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.