Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beaches—East York.
I note that the bill would adopt one of the things that the NDP has been calling for, which is the polluter pay principle, so that at any time there is damage to our environment caused by industry, or in this case by railroads and industry, there would be recognition on the part of governments everywhere that the polluter should be responsible for the cleanup and pay for the cost of the cleanup. The bill before us goes a small way toward ensuring that would take place.
Of course, we know the history of where the bill originated, and we have been talking about rail safety since the disaster at Lac-Mégantic. This was a tragedy that killed 47 people, wrecked the town and cost half a billion in cleanup. However, the rail system, as we have it now in Canada, has not been sufficient to protect towns, villages and cities along the way, and the people who reside in them, from the consequences of the enormous increase in the transportation of dangerous goods by rail.
Up until 2009, there were maybe 500 railcars transporting dangerous oil by rail. Since that time, the level of this material has gone up by something like 400-fold, so that we are now seeing 200,000 barrels a day travelling through our communities.
Originally, people thought those barrels of oil were fairly benign. Crude oil is a heavy, massive weight substance that does not catch fire very easily. However, little did we know, with the advent of fracking and diluted bitumen, we now have transportation of goods that are explosive, not just flammable. As a result, we are now transporting what people have referred to as “bomb trains” through our cities and countryside, and throughout the entire country.
The notion of bomb trains is not lost on the people of Canada, and when it happens, we need to have a regimen that actually keeps them safe. It is one thing to suggest, as some on the opposite side have suggested, that if we do not put it in trains, we could put it in pipelines and that we cannot have it both ways: we cannot be opposed to transporting it via pipelines and trains. However, in fact, this material is so dangerous, it is not allowed to be in pipelines. It has too much gas in it, which provides too much pressure. Therefore, the only way it can be transported is by truck and by train.
It is up to the Government of Canada to ensure that, if this is how we are going to transport our natural resources, the transportation is done in a way that is safe and in a way that protects the citizens of the country.
In my riding of York South—Weston, there are three separate rail corridors. Two are on the edges of the riding and one goes right through the centre of the riding. The one that goes through the centre and the one at the bottom edge are both CP main lines. Those corridors carry tremendous quantities of this crude oil in these big black tanker cars, which everybody learned the name of after Lac-Mégantic: DOT-111s.
The minister, shortly after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, announced new emergency directives where the rail companies were not allowed to have single-person crews, have these trains unattended or transport dangerous goods without having two people on the crew. She also announced that they would be eliminating the use of the DOT-111s within three years.
In what universe does that make us safer? For three years then we have to live with the reality that these bomb trains are going past communities, including my community of York South—Weston. Therefore, these bomb trains are still a feature of the urban landscape and something we have to be extremely vigilant about, and I do not believe that the current Conservative government has been vigilant enough.
The bill would do two things.
It would create a regimen whereby the rail company shares the liability with the shippers in terms of dangerous goods. Ultimately, the rail companies would theoretically be responsible for the entire cost in conjunction with the shippers. However, in regards to the cost at Lac-Mégantic, the government has made it very clear that the Province of Quebec will continue to be on the hook for that cleanup, because there was not enough insurance in the system before Lac-Mégantic took place. MMA, the railroad that was involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster, had $25 million of insurance which was quickly exhausted, and the governments then took up the rest of it, not shippers and not the rest of the railroads.
In terms of the dangers of these rail cars going past our communities, there have been some good moves by the government, but there clearly is not enough. Since Lac-Mégantic, there have been at least seven other massive explosions and collisions of these bomb trains in Canada and the United States. There has been Aliceville, Alabama; Casselton, North Dakota; New Brunswick; West Virginia; Saskatchewan; Gogama; and, more recently, Heimdal, North Dakota.
In some of those occurrences, the cars were not DOT-111s. They were the newer cars, the CPC-1232s. Apparently those newer cars, when they break in a collision, blow up just like the DOT-111s. That is what has been happening all across North America.
What is the solution? The minister has said we are going to replace these with the DOT-117 cars, in 10 years. We have now gone from a 3-year window, which is quickly running down, to a 10-year window before our communities will start to feel safe. We do not even know what is safe about these new DOT-117 cars.
The minister has also lowered the speeds through urban centres to 40 miles an hour, or about 62 kilometres an hour. All of the collisions in recent memory, including one of the two at Gogama, have been at speeds that were less than the speed the minister says is safe in urban areas. How is that to make us feel safe? It does not. The residents of York South—Weston do not feel safe and are demanding that the government do something more.
The government did ask the railroads last year to provide them with route analyses and risk assessments. The route analyses are because we are aware that in the United States, governments there have directed railroads to steer clear of major urban centres like Washington, D.C. They are not allowed to travel through that community.
However, here in Canada, the railroads were given the option to come up with a route analysis and decide for themselves whether it is too risky to go through towns. We asked to see those risk assessments that were done by the railroads for the ministry. Transport Canada said that they were the private property of the railroads. We asked the railroads to give us a copy of the risk assessment, and the railroad said that Transport Canada was free to give us a copy. Then the minister came to the committee and said that they are not. We are still no clearer.
I was at a meeting last week of emergency services on rail safety in the city of Toronto, called because the city has determined it would like to know what Toronto emergency services need. Toronto emergency services confirmed that they do not know what the railroads' risk assessments are. They do not know how risky it is, and where the hot spots are likely to be if there is a problem in a rail corridor running through the city of Toronto. They still do not know, except on an annual basis, at the end of a year, what dangerous goods are going through the city.
It seems ludicrous to consider that information to be private and confidential to the railroads when it is the life and limb of the residents of the city of Toronto, and other cities across this fair land of ours, that is at risk should something happen.
If the railroads have produced a risk assessment that says they should be going slower, then let us make them go slower. If the risk assessment says there are particular spots where they should not travel at all, that they should go around, then let us make them do that.
As far as we know, there has been zero action by the minister, by Transport Canada, by the Transportation Safety Board, or any of the agencies dealing with transportation in this country, to deal with the fact that when one of these tank cars breaks in a collision, and they break at speeds as low as 30 miles an hour, maybe even 25 miles an hour, they explode.
We have yet to hear the minister say that she will find a speed that they are safe to travel at. Until she does, the speed that these trains are travelling at through my community, through the rest of the city of Toronto, is too fast.
We are not going to create a system that is 100% safe. CN admitted that at the transport committee, after Gogama, when it said it could not make it 100% safe and can only do the best it can. We need it to be certain that these things are not going to explode in my community.