Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to debate a very important bill for the constituents in my riding of Davenport, and that is the bill to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act.
What we are talking about here is rail safety. I would like to let people who are watching know that in communities in Toronto, including the community I represent, and in fact, I myself live very close to a major rail artery, every day dangerous goods are carried through. The rail line sort of bisects the city of Toronto, the biggest city in the country. The train that ultimately exploded and led to the tragic events in Lac-Mégantic actually traversed right through the city of Toronto.
For many people that is a staggering realization, because there are thousands upon thousands of people who live literally metres away from the rail line. For them, the debate we are having is not just a theoretical conversation. It is not just about what happens somewhere else. It is about the very communities in which they live.
It is also important to note while we are debating this that in cities like Toronto which have rail lines criss-crossing and intersecting large areas of residential neighbourhoods, when the rail lines were first put in, many of those communities were not there. They were industrial areas, but development has changed the face of cities like Toronto and what we are seeing now are residential communities very close to rail lines.
For the people I represent what is in those tankers is very important. How we ensure the safe transport of what is in those tankers is very important to my community and therefore this debate is important.
As many of my esteemed colleagues in the NDP have said today, we are in favour of the bill, but support for the bill underlines some very serious concerns that we have around rail safety in the country. It is not just the NDP that has concerns about rail safety. It is not just members of my community in Davenport that have concerns about rail safety. The Auditor General also has concerns about rail safety.
I know the government always welcomes the views and opinions of the NDP here in the House, but every once in a while it is nice to quote third parties. In this case, I will read a bit of the Auditor General's 2014 report on Transport Canada's oversight of rail safety, because it is the oversight of rail safety, the implementing of a system of safety that the people in my community are looking to the government to achieve. While we support the measures that are in the bill, it does not go any distance toward ameliorating the concerns in my community around rail safety.
The report from the Auditor General really underlines and gives credence to the concerns of the people in Davenport. The report states:
Despite the fact that federal railways were required 12 years ago to implement safety management systems for managing their safety risks and complying with safety requirements, Transport Canada has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have done so. While it has done a few audits of those systems most of the audits it did were too narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of SMSs [safety management systems]. At the rate at which the Department is conducting focused audits, it will take many years to audit all the key components of SMS regulations, including key safety systems of each of the 31 federal railways.
That is just not enough for the people of Toronto. That is not enough for people of my community of Davenport. This does not cut it. It is going to take years for Transport Canada to conduct the audits. By the time it has finished conducting those audits, hopefully the Conservative government will be long gone and we will have new regulations and new standards for rail safety in this country.
The guidance and tools provided to inspectors for assessing federal railway safety management systems are missing many key elements. That is not us saying this. That is the Auditor General saying this. For example, they contain few requirements to help inspectors plan, conduct and conclude on audits and inspections, and for following up on findings. This makes it difficult for Transport Canada to ensure that its inspections and audits are effective in determining whether railways are taking corrective actions where necessary.
Lastly, Transport Canada does not have a quality assurance plan to continuously improve its oversight of rail safety. Is it any wonder that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are concerned about rail safety? They may be, as we are, happy that there are steps being taken around insurance and compensation, but we need to talk about preventing accidents as well as who pays for them when they happen.
This is not just a case of red tape versus yellow tape. This is not a question of onerous regulations versus caution tape that we use to cordon off accident sites. This should be a matter of course.
We are transporting dangerous goods in record quantities and record frequencies today. Not only are our regulations not keeping pace with the changes, the government has diminished and stripped away oversight and allowed companies to do the oversight themselves. The Auditor General's report shows that Transport Canada does not have the tools to even oversee the oversight that the companies are charged with implementing.
Most fair-minded people would accept that when rail companies are transporting dangerous goods through municipalities, the municipalities have a right know what is being brought through their cities, not three months later, but before it happens. That is a fair expectation that most people would have, yet we have not had any of that conversation happen among Conservatives.
I know that in the Province of Ontario, the Ontario NDP has pushed for “right to know” legislation that would enable municipalities to know what was coming through their cities and towns before it came through. This would allow emergency response units and fire crews to at least be properly on guard. It would also allow residents to know what the risks are of what is passing right through their backyards. That is, in fact, literally what happens in Toronto and in my community. It is fair for Canadians to want to know that stuff.
When we look at the Auditor General's report, we understand the enormity of the deficit in rail safety in this country. It also underscores a massive policy failure with regard to the Conservative government and its unwillingness to nurture the clean energy economy in Canada. The Conservatives are leaving $5 trillion of economic activity in clean energy technology on the table while they continually pump out and transport oil products that clearly do not come with the oversight and safety requirements that they need.
Things like “right to know” legislation are vital for cities like Toronto, where we have neighbourhoods upon neighbourhoods growing and developing right along the rail line. This is not 1920. This is 2015, and we need to pull these regulations and safety requirements up to modern standards.