Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Davenport.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill, which is strangely entitled “the safe and accountable rail act”. I would question the safe part of it, but it certainly is a way of making railroads more accountable for their actions.
The parliamentary secretary said a moment ago that the prime purpose of the bill is to make Canadians safer. I wonder how a bill that deals primarily with insurance and liability would actually make Canadians safer, unless of course, we are proposing to give over the regulation of the railroads to the insurance companies and make the insurance companies responsible for making sure the railroads are safe. Maybe that is what it is doing, but that is certainly not something I am in favour of.
It is a core responsibility of government to protect its citizens. That can come in any number of ways, but here we are talking about how to protect the citizenry of Canada from the actions of a federally regulated body, namely the railroads.
Protecting our citizens is not something the government should see as an expense on the expense line of the ledger, and yet that is all too often what we hear about. It is actually a duty and it is not something on which we should be looking to cut our expenses or cut taxes and make Canadians less safe. It is not something it should be seeming to do, but we have seen the Conservative government do it time and time again, in food safety, in airline safety, and now in rail safety, where we have a system that clearly did not protect the 47 residents of Lac-Mégantic nor the centre of that town which was destroyed by the rail system, which the current government and the Liberal government before it helped to create.
The bill is a step in the right direction. Clearly, the government seems to have adopted the NDP principle that the polluter should pay and that the person who is responsible for something like this should pay, but we think that this could go a whole lot further. There are flaws in the bill that need addressing, and we will discuss those in committee.
However, the bill would not really do what the government suggests it would do to make the rail system safer. It would make the rail system more financially reliant on the shippers and rail companies themselves and less so on the federal and provincial governments. It is a shifting of responsibilities. It is not a creation of safety per se, unless, as I said earlier, we are expecting the insurance companies to be the ones to manage the safety systems in Canada.
Why is there all this focus on rail safety suddenly in this country?
The focus is caused in part because of Lac-Mégantic. Lac-Mégantic opened our eyes to a number of other issues that face us in the rail safety world.
One was that there is a 500-fold increase in the amount of crude oil that is being transported across the country, and it's crude oil that we have also discovered is not particularly inert. In fact, it is very explosive. Once this oil reaches its containers, it catches fire almost immediately, in some cases with huge and explosive results, as was the case in Lac-Mégantic and a number of other places across this country.
As a result, we have witnessed, with that 500-fold increase in the transportation of these dangerous goods, an alarming increase in the number of incidents involving these dangerous goods. There were 11 in the past two years alone. They were major accidents involving rail and the transportation of crude oil.
Now, I will hear the Liberals yelling that if we are not going to have it in rail, we are going to have it in pipelines. Some of this oil, in fact most of this oil, cannot be transported in pipelines because it is too dangerous. It is too gaseous. It would create too high a pressure inside a pipe. It does the same thing in rail but in a much smaller container. As a result, while rail containers are apparently safe as long as they are standing still and not moving, those rail containers, once they are moving and break, have disastrous consequences.
We also have discovered that the containers the government has been using for some considerable period of time to transport water, milk, and inert substances, but only in the last few years have we been transporting enormous quantities of dangerous goods in these containers, were known in 1989 to be unsafe. That was over 25 years ago and yet the government did not do anything about this until last year.
Last year, the minister announced that 5,000 of the 80,000 of these railcars would be taken off the rail immediately and that the rest would be replaced over the course of three years. Then we discovered that the ones that are replacing them are not safe either. Now we have been told that we are going to replace the railcars over a period of 10 years because the DOT-111s and DOT-1232s are not safe for the transportation of oil.
What do we do in those 10 years? What kind of effective safety are we promoting for the people of Canada if the vehicles that are going by their homes, schools, churches and daycare centres are not safe? That is part of what we are hoping the government will actually consider.
We also discovered as a result of this incident, but also as a result of the good work by the Auditor General, that Transport Canada is not doing a good job in particular with regard to managing the safety management system, SMS, with which the Government of Canada has replaced the direct oversight of the rail system. In theory, where before we had random inspections by government inspectors, now we have a system where the government inspects a safety management system put in place by a railroad for compliance and that the inspection of that system is how the government inspects the railroads. The trouble is the inspection of the system did not happen. As the Auditor General discovered, it was not happening, and in something like only 20% of the cases where transport officials intended to audit a railroad did they actually do it.
The Transportation Safety Board also found that Transport Canada had not been doing a good job with regard to its inspections of the safety management systems of the very railroad that failed, MMA, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. We examined the results of the Transport Canada investigation. It found 18 separate causes for the incident, although the minister and the parliamentary secretary said it was just one individual. No, it was not one individual. The Transportation Safety Board said very clearly there were 18 separate causes, some of which were with Transport Canada. It did not audit MMA. Despite knowing that it had serious flaws since 2002, it did not audit it. It did not follow up on the safety deficiencies and did not oversee the organizational and operational changes which MMA made, including the one-man crews, which was part of the reason that this all happened.
We have a government that is responsible for Transport Canada, and in turn Transport Canada, with a 20% cut in rail safety over the past few years, does not have the wherewithal to do all of the inspections that it needs to do of the safety management system. We have a system that is falling apart all around us, caused at first by the Liberals and now continued by the Conservatives, a safety management system that is not keeping Canadians safe.
I come back to the title of the bill, the safe and accountable rail act. Yes, it does something about when there is an accident, but we should not be saying “when there is an accident”. We should be saying that there should be no accidents.
Last week at committee, CN admitted freely that there will be accidents, that there will be derailments. If we are going to admit that there are going to be derailments, how are we going to effectively protect Canadians? These railcars are not going to be replaced for 10 years. In the derailments that have taken place, such as in Lynchburg last year, the railcars carrying dangerous oil were the DOT-1232s, the newer more modern ones, and the train was going 24 miles an hour. In Gogama the train was going 38 and 43 miles and hour. In Mount Carbon, West Virginia, the train was going 33 miles an hour. In Galena, Illinois, the train was going 23 miles an hour. They all exploded. They all broke and exploded.
We have been told by the government that it is going to limit the speed of these vehicles in cities to 40 miles an hour. Clearly, even 23 miles an hour is too fast. If we are going to have derailments, we should at least make sure that the oil stays in the car when it derails. The only way to do that is to slow the trains right down, maybe to the speed that was in place after the Mississauga derailment, which was 15 miles an hour.
I welcome the fact that the government is paying attention to rail safety, but I wish the government would actually do something to make Canadians more safe.