Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand to speak to private member's Bill C-627. I also want to congratulate the member for Winnipeg South Centre on a bill that really reflects the needs that she saw in her own riding. It is very interesting. As we look at this particular bill and speak to it, we are all looking at our ridings and what the impact might be on them. We heard from different members about having a lot of rail running through their ridings. I myself represent Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, which is 45,000 square kilometres. We have CN, which runs from the Alberta border down through Edmonton to Vancouver, and we have CP, which goes through the Calgary route. When I heard the number of crossings mentioned by the previous member, I was thinking that perhaps the bill would have an extraordinarily higher effect in my riding, because out of those 18,000 or 23,000 crossings, the riding I represent has quite a number of them.
When I was first heading into the election campaign of 2008, I certainly remember going across one of the highways in the region. We were suddenly warned to slow down and go very slowly, because this was a very hazardous crossing. In this way I was first introduced to a very hazardous crossing very early in my election campaign. Of course, I am very pleased to see that there have been improvements.
It is important to reflect that the vast majority of the crossings in our country are well maintained, but there are instances and circumstances that make this particular bill both appropriate and necessary.
As a government, we are committed to the safety and the security of Canadian communities. I think we all agree that ensuring a safe, dependable, and modern transportation system is essential to supporting the continuing advancement and prosperity of this country. It is for that reason that I am very proud, as I mentioned earlier, to support Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property).
Many of us have spoken about the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. Members will recall that Transport Canada took immediate action to further improve railway safety and transportation of dangerous goods. I want to quickly itemize some of them: classification testing for shipments of crude oil; increased information-sharing with municipalities to facilitate emergency planning; and the removal of the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from dangerous goods service.
I have had conversations with a number of the members of the FCM who were at the rail transportation safety committee. They have been very pleased with their conversations with our minister in terms of her responsiveness to the concerns they identified.
To build on these actions, Transport Canada responded to the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations by issuing an emergency directive that requires railway companies to meet standardized minimum requirements for handbrake application and to implement additional securement measures.
Transport Canada is also in the process of recruiting additional staff to carry out more frequent audits, recruiting additional staff with engineering and scientific expertise to oversee the transportation of dangerous goods, creating new processes to increase information-sharing with municipalities, and conducting additional research on the hazards of Canadian crude oil.
In addition to these departmental actions, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has launched a comprehensive review of the state of railway safety in this country. Among other things, this review specifically targets the issues of railway safety, management systems, and the transportation of dangerous goods. It will further increase our understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to rail safety.
Since its introduction, the Railway Safety Act has been amended twice. It was first amended in 1999 in order to provide for a fully modern framework for Canada's rail transportation system. This framework was truly progressive, making railways more responsible for managing their operations safely.
More recently, the act was amended on May 1, 2013, in order to further improve rail safety and to reflect the industry's evolution. To keep pace with industry changes, the amendments further strengthened the department's oversight and enforcement capacity, enhanced the implementation of safety management systems, increased the importance of environmental management, and clarified ministerial authority and responsibilities.
This bill, which would enhance the power of the minister and inspectors to intervene when people and property are at risk, is the next step towards an even stronger piece of legislation and a stronger legislative framework, putting even more emphasis on pre-emptive prevention and the protection of Canada's most important resource: its people.
Approval of this bill would be an important step in supporting a comprehensive railway safety program that would further strengthen the safety and protection of the public. Without a doubt, modernizing the Rail Safety Act to reflect the increasing requirements for public and railway safety is timely.
These are changes that few Canadians can argue about. In listening to the debate so far this evening, it appears that few parliamentarians can argue against them either. Without a doubt, modernizing the Railway Safety Act to reflect the increasing requirements for public and railway safety is timely, and these changes Canadians can agree with.
In closing, many ridings throughout this country have rail lines running through them, and we all recognize the critical importance of the rail system in transportation. I understand that almost 60% of what is transported by rail is destined for export markets, which is a critical part of our economy. Obviously, it is of great importance to match or balance our support for prosperity and jobs with making sure that it is as safe as possible.
I congratulate the member for Winnipeg South Centre on a very positive and important measure.