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?