Mr. Speaker, this is a fascinating process that I have become witness to, as I start my second sitting of the House. These private members' bills appear to do something, but would in fact deliver little more beyond the title of the bill.
The events of the last couple of years have shown us the significance of rail safety. However, the trouble is that the bill, which seeks to make us feel safer, would not deliver the resources needed to deliver rail safety, particularly the inspectors. We also know that the problems plaguing the rail industry in our country are far more complex than simply saying we will inspect more.
We agree that providing much better inspection will lead to safety, but it has to be done. To do it, we need to hire inspectors. We also need to take a look at a whole series of other provisions that are contained within the rail infrastructure in our country, and they, too, must be strengthened.
I can give some examples. The reason this issue is of such concern to the residents and the citizens of Canada who I represent is that the northern boundary for our riding is the rail line that the Lac-Mégantic train ran through and the rail line of the Mississauga train derailment a generation ago, which caused unbelievable hardship in my corner of Canada. This rail line has had little in the way of upgrades or upkeep, largely because we have had a federal government that has neglected it. Following the Lac-Mégantic reports, we know that while commitments are made to rail safety, the follow-through is very rarely there.
There is a well known example within my riding. There is a stretch along Dupont Street where, even though we have great separation, not a single fence is secure. In fact, there are holes punched through the fences, usually close to the liquor store and bars, where people criss-cross the tracks. No matter how many times people call the rail companies or petition the government, no inspection is done of the basic safety provisions.
Having all the inspections in the world is all well and good, but if there is no follow-through, as I said, we leave our rail system extraordinarily vulnerable. That is a significant problem.
I have previous experience within the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and as a local councillor. When we ask the fire department if the city is safe, it will tell us yes. However, the reality is, and mayors across the country are speaking to this, that without advanced notice of dangerous goods moving through a city in real time, if an accident occurs and the local fire department does not have real time information, huge problems can follow, despite how many inspections may or may not have happened and how many inspectors there may or may not be.
We know the mayor of Calgary, in particular, has had the most difficult time getting his federal counterparts, including elected representatives, to stick up for cities and communities that have these rail lines moving through them. This is a significant problem, yet this bill, which claims to address rail safety, rolls past it, as it were. It is a problem.
We also know that capital infrastructure has not kept pace with the demands on the rail system. With the difficulties that the Conservative government has had creating pipeline access to tidewater, rail is being used more and more. In fact, the number of railcars rolling through midtown Toronto has dramatically increased. Their weight has dramatically increased as has their frequency. Furthermore, even though there are speed limits posted, but not shared with the public, the speed of trains moving through densely populated areas has also increased.
What do we get? A government that walks away from infrastructure spending, not only for municipalities and provinces, but federal infrastructure spending as well. It is just unacceptable.
Yes, we need more inspectors. The rules need to be tightened. However, the infrastructure needs to be repaired, maintained and sustained, not only for the sake of the economy but for the sake of the safety of people who live near the rail lines. It is not just people in my riding. Right across the country, settlements are strung across the rail lines. This is a significant problem.
The infrastructure spent here is diminished. We are giving up rail lines, not sustaining them. We have opportunities like the one we saw today in St. Thomas in Elgin county, where we can build rail capacity, support infrastructure development, and work with both the public and private rail sector to develop and deliver stronger infrastructure. We do not get a minister going to London. We get some backbenchers going. We do not get a deal in St. Thomas. What we get is the failure to act and to deliver.
It is not just the infrastructure that the government has let fall away. Building the rail capacity and the industrial basis to support a strong rail system is also disappearing from our country.
Rail safety is much more complex than simply having inspectors. If one simply announces that there will be new inspection rules and promises through the bill, through a headline, that there will be more inspectors but does not actually follow through in the budget with real hires, and does not sit down to work with the municipalities, provinces, and private sector rail supply companies, and our partners south of the border to ensure continental rail security, then all one is doing is passing private members' bills.
We support the bill in principle. What we cannot support is the practice, or the lack of practice, on this critical file.
We had a large meeting in my riding a few weeks ago on the issue of rail safety. Are the trains following the rules? Are they even publishing the speed limit so they can be monitored properly? Is rail safety being attended to and are level crossings being eliminated in dense urban settings? On all of these issues, there has been no response beyond simply saying “We are taking care of it and everything should be fine”. We know it is not fine, and that is the problem with the bill.
The bill seeks to comfort a fear that is present in our communities, but there is no follow-through. There is no dollar commitment in the bill. There is no substantial follow-through in building a stronger rail system. As I have said time and time again, when requests are made to the current government, all we see, all we hear, and all we experience is a failure to commit to rail safety and to the development of rail in this country as an alternative to some of the other dangerous practices in moving goods and services.
We need a comprehensive national rail strategy. We need comprehensive infrastructure spending that deals not just with the capacity issues that are challenging us now but also delivers us a new rail future. Unfortunately, what we get is the bill before us, which as I said is just a title. While it can be supported in principle, the practice and performance of the government leaves us very nervous.