Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today to speak to Bill C-52.
I am pleased to rise in my place to speak in favour of Bill C-52, the Safe and Accountable Rail Act. This is a bill that, among other things, would take accountability and liability for the rail transportation of dangerous goods and share it between railways and shippers. Together they would pay the costs associated with cleanup and compensation in catastrophic rail accidents, such as the one that took place in Lac-Mégantic.
It is great to have the opportunity to participate in this debate today, because railway safety is a top priority in my riding of Brant and in the city of Brantford. I have had regular meetings with city representatives and local officials to hear about their concerns in the wake of the recent disasters, and I am pleased that our Minister of Transport continues to take firm action to ensure greater safety and accountability on our railways.
I also appreciate having the opportunity to recognize the hard work and strong advocacy of Brant County Fire Chief Paul Boissonneault, who has shown great leadership on issues related to rail safety in Canadian communities. Paul is Canada's top fire chief, and during his tenure as president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, he has travelled across Canada working to ensure that first responders and Canadian communities are better protected when dangerous goods are being transported. He sat on the Emergency Response Assistance Program Working Group and the transportation of dangerous goods advisory council, and he has also appeared before the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities, including as part of its deliberations on this bill, Bill C-52.
He has stated that overall, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs welcomes Bill C-52, because it would define the liability of railways in order to provide claimants with greater certainty of compensation and because it would build upon recent government actions focused on strengthening rail safety. Chief Boissonneault continues to push for further measures to improve safety and accountability, and we look forward to continuing the work we have started with him.
The bill before us today represents another important step in the right direction. Hon. members will recall that the tragedy in July 2013 was caused by the explosion of tank cars carrying crude oil.
There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of crude oil shipped by rail. In 2008, hardly any crude oil moved on Canadian rail lines. By 2013, oil by rail had increased to approximately 10.6 million tonnes per year. By 2017, that number is expected to reach approximately 33.9 million tonnes per year.
The shipment of crude oil by rail will continue to play an important role in moving our resources to market. Even if pipelines in the east, west, and south of the oil fields and oil sands were approved tomorrow, it would be many years before they were operational. Until such time as new pipelines are available, rail remains the only real transportation alternative. Nor do railways have any option but to accept shipments of oil from their customers. The common carrier obligations of the Canada Transportation Act are a hallmark of the railway system that ensures that shippers can get their goods to market. Railways cannot turn down shipments of crude oil just because oil is volatile and is classified as a dangerous good. They are exposed to the liabilities associated with the freight they are required to move.
Railways are responsible for carrying insurance to provide compensation for the liabilities associated with disasters such as Lac-Mégantic. The bill before us would enhance insurance requirements by setting required minimum insurance levels for federally regulated railways that would take into account the potential severity of accidents. These would range from $25 million to $1 billion, based on the type and volume of dangerous goods the railway carried.
To enforce compliance, if a railway failed to notify the Canada Transportation Agency of an operational change that would affect its insurance, it would be subject to an administrative monetary penalty of up to $100,000 per violation.
As the tragic derailment in Lac-Mégantic demonstrates, accidents involving crude oil can be catastrophic in nature. To address such incidents where, despite increased requirements, the amount of railway insurance may be inadequate to pay for all liabilities, a two-tiered approach is proposed in the bill.
First, the bill before us would change the liability regime for rail accidents, including crude oil. In the event of an incident involving crude oil, railways physically or operationally involved in the accident would be held liable up to their insurance without fault or negligence having to be proven. When the cost of a rail accident exceeds a railway's insurance level, the bill provides for a way to cover the cost of such disasters without putting the burden on the shoulders of the taxpayer. This would be accomplished through the establishment of a supplemental shipper-financed fund.
This brings us to the polluter pays principle, which Canada is making a gold standard for nuclear energy and offshore oil production, and other modes of transportation, including pipelines and marine. Hon. members may be aware that Canada was a pioneer in implementing this principle beginning with the liability regime for marine oil spills. Since the 1970s, shipowners have been held strictly liable for costs and damages that result from the discharge of oil. To cover claims in excess of the shipowner's limit of liability, the government created a marine pollution claims fund, which is now known as the ship-source oil pollution fund.
This is the approach that we have applied to marine oil tankers, and it would also apply to the transportation of crude oil by rail as a result of the bill before us. In future years, it could apply as well to the transportation of other dangerous goods by rail.
Any liabilities that result from an accident involving crude oil above the railway's insurance level would be covered by the shipper-financed fund, known as the fund for railway accidents involving designated goods. The two-tiered regime outlined in the bill would share responsibility for damages from rail accidents between railways and shippers and ensure that adequate resources would be available to pay for all liabilities This approach, modelled on the marine mode, would achieve two important goals. First, it would give potential victims more certainty regarding compensation claims. Second, it would relieve taxpayers of excess liabilities that can result from an accident.
In summary, this bill would ensure that railways maintain appropriate insurance coverage. In addition, it would also ensure that their liability is clearly defined to more quickly address claims following rail accidents involving crude oil, and it would ensure that resources are available to pay compensation for all liabilities associated with an accident.
Let me be clear. The government's first priority is the safety of our transportation system, but in the event of a rail accident, the bill would ensure that the polluter will pay. I urge hon. members to adopt this bill.