, Bill C-627, the question would be relevant to the particular bill in question and what it proposes to do. I appreciate that the member has questions for the government, but those are to be asked in a different venue.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I admit I was listening to the question in French and while I am not 100% there, I followed the question and it seems that it will have relevance in respect to the subject area that is proposed by the bill. I will let the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie finish his question and I am sure that it will probably address the issue that is before the House, and then we will ask the hon. member to respond.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary should have listened to his colleague's speech. My question is directly related.

The government is reducing the amount of money allocated and not spending the money budgeted for rail safety, especially when it comes to level crossings, which are very important in this bill because that is what the bill seeks to improve.

I would like my colleague's reaction to the government's actions, particularly with regard to the change she proposed to subsection 4(4) of the Railway Safety Act.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my very hon. colleague for the question.

I must first assure my colleague that my bill entitled An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property) is a bill that I am very proud of.

As far as our government's actions are concerned, this year alone it invested $9.2 million in improving more than 600 level crossings, to mark the occasion of rail safety week. My bill has to do with all the other level crossings.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member for her bill. The bill purports to give additional powers to the minister and to inspectors for an important issue like grade level railway crossings. We had a terrible accident recently here in my home town of Ottawa where a double-decker bus, unfortunately, collided with a train which led to the deaths of several Ottawa citizens and injuries to others.

The problem I am having with the notion of empowering the government and the minister further is that the real gap here, the lacuna, the problem that all parties have identified is not power. It is inspectors; it is capacity. It is actually being able to ensure that the standards we have in place are being enforced and audited. I will come back to this during my speech shortly.

Are we not better off to fight for additional resources, given for example that this year we are spending more money on economic action plan advertising of $42 million, than we are on rail safety?

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the reality of my bill is that it is plugging a gap in our regulatory system. This is an important preventive measure. In my view, we do not want to wait for a child on a bicycle to be caught in a crossing. We do not want to wait for a senior citizen, on an electronically operated wheelchair, to be caught at a railway crossing. We do not want to have a family of five cross a railway and only have four make it.

We want to prevent those problems and that is the essence of my bill.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

November 5th, 2014 / 7 p.m.


Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague opposite once more for her speech and for introducing Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property).

As the official opposition critic, I am very pleased to be a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. We have had and continue to have the privilege of examining in detail everything to do with rail safety. In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, this is clearly a very important file for Canadians, especially since they are asking to be better informed and they want to know what the government is doing to ensure their safety.

I will go back to the bill. As I mentioned, the bill amends the Railway Safety Act. As my colleague said, it authorizes the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors to order a railway company or the owner of a crossing—for example, a level crossing—to do certain work, not only when rail safety is threatened, but also when the safety of persons and property is threatened.

I want to say right now that we will support the bill at second reading. At its core, this bill is designed to improve rail safety. I listened to what the member said, but we still have some questions about how the bill will be enforced and what it will do, in particular. One of our questions has to do with why these changes were proposed. That is something I was going to ask the member before my colleague opposite interrupted me.

The member said that the amendments to subsections 31(1) to 31(3) would improve rail safety because it would include the safety of persons or property. However, as I was going to ask her, subsection 4(4) of the Railway Safety Act already provides that in determining whether something constitutes a “threat to safe railway operations”, consideration must be given “not only to the safety of persons and property transported by railways but also to the safety of other persons and other property”.

We will surely have the opportunity to study these issues in committee, but it does not seem as though the bill would change much in the act itself.

I listened closely to the bill sponsor's speech. From what I heard, she spoke more about what the government has or has not done than about the bill. It is relatively straightforward in comparison to the government's omnibus bills. It is about five pages long.

Once again, if the bill is referred to committee after second reading, we should be proposing some changes and asking some questions. It seems as though she chose to use certain terms instead of others, which could have an impact on environmental protection. It does not make much sense.

Getting back to public safety and level crossings, it is true that people's safety is important. During the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, I was the deputy critic of the NDP, the official opposition. After the tragedy, I travelled across Quebec as part of a railway safety consultation to hear what people had to say. We also wanted to hear what mayors and elected municipal officials had to say on the subject. This is a very important issue when we consider all of the communities, even downtown areas, through which trains travel. We need to ask questions, especially when it comes to level crossings.

When I asked the member that question, I briefly mentioned that the government said it was making progress on rail safety and that this is very important, especially in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. However, the fact is that the rail safety budget was cut by $5 million between 2012 and last year. Every year, the rail safety budget shrinks. The most ironic thing is that, in this case, we are talking about level crossings.

The government has a plan for level crossings, but the money allocated to that plan is not being spent. There was $3 million left over that was supposed to have been spent on improving level crossings.

We asked the government about that in the House, and it gave us a number of reasons. When I toured around talking to people about rail safety, elected officials told us that the program existed, but that it was hard to get funding from it. I wonder if the government makes these funding announcements with the full intention of making it very hard for anyone to actually get the money.

When I went to Verchères on Montreal's south shore and to Montreal, I attended a meeting where I talked with various municipal elected officials. My colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie was there too. They told us that the program exists, but that they had a hard time getting information and funding.

One of the problems that keeps coming up again and again inside and outside the House is the government's way of doing things, even though it says that rail safety is very important. I must admit, the government has taken action since the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, but could it have taken action sooner? Yes, it could. Can it do more? Yes, it can.

The budget does not seem to contain any measures to ensure that Transport Canada and rail safety organizations have the tools, training and resources needed to ensure public safety. Unfortunately, the budget has been reduced. It is completely incomprehensible and goes against all common sense.

This bill gives the minister the power to intervene should any problems related to level crossings arise. However, the Auditor General and the Transportation Safety Board have made it very clear that the department does not have enough resources.

When I asked the parliamentary secretary how many railway safety inspectors there are, he could not answer. We still cannot get those figures. Regulations are being put in place, as is the case here, but no one knows how or if they will be enforced.

Why use a private member's bill to amend something as important as the Railway Safety Act, which has to be reviewed periodically anyway? Why not conduct a full review of the act itself in committee?

We are making a change here. I noticed some irregularities and some confusing passages in this bill. That is why we want to study it in committee. Often, the problem is that we are unaware of the unintended consequences.

Why use a private member's bill? Why is the government doing nothing to ensure that railway safety legislation is solid and much safer?

The government has a tendency to allow companies to self-regulate. That is its approach, which the Liberals support. We often hear the question, “Why is the company not doing anything?” The government allows these companies to do what they want. Sometimes, both the Liberals and the Conservatives wonder why the company did not act on its own initiative.

In 2010, the Transportation Safety Board made recommendations specifically on crossings. Those recommendations have still not been implemented, despite what the hon. member said. I will quote an excerpt:

Transport Canada must implement new grade crossing regulations, develop enhanced standards or guidelines for certain types of crossing signs, and continue its leadership role in crossing safety assessments.

Regulations should be implemented, but that still has not happened and we do not know why.

Why is the government taking so long to implement the recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board?

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish everyone a good evening.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre is part of a piecemeal approach, the Conservatives' typical approach to rail safety over the past year or so. That is unfortunate. The Liberal Party believes that these measures should be part of a more comprehensive bill introduced by the transport minister.

For the past several years, Transport Canada's Rail Safety Directorate has been underfunded. It does not have enough staff and the employees it does have do not have enough training. The department has been led by a revolving door of Conservative ministers, with five ministers in just eight years.

According to the 2013 fall report of the Auditor General, Transport Canada needs about 20 inspectors to audit each of the federal railway companies every three years. Right now, the department has only 10 inspectors who are qualified to conduct these audits.

Part of the problem is that we have a capacity problem inside the department at Transport Canada. We know that with the current workforce, the department has conducted very few audits, only 26% of the audits that Transport Canada said was needed to keep rail safe in Canada. At this pace, it will take many years before the department audits all key components of safety management systems, the regulations and the key safety systems they are under.

VIA Rail, for example, carrying 4.5 million passengers a year, has not been audited in the three year period audited by the Auditor General, and likely not since then. For five years, carrying 4.5 million passengers a year, our passenger train system under VIA Rail has not been audited by Transport Canada's qualified inspectors.

As I said in my question for the member presenting the private member's bill, it is important for Canadians to understand that governments make choices. It is important to get the big things right. Transportation safety and rail safety are one of those big things.

The government in its choices, as it has a mandate to do, has spent more money each and every year it has been in power on advertizing than it has on rail safety. This year, it is spending $42 million on economic action plan advertizing and new ads launched today, announcing the government's new income splitting plan, measures that have not even been passed through the House of Commons.

While it spends $42 million on advertizing, it is spending $38 million on rail safety, this in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy and a 1,600% increase in the transportation of oil by rail in the last three years.

When we built our country, and Canadians know this, we built it around our railway. Many towns, cities and municipalities were built up and around the railway because it was our lifeline. It was our support system.

We have a lot of transportation of dangerous goods now through our municipalities, which is a high risk, as we have learned tragically through the Lac-Mégantic incident.

The government says that it will be phasing out the DOT-111 cars in a three year period, and I commend it for that aspiration. However, when we bring to committee representatives from the largest manufacturer of these cars in Canada, they tell us that is impossible. Not only is it impossible to phase them out, but they cannot retrofit the rolling stock they have and they do not know what to do with the rolling stock coming from the United States.

Furthermore, the government announces that it will inform our municipalities after the fact, that it will tell them a month after a train has rolled through their jurisdiction what the trains were carrying.

The Liberal Party has been arguing for months, trying to convince the government to come to its senses and ensure that municipalities are given advance notice so their fire departments, most of which in rural Canadian setting are volunteer, know what exactly they might have to deal with if there is an accident or a tragedy.

With respect to labelling requirements, the government said that it brought in new labelling requirements to deal with the type of oil coming from the Bakken oil reserves in North Dakota and southern Saskatchewan. It said that it was all fine, that there were no problems, until The Globe and Mail broke several stories saying that was not happening.

The government admitted it, had to climb down, and did the right thing by saying it was going to strengthen the labelling requirement and the inspection of that labelling requirement to make sure we know exactly what we are dealing with.

There is one thing more troubling for a lot of Canadians right now and it is one of the things being learned in committee. As one member of the committee, there is something that is beginning to deeply concern me, and that is the proximity of relationship between the regulated industry, the rail industry, and the regulator, Transport Canada. I am deeply disturbed by what I see in terms of the coziness of that relationship. I think this safety management system that is the meeting point between the regulated industry and the regulator is an important mechanism. It is an efficient mechanism, but as Ronald Reagan might have said in the past, “You trust, but you verify”. To verify, one needs the capacity to be able to do so.

This proximity of relationship was demonstrated recently in two statements made by Canadian Pacific, CPR, one by its chief operating officer, Keith Creel, in a speech in Toronto, where, if I can paraphrase, he essentially said he wanted government to stay out of the rail business altogether, that it was going to impede efficiency. Then a week earlier, CPR's chief executive officer, Hunter Harrison, was quoted in The Globe and Mail as saying that regulators “overreacted” to the Lac-Mégantic catastrophe, going on to blame it on one person's behaviour, which is unfortunately reminiscent of a lot of the debate around the Walkerton crisis, when another Conservative government weakened our capacity to inspect our water systems. That Conservative government's defence was to blame it on one sole water plant operator. Unfortunately for that government, Justice O'Connor's report on Walkerton demonstrated that government's cabinet was in part responsible.

We have to be careful here. There is a role and purpose for government in the 21st century in dealing with rail and transportation safety. The bill goes some distance in giving some powers and that is why Liberals are supporting the bill being sent to committee, so it can be explored in more detail and see how it connects with all the other measures, this grab bag of measures that has been brought forward since Lac-Mégantic by the government in piecemeal fashion.

However, we have to be very careful here. If all the pipelines that are contemplated are built in this country in the next several years and are fully operational going south, going east, going west, here is the challenge. With the expansion of the oil sands, by 2024 we are going to have an additional one million barrels of oil a day, which cannot be transported through pipelines, even with all the pipelines that we are planning to build being built.

Where is that oil going to go? It is not going on trucks because it is not economic, as we are told by the trucking associations. It is going to go on rail, longer trains, more cars, higher volumes. CPR is calling for higher speeds. We are going to have to be very judicious. There are a lot of risks inherent. Of course, there is money to be made and there is shareholder value to be created. We are not speaking against industry. We are saying that there is a role and purpose for government to step in.

I will close with this. I asked the minister several times to give us details about how many inspectors are on staff. When I got the answer from the minister, I sent it to the Auditor General. This is what I heard back in writing:

...we cannot provide any level of assurance on the information recently provided by Transport Canada officials. The Department does not specify how many qualified inspectors it currently has available to conduct audits.

It is a deeply disturbing comment from the Auditor General of Canada. We have a long way to go to get this right.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Essex Ontario


Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in support of Bill C-627, in the name of the member for Winnipeg South Centre. I would like to commend her initiative. It is proof positive that individual members can take a local issue and have an outcome with national significance and that an individual member can make a difference in national matters. It is proof positive, once again, that individual members of Parliament in the House are engaged in relevant and meaningful matters.

We have just heard that the NDP does not support the bill, but it does support a study of the bill. I find that troubling. It is the same with our Liberal colleagues across the way, who waited until minute nine of 10 to mention the number of the bill.

Let me speak in support of Bill C-627 right off the bat. It is important for a number of reasons. First, it fits with what the government is doing. It is complementary to a number of initiatives it has taken. We heard some of those amendments to the Railway Safety Act in May, 2013, which expanded regulation-making authorities. A number of concrete actions have been taken with respect to the Transportation Safety Board's interim report and final report regarding Lac Mégantic.

There was decisive action on crude classification testing. We heard the Liberal member say that the government did the right thing.

There is railway company information-sharing with municipalities. That was a product of discussions with the FCM, which represents the municipalities, and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, representing firefighters and first responders. Of course, there are our measures to take the least crash resistant DOT-111s out of service entirely.

There have been important actions and an emergency directive, as we heard last week, on having a minimum number of handbrakes to be applied; secondary redundant physical systems to ensure that trains are completely secured; additional staff to improve oversight at Transport Canada, including more specialized auditors to help the inspectors and auditors do their jobs well; in-house scientific capability regarding the properties of crude oil; and testing so that when we have the targeted regime in place, we can verify that what is placarded is, in fact, what is in the car. There are also important improvements related to training employees.

While the proposed amendments in Bill C-627 are focused on protecting people and property from railway accidents that may occur on railway tracks and at grade crossings, they are entirely complementary to the series of actions that were taken both before and after Lac Mégantic. They are helping us achieve our goal of improving the railway safety regime. As we heard from the member herself, they will help plug a gap in the regulatory environment, and that is important for our communities.

We have additional measures we are accelerating in terms of regulations as well. That is important for people to know. They include the work done for a railway safety panel review some years ago, SCOTIC's own review, and the Auditor General's reports more recently.

New railway safety administrative monetary penalties, which have just been added, have a coming into force date of spring 2015. That will help us expand the suite of compliance measures to enforce the compliance of railway companies with the regulatory environment.

We have regulations for the implementation of safety-based railway operating certificates for federally regulated railways. That work is well advanced as well. The certificates will be issued to railways once they meet certain safety conditions. They will significantly strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity by giving the department the authority to stop a company from operating altogether in the event of severe safety concerns.

We have grade crossing regulations as well that would improve safety by establishing comprehensive and enforceable safety standards for grade crossings, clarifying the roles and responsibilities, who does what in relation to what the railway companies or road authorities may do at crossings and the approach to crossings. This would assure the sharing of key safety information between railway companies and road authorities. We believe the overall result would be efficiently managed and safer grade crossings.

With respect to Bill C-627, I will provide an explanation for the official opposition critic who does not understand what the bill is about.

One amendment would provide the minister of transport with the new authority to order railways to take corrective measures in the event of a significant threat to persons, property or the environment. The remaining amendments would provide express language to emphasize that certain authorities already in place would also be exercised to protect the safety of persons or property.

The first key amendment proposes to provide the minister with express authority to disregard objections received for suggested railway work if the work is in the public interest. As it stands currently, the Railway Safety Act requires that a notice of proposed construction or alteration of a railway be given to persons whose safety or property may be affected, for example an adjacent landowner or municipality.

If adjacent landowners, for example, think the work would prejudice their safety, or the safety of their property, they can file an objection to the work. If the objection cannot be resolved and the work is to continue, then the minister of transport must approve the work. In his or her assessment, the minister takes into consideration any objection received and has the authority to disregard objections that are frivolous or vexatious, or in other words, not in the interest of safety.

Bill C-627 proposes to expressly allow the minister to also disregard objections when the proposed work is in the public interest as it relates to the safety and the protection of people, property and the environment.

The second major amendment proposes to provide express authority to allow a railway safety inspector to restrict a railway's operations should those operations pose a threat to the safety of persons or property. For example, the amendment would provide the inspector with clear authority to order a company to reduce the speed of trains over a certain grade crossing due to poor sight lines caused by brush or trees in order to mitigate the threat to those crossing that track, until such time as the company comes up with a permanent solution.

The third major amendment proposes to introduce a new ministerial order, which will provide the minister with the authority to require a company to take specific corrective measures if a significant threat is created by railway operations to persons, property or the environment. For example, the amendment would allow the minister to issue an order requiring a company to take corrective measures where crossing signals continued to malfunction on a railway line.

All the initiatives being implemented right now, and specifically the amendments being proposed in Bill C-627, will improve railway safety in Canada in the long term. The bill would provide increased safety for Canadians and Canadian communities; economic benefits to the industry by decreasing the likelihood of costly accidents and delays; a variety of benefits to external stakeholders, including provinces, municipalities, shippers and the travelling public; and last, but not least, it would provide support for a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure and a cleaner environment for all Canadians.

I encourage all members to support the bill on its merits and for what it would do. It is an important step forward.

I want to again commend the member for Winnipeg South Centre for her initiative. A local concern exposed that there was a gap in a regulatory environment. She worked to propose a solution that would address the concerns that we are talking about today, a solution that is not only effective but entirely relevant.

When passed and implemented, these measures will provide not only greater safety in her community, but also in communities from one end of the country to the other, including mine. I commend her for her work. I wholeheartedly support it. I look forward, when the time comes, to standing in this place to vote for it, not just to get it to committee but beyond committee and into law in our country.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House this evening and represent the constituents of my riding of Parkdale—High Park in Toronto on the very important issue of rail safety.

Tonight we are debating Bill C-627, a private member's bill. The focus of this bill is on the issue of railway level crossings. That certainly is a major issue. A number of people are injured or killed every year.

I would first like to salute the hard work of my colleague from Brossard—La Prairie for all his diligent work in holding the government to account on this very important issue of railway safety. Following the disastrous crash in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canadians awoke to the very real concern that perhaps their safety was not being as diligently monitored as it should be by our federal government.

I want to speak a bit about my riding of Parkdale—High Park. The northeastern part of my riding is called the junction because it is an intersection of multiple rail lines that cross and become the northern and eastern boundaries of my riding. The southern part of the riding also has a rail line running through it. We are a riding of railways and the issue of rail safety is important to the people of Parkdale—High Park.

The disaster in Lac-Mégantic got the attention of people because those same runaway tank cars that crashed and exploded went right across the northern boundary of my riding. Our community was horrified to find out about the dramatic increase of tank car traffic in Canada.

In 2009, there were 500 tank cars. In 2013, there were 140,000 tank cars rumbling through our community so quite rightly people are concerned. Some of the people in Parkdale—High Park look out their bedroom window and see hundreds of these tank cars rolling by or children who are playing in a nearby parkette on Vine Avenue. Therefore, it is of great concern to the people in my riding.

We recently had a meeting on this issue of railway safety. We had a huge turnout. Many community members came out to discuss this issue. We were pleased that CP Rail sent a representative. While not everyone who attended the meeting was happy with the answers they received from the representative of CP Rail, they were pleased that a representative attended the meeting.

However, they were frustrated that the Minister of Transport refused to allow any officials from Transport Canada to attend the meeting and answer the questions of the people from my community. We found that shocking.

While I want to acknowledge that the federal government has made some moves forward and some strides on railway safety following the disaster at Lac-Mégantic, let us be clear that there remains a lot of work to do. People have questions and concerns. I find it shocking that the minister would refuse to allow officials from Transport Canada to hear the concerns of the people of my community, so I will bring those concerns here right now.

They want to know what the timetable is for phasing-out the DOT-111 cars. They want to know why the cars that will replace them are not the double-hulled cars, which are the safest, and have gas sensors in them to determine if there is a buildup of gas.

They want to know what the emergency safety procedures are in their community. At this meeting, one woman very poignantly said that her house backs right onto the railway lines. She wanted to know what to do if there was an explosion or a derailment: hide in her house, or run?

We had the head of the fire department for the City of Toronto at this meeting. He advised her to stay in her house, but he said that it depends on what the tank cars are carrying. It could be that there is a gas, and if she goes outside, she could be asphyxiated. However, it could be something very explosive, so staying in her house might be the worst thing to do. He recommended they stay there until they know what it is.

Frankly, we have no idea what the emergency procedures are. I think, most importantly, people have no idea what is being carried in these tank cars.

People wanted to know what is in the cars. They would also like to know if there have been any explorations of alternative routes that do not go through some of the most densely populated neighbourhoods anywhere in this country, because it would make a great deal of sense not to expose this massive number of people to potential tragedy.

It is not that Lac-Mégantic was an isolated example. We had a derailment in the junction a few years ago. Fortunately, the cars were carrying grain, not raw bitumen. That was very fortunate. We also had a huge derailment in Mississauga many years ago that resulted in the evacuation of the entire city of Mississauga.

Disasters happen. We need not only to be prepared; community members also need to know what the risks are and if they are being prepared.

The railway industry has been privatized and deregulated by previous Liberal governments, and then they proceeded, along with the Conservatives, to privatize and deregulate rail safety and rail enforcement. We saw that pointed out in the Lac-Mégantic inquiries as one of the major problems with the railway sector. That was something that was criticized very severely in the inquiry.

What we are debating tonight is a private member's bill that aims to make some improvements to safety at level crossings. My question to the government is this: why a private member's bill? Why is the government bringing this measure in through the back door? Why did it not spend the $3 million on level crossing safety that was in the budget last year? Why is that still sitting on the books? Why has the budget for railway safety been decreased by $5 million?

I see my time is up, but I just want to say this is a critically important issue. It is something that certainly affects the residents of Parkdale—High Park, but it also affects all Canadians.

There are some positive features in this private member's bill, and of course we will support anything that improves railway safety and level crossing safety. However, for goodness' sake, the government cannot shirk its duties. It must take full responsibility for railway safety. We need a thorough assessment of the state of railway safety in this country. We need action. If the government refuses to act, then it should get out of the way and let New Democrats take responsibility for railway safety, which we will do as the next government.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

7:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.