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.