Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise this evening to speak in support of Bill C-627.
I want to begin by congratulating my colleague, the member for Winnipeg South Centre, for putting forward such an excellent bill, for representing the interests and concerns of her constituents so effectively, and for coming to Ottawa to make a positive change. Her constituents should be very proud of her.
Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), aims to provide greater protection to persons and property from risks inherent in railway operations.
The amendments proposed in this bill would emphasize the authority of the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors to intervene when required in the interests of the safety of Canadians and for the protection of property and the environment. It would be a step forward in supporting a comprehensive railway safety program and strong railway safety rules and regulations already in place to further strengthen the safety and protection of the public.
Before I describe this initiative further, I will highlight some of the important history of Canadian railway safety legislation.
For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, originating at the turn of the 19th century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for a bygone era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open new territory across this great land and to encourage settlement.
Let us fast-forward to 1989 when the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations, and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in the years leading up to the changes. It was a time of privatization and restructuring, supported by a new federal policy that separated economic and safety legislation to provide the railway companies with the flexibility they needed to grow and prosper.
The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport, to be administered by Transport Canada, where responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides. Today, railway safety regulation continues to be governed by the Railway Safety Act, which was developed in a spirit of co-operation between industry and government. The act moved away from a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach to one that set objectives in rules and encouraged the responsibility of railway companies to target these rules toward their own unique safety and operational conditions.
Transport Canada undertakes its responsibility to maintain a safe national rail system through policy and regulatory development, through outreach and education, and through oversight and enforcement of the rules and regulations it implements under the authority of the Railway Safety Act. As I mentioned, the Railway Safety Act was developed in a spirit of co-operation between industry and government. To facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory regime that will ensure the continuing enhancement of railway safety, the act provides for detailed safety requirements to be developed either by the government in the form of regulations or developed by industry in the form of rules. The act provides the minister with the ultimate authority to approve or reject industry proposals on the grounds that they are or are not conducive to safe railway operations.
Once approved, all rules have the force of law, and Transport Canada has broad powers to require a rule, a rule change, or development of its own regulation in areas laid out in the act. In the interests of railway and public safety, the Minister of Transport can order a company to formulate or revise a rule. If the industry refuses to comply, the minister can independently establish the rules.
Fundamentally, the legislative framework recognizes the responsibility of railway companies, like any other companies, for the safety of their own operations, and the federal government, through Transport Canada, retains the responsibility and the power to protect people, property, and the environment by ensuring that the railway companies operate safely within the national legislative framework.
There are currently l6 rules and seven engineering standards under the Railway Safety Act. The main rules cover rail operations, freight car safety, and track safety. These distinctions make Canada's railway system strong, and concrete action has been taken throughout the years to make it even stronger.
Since its introduction, the act has been amended twice, the first time in 1999 to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system and to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely. It also gave the general public and interested parties greater input into issues of rail safety.
On May 1, 2013, the act was amended again to further improve railway safety, reflect changes in the industry, and make the act consistent with legislation for other modes of transport. The amendments increased safety and consistency by strengthening the department's oversight and enforcement capacity, enhancing the implementation of safety management systems, increasing the importance of environmental management, and clarifying the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters.
The amendments also clarified that railway safety inspectors exercise their powers under the authority of the minister and that the minister may enter into agreements with provinces on matters relating to railway safety, railway security, and the protection of the environment.
Over the past 20 years, we have seen significant changes in the rail industry, including industry restructuring, the privatization of CN, the proliferation of short lines, and the rapid growth in freight, passenger, and commuter rail services. Rail traffic between Canada and the U.S. has grown, and expanding trade with Asia has increased international container traffic through west coast ports.
As my brief outline illustrates, rail safety legislation has greatly evolved over the years to keep up with the expanding population, economic growth, and emerging technologies. This bill is the next step toward an even stronger legislative framework, putting even more emphasis on protecting the safety of Canada's most important resource, our people.
Bill C-627 proposes to amend the Railway Safety Act to provide the Minister of Transport with the express authority to disregard objections received for proposed railway work if the work is in the public interest; to expand railway safety inspectors' authority to restrict a railway's operations when its operations pose a threat to safety, including when the threat impacts the safety of a person or property; and finally, to add a new ministerial order to allow the Minister of Transport to direct a company to take specified corrective measures if railway operations pose a significant threat to persons, property, or the environment.
To summarize, the proposed amendments in the bill would increase the safety of Canadians, enhance the safety of our communities, and contribute to a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure, and a cleaner environment by providing the Minister of Transport with additional enforcement authority to further protect Canadians' property and the environment.
They align with the objective in the Railway Safety Act to “promote and provide for the safety and security of the public and personnel, and the property and the environment, in railway operations.”
We believe that these proposed amendments are timely. We are once again modernizing the Railway Safety Act to reflect the verifiably increasing requirements for public and railway safety, and these are changes all Canadians can agree upon.
In our 2013 Speech from the Throne, we included a commitment that the government would take targeted action to increase the safety of the transportation of dangerous goods. The bill is yet another testament that we intend to deliver on the commitment we made to Canadians.
In the interest of all Canadians, I urge all hon. members to give the bill their unanimous support.