Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the residents of Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert on a matter as important as railway safety. I have met with them on numerous occasions to hear what they had to say about this issue. I can say that they are very worried and they are calling for more stringent regulations to be put in place and, most importantly, to be enforced.
It is true that additional safety measures have been taken since the terrible accident in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013 in relation to the transportation of dangerous goods, but we can do more and we have to do better.
Bill C-627, which we are debating today, would give the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors the power to order a railway company or the owners of a crossing to do certain work, not only where railway safety is threatened, but also where the safety of persons and property is threatened. For example, the bill would allow the minister to issue an order requiring that a company take corrective measures in a case where barriers continued to malfunction on a track.
As a result, if I am interpreting this bill correctly, this implies that the minister is going to have each section of track inspected and that she could require the companies to take measures to improve safety.
On paper, this bill would meet the expectations of the people calling for more pedestrian crossings and more investment in making those crossings safe. However, it does not answer all the essential questions, such as how frequently these inspections will be done, and with what resources.
The railway safety budget was cut by $5 million between 2012 and last year. This means that every year, there is a reduction in the railway safety budget. In addition, this bill talks about level crossings. The government already has a program for level crossings, but the money allocated to it is not being spent. There is apparently $3 million intended for improving level crossings left over.
My colleague from Brossard—La Prairie went to meet with the people of Verchères, next to my riding. The municipal councillors told him about something interesting. The municipality of Verchères applied for a grant from the grade crossing improvement program in 2010, to put up a safety barrier. Well, to date, it is still on a waiting list.
Now, they would have us believe that this bill will change things, and starting today, the Conservative government is going to listen to Canadians and provide them with safe level crossings? The government had money to invest in level crossings, but it has still done nothing. They must think we are fools.
The second clause of the bill caught my attention. The bill would give railway inspectors the power to forbid the use of railway works or equipment if it poses a threat to the safety of persons or property.
The Auditor General and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada have clearly said that the department does not have enough resources. The department itself is refusing to say how many qualified inspectors can conduct these audits.
We know that Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate is underfunded. It does not have enough staff and the employees it does have do not have enough training.
According to the Auditor General's fall 2013 report, Transport Canada needs about 20 system inspectors to audit each of the federal railway companies every three years. Right now, the department does not have that many qualified inspectors to conduct those audits. That is not very reassuring in terms of enforcing this bill.
There are still too many deaths and serious accidents at level crossings. Protecting the public and the environment basic government responsibilities. Self-regulation and self-inspection are not working. The government must address the lack of oversight and inadequate audits. In 2009, there were 19 deaths related to level crossing accidents. In 2013, that number rose to 31.
In my riding, there was a serious accident in 2013 because there was no pedestrian crossing. How many similar cases are there in other ridings?
The NDP has long called for the federal government to tighten the grade crossing regulations and implement the TSB’s recommendations. The private member’s bill contains some good elements. The government—and I do in fact mean the government—must undertake a complete review of the railway safety regulations and how they are enforced and find ways to improve them, rather than depending on private members’ bills.
Obviously, I intend to vote in favour of measures that can improve level crossing safety or railway safety in general, but the government cannot shirk its duties. It has to take full responsibility for railway safety. A rigorous evaluation of the state of railway safety in the country is needed and we need to make that happen.