House of Commons Hansard #209 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was illegal.


Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Brossard—La Prairie for his speech.

One of the troubling aspects of this bill—because the devil is often in the details—is the removal of the definition of “fatigue science” that already appears in the Railway Safety Act. People need to be aware of the fact that in all areas of transportation, managing fatigue is an ongoing challenge. For instance, when it comes to highway transportation, the provinces have legislated the issue. Truck drivers have to keep log books.

On the rail side, obviously, given that trains operate day and night and cover very long distances, this is a very serious problem, and the NDP brought forward an amendment in committee that, unfortunately, was ruled out of order by the chair.

I wonder if my colleague could talk about the problem of fatigue and what the witnesses reported regarding the risks associated with removing that definition.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for his question, because that is indeed a very important issue. Unfortunately, we did not talk about it enough, but the fact that this bill removes the definition of fatigue management is important.

A definition already existed. Essentially, it said that fatigue management must be based on science. It is rather perplexing that the Conservatives removed it. We were told that it was a little too complicated and resulted in criteria that were too strict. However, that science exists in other industries and other sectors, such as aviation safety and road safety. This science exists. We do not find it overly complicated. On the contrary, when we talk about managing fatigue, it is about safety, not just the safety of employees, but also that of the public. It is therefore appalling that the government decided to do this.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here this afternoon to join this debate. This is a profoundly important issue for Canadians. It has been lingering now for almost a decade under the Conservatives and has been brought to the fore as a result of the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic, where so many vulnerable and innocent people either lost their lives or their families were touched. In fact, the entire community was destroyed.

As a result of that wake-up call, the government has been reacting. What we are here to debate today is frankly how it has been reacting. What we have seen is a series of dribs and drabs and slow release of technical and regulatory amendments and bills. This is part of that process.

First, it is important to step back for a second and remind Canadians what this bill is really all about, which is changing the way we establish minimum insurance levels for railway companies that are regulated by the federal government. Second, it intends to create a new compensation fund that would cover damages that arise from railway accidents involving the transportation of not all but certain kinds of dangerous goods. That is what this bill is really all about.

When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport spoke a moment ago he mentioned that the government knows without a doubt that the amount of money that it is calling upon the industrial sector to make available in insurance and in this compensation fund is a sufficient amount of money. I would ask how he would know that. We asked the minister, the parliamentary secretary, the officials from Transport Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Railway Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and beyond how much the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic has cost thus far. No answer is forthcoming.

The mayor of Lac-Mégantic told us that at minimum it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $500 million. That is half a billion for an accident in a smaller town. We were also told by the ecological experts that that amount of money would have been considerably higher had there not been a layer of natural clay in the subsoil in that area that prevented the seepage of fossil fuels into the aquifers below, which would have produced almost unquantifiable damages to the natural ecosystem in the region. Therefore, when the government states that it has the truth and the answer, that it knows that $1 billion or $1.5 billion is sufficient, I would ask this. What if, heaven forbid, an accident like the one that occurred at Lac-Mégantic occurred in downtown Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Ottawa or Vancouver? I think the government would be singing a very different tune.

I raise this straight up at the beginning of my remarks to illustrate the kind of obfuscation, subterfuge and unwillingness to come clean with Canadians that we have seen from the government on rail safety over the last several years. It is no surprise. The first fact for Canadians to remember is that this is the fifth Minister of Transport in eight years. That tells us that the current government's ministers of transport have been transiting through the department, whether upward, downward or out of cabinet. That indicates that the government has been putting in a number of individuals, not taking this portfolio seriously, not until of course this horrible tragedy at Lac-Mégantic happened upon all of us. That is important for us to remember.

The second fact that the government does not want made public but would rather deny, bob and weave, or create fictitious responses for, is that it is categorically and undeniable slashing funding. It is killing funding when it comes to rail safety. In fact, rail safety funding financing is down 20% over the last five years, year by year.

This year, for Canadians who follow these things, we are all being bombarded with obscene, unwarranted, unjustifiable advertising. Most recently it is the Prime Minister's own 24/7 channel, the vanity video channel he has that records him every week and broadcasts at considerable taxpayer expense. As they say in French, “c'est du jamais-vu au Canada ”. It has never been seen before. We know this year alone the government is spending $42 million on economic action plan advertising. That is a number Canadians have a hard time getting their heads around, so let us juxtapose it in a meaningful way. There is $42 million for economic action plan advertising and $34 million for rail safety. There is $42 million for advertising and $34 million for rail safety. That is the priority of the Conservative regime.

What the Conservatives are doing by subterfuge, by stealth, by miscommunicating, by misleading Canadians, frankly, is they are trying to create an impression that they are on top of this profoundly important public safety issue called rail safety. They are not.

The Conservatives have been consistently and repeatedly warned, first by the Auditor General several years ago who came out and said in practical terms, that we agree with the notion of a safety management system, unlike the NDP, but as Ronald Reagan might have said, trust but verify.

It is the verification where the government as the regulator of a regulated sector is falling short, mostly falling short. The Conservatives cannot stand up and look constituents in the eyes and say that they have enough inspectors, because they do not. They cannot stand up and say that they have enough qualified inspectors, because they do not. They cannot stand up and tell us that they are properly trained and not coming primarily from the private sector that is regulated, because that is not true either. That is in fact where they are coming from.

There is a capacity problem inside Transport Canada. A department that is filled with good people, passionate, dedicated public servants, is being cash starved by a government spending $42 million on economic action plan advertising. As a result, it is our view that the government is putting Canadians at risk. Do not take our word for it; take the word of the Auditor General.

VIA Rail in a three-year or four-year audit period was not audited once by Transport Canada. VIA Rail carries over four million passengers a year, and it was not audited once. The systems safety audit that ought to have been accomplished was not done once. In fact, the government's own numbers indicate it is only completing 25% of the audits they themselves say are necessary to keep rails safe.

It is absurd to hear senior members of the government claim that things are getting better and that they have made so much progress in these dribs and drabs releases. It is not true.

We have a problem; we have a cultural problem in the government. I hate to go back to this, but it is important because past behaviour often indicates a propensity for future behaviour.

There are at least five remaining front-line ministers in the government who were in Ontario when the Walkerton water crisis hit the province. When that crisis hit the province, they all stood up in Ontario and used the same language we heard here today. “We can adjust based on the estimates with supplementary estimates.” “It is the officials who tell us that is enough money to conduct rail safely in the country.” These are the same buzzwords and the same sloganeering that we heard right after the Walkerton crisis, where people died and lots of people got sick.

In fact, in the report by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor, five or six of these front-line ministers were singled out as contributing to the Walkerton crisis. Why? They slashed the funding. There was not a sufficient number of water inspectors, just as there is not a sufficient number of qualified rail inspectors today. This is the same story.

One would think that the government would have learned from the terrible tragedy at Lac-Mégantic, but it has not. That is the context within which this bill has been brought to the House for third reading.

When the minister came to committee, I asked her not once, not twice, and I did this on purpose, I asked her ten consecutive times why she had cut the budget by 11% for Transport Canada, for a total of $202 million cut from the budget. She denied it. I asked her again and again. Finally, she turned to her officials and said that they gave her the numbers, that it was their responsibility, and they said that is all the money they need. Nobody believes this. That is not how governments work. Budgets are allocated. The Treasury Board sits down with finance. The PMO overrules, agrees or disagrees, and the money is allocated.

We have a situation where these choices have been made at the highest levels of government. I asked her ten times, and ten times she denied it.

It is funny because the Parliamentary Budget Officer says that those are the numbers. The Library of Parliament's research says that those are numbers. We are hard-pressed to understand why the government will not come clean. Why will the government not just simply say that it is making a choice, that it is cutting the funding for Transport Canada and cutting rail safety by 20%?

When it comes to the testimony of the experts that we rely on in this place and who bring a perspective that is invaluable to improving legislation, not necessarily perfecting it, but certainly improving it, the Conservative majority on the committee brought the hammer down and said that there shall be no more than two meetings of two hours each. It is serious. We are talking about billions and billions of dollars of insurance coverage. My prediction is we are talking about billions of dollars in litigation that will follow this bill, because it was not thought through legally. The government said that there shall be two two-hour meetings.

When I pushed the four top witnesses on this very issue, they all admitted that, in fact, they had not been properly consulted at all. They had never had a chance to dialogue properly with the department. They had serious, profound questions about the insurance implications, the distributive effects, employment implications, trade competitiveness implications, and beyond. That is what has happened here.

As I said earlier, in my view, there is no greater responsibility of a government than to keep its citizens safe. Canadians today are rightly concerned about rail safety. They are very worried about rail safety, and it is not just the terrible Lac-Mégantic tragedy. We have had three major derailments in the province of Ontario in the last three months. There have been many more in the United States.

The Transportation Safety Board warned the government about the DOT-111 cars. The Transportation Safety Board looked at the northern Ontario accident and confirmed that the new standard brought by the government was not satisfactory. The government came out and said that it has a three-year phase-out and retrofit schedule for DOT-111s, which it knew was false, but it had to put something in the window, instead of slowing down, taking a bit of time and coming up with a better projection and a better plan for the phase-out of the cars that are dangerous.

That is just not the way it operates. The Conservatives had to say something to Canadians. They were really frightened of this file, so as a result they had to make an announcement, even though they know and were told by the number one company in the country that retrofits to these cars are technically impossible to do. The minister was told by her own advisory committee that it is technically impossible to do. The Conservatives announced it.

People are concerned. Recently, many of my caucus colleagues held a very public, large town hall in Toronto on rail safety. They have since written to the minister herself. They said that they are “worried about the massive increase in shipments of crude oil by train, up from 500 tank cars in 2009 to an estimated 110,000 tank cars in 2014”. We are reminded that the minister's spending on rail safety, as I said, is down 20% since 2009-10. She cannot deny it. The numbers are there. “Northern Ontario”, they go on to say, “saw three derailments in less than a month between February and March”. They raised concerns about the accuracy of the current speed limits on trains routed through Toronto and for that matter, all urban centres in the country, whether trains with dangerous materials should be routed through highly populated neighbourhoods at all. Is that a discussion we are having here? Never.

Band-aid after band-aid after band-aid, image after image after image, rolled out of technical dribs and drabs has been the response to the wake-up call of Lac-Mégantic. It does not cut it. It is not good enough.

We have tried to work collaboratively with the government. I think there are many MPs on the government side themselves who are dissatisfied with this response, because they are feeling the heat from their own constituents, as they should, as we all should, because we have an obligation to get this better for Canadians.

It is hard for us to square a number of other technical parts of the bill which I want to turn to. One is that the parliamentary secretary got up and said, in fact quoting the minister, that they have been assured that there are no financial implications for the bill, no additional costs in bringing in a 59-page bill. Really?

I asked the director general of the Canadian Transportation Agency whether that was true, and she could not answer, because now one of the things the bill does is it actually takes away litigation and gives a new responsibility to the Canadian Transportation Agency to adjudicate, to decide on how much compensation should be paid if there is an accident if a claim is made by a municipality or province. They admitted in testimony that they are not qualified to do it. The director general of the Canadian Transportation Agency said that they will think it through later. They have to get it done. There is an election coming October 19. They have to get it done.

There is one technical gap. Another is related to a really important legal liability issue where the test as to who is responsible if there is a railway accident has been changed by one stroke of a pen. I want to finish with this, because I predict this is going to cause all kinds of problems. Now a railway company that operates a railway which is involved in a railway accident, simply involved, the problem with that is railways often pass goods on from one railway to another, so who is involved? Who will pay the compensation? Whose insurance company will indemnify for the cost? This is completely unclear.

The Conservatives were warned. They had legal opinions that told them this was a real problem going forward. They were told it would lead to difficulty getting insurance coverage and difficulty later on with litigation, but they ignored it. It was brought to them in committee by me, by others, by their technical experts.

It is unfortunate that we missed the opportunity to take the time we need to improve things for Canadians when it comes to rail safety, because we need our railways. They are a big part of the engine of the economy. I think right now we have an obligation to go back and build on this bill and get it better.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member for Ottawa South, the critic for transportation for the Liberal Party. I did not once hear him explain why it is that the Liberal Party, when it was the government starting back in the 1990s initiated the deregulation, not only in the transportation industry, but in food inspection and other important areas where regulation is needed. I think we have come to learn that self-regulation by industries does not work.

I was hoping he might acknowledge that. The points he made about the flaws in the system, the weaknesses, the lack of action by the current government to actually respond to some of the serious problems that are being created on our railways, are absolutely true. However, I wonder if he would not acknowledge the fact that a lot of this originated with the decision by the previous Liberal government to deregulate and not actually respond to the transportation board's claims that the DOT-111 rail cars were a problem.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a good opportunity for me to perhaps help the member understand a bit better how it works.

The safety management systems are supported by the Transportation Safety Board and by the Auditor General. The approach in a safety management system admits that there are at least two parties involved: there is a regulated sector and there is a regulator. The regulator is government. The regulated sector is the federally regulated railways.

There is a legitimate difference of view between the Liberal Party and the NDP. I admit it freely. We believe there is a role in the private sector to assume a certain amount of responsibility to achieve the highest level of safety possible. We believe, concomitantly, that there is a role for the regulator to ensure that regulated sector is in fact operating at the highest levels.

The NDP does not subscribe to this view. It believes, wrongly, in my view, that it should be hammering the private sector to a point where I think it would have a great bearing on its ability to operate and to remain competitive.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a regular train passenger, one becomes acquainted with what is on the freight, because freight takes precedence over passenger rail in this country. I tried to make a trip across Canada this past summer, only to find that the volume of fossil fuel travelling by freight delayed passenger rail by as much as six to seven hours a ride with different stations. It is a real shame because VIA Rail is an important part of our economy and we should be treating it a lot better.

In the bill we had a chance to put in something that is in the U.S. rail safety improvement act, which is called “positive train control”. It is the use of high-tech computer monitoring. We would be able to, through positive train control, if we installed it on trains, know if they were going too fast. We would know if their gears were not working. We would know if the brakes had come unhinged. There would be alarm bells ringing. Of course, we also have dangerously slashed the working crews on board freight. However, positive train control would give us much safer railways. I would ask my friend for his comments on this.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, my good friend is correct. This is an obvious omission, not necessarily in this bill, but it was an obvious omission in the government's dribs-and-drabs response to the rail safety challenges we are facing.

I would say that she is actually right, as well, when it comes to the question of an adult conversation about the use of our tracks, who gets precedence, who does not get precedence, in terms of use of those railway tracks. Is it passengers? Is it merchandise? Is it goods?

In fact, I commend one of my colleagues from the NDP from Gaspé who brought a bill that at least is beginning the debate about what role VIA Rail should be playing, what role passengers should have versus merchandise and other goods being transported. That is an intelligent debate to have.

Unfortunately, we are not having that under the leadership of the government. It did not want to open it up and do the right thing. We are not talking about improving the system for five years or by the next election. We really should be talking about improving the system for the next century.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario


Bernard Trottier ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for La Francophonie

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member commented about dribs and drabs. There is something to be said for incrementalism. Incremental improvements are better than no improvements. My colleague on the opposite side, with the NDP, pointed out that there were certain things that government did not do over 13 long years. We are actually achieving some success with some of these regulatory changes.

The focus of this bill is liability and compensation. I know the member wanted to take us down the primrose path. He was talking about food safety and other unrelated items. However, let us talk about compensation and liability in the railroad industry, specifically for the smaller railroads that might not have enough insurance. That is important, so let us focus on that. Can the member admit that these are good, positive changes, and will he support that aspect of the bill?

Last week the Minister of Transport was in Washington and announced with Secretary Foxx important changes to the tank car standards, important changes that are achievable and realistic and that will bring about safety, because of the enormous increase in volume with respect to petrochemicals and petroleum products across the border.

Can the member comment on those two things we are doing to address rail safety?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I never said that this bill should be thrown out in its entirety. I have an obligation to point out for Canadians where its shortcomings are. There are some elements of this bill that are very positive indeed and that we support. In fact, we can take some credit collectively. That is how we work here, collectively, particularly at committee. There are some elements of the bill that are very strong.

However, it is important to remind Canadians that there are other shortfalls, and the chief one for us is the undeniable fact that the government is not properly resourcing its own department. The government cannot ask simply for liability to be increased on the railways if it is not doing its job with its regulatory responsibilities through inspections and audits. The government cannot do that. The system will collapse.

With respect to the minister being in Washington last week, I do not know why she went. She re-announced something from a year ago. It is going to be a 10-year phase-out for most of these cars. It is too bad she made the first announcement on the DOT-111 phase-out. Had she not done that and had she listened to the experts who actually manufacture these cars, we could have saved a considerable amount of time and made a quantum leap to the new cars that can be manufactured right now in the United States, and soon in Canada.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, our rail-line industry is of critical importance. Winnipeg is one of the hub centres with massive CP and CN yards. A phenomenal amount of cargo of all natures goes through it.

This is one of the driving forces of our economy, and that is one reason it is important that when we bring in legislation, we get it right. Given the importance to the economy of getting it right, could the member provide some thoughts on how he sees legislation or regulation in the future playing a critical role in ensuring that our rail lines are safe, and as much as possible, efficient and worthy of travel?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is easy. If they are prepared to exercise national leadership, and they are prepared to pull together all the parties that are involved that have a stake in improving the system, they can make some progress, and very quickly. It is not easy to actually convene them and find a way forward and get agreement, but it is easy to start the process. That did not happen here. They missed this opportunity.

We have to examine a few things.

Number one, the railway system in this country is as foundational as our electrical grid. We need it. We rely on it to move our goods. It is very much involved in success in wealth creation and particularly jobs in Canada.

Second, we have to have an adult conversation about the use of railways and our energy future. If the oil sands continue to expand the way they are, and we will see, based on oil prices, we will have a million barrels a day of excess capacity in nine years. That is if all the contemplated pipelines are built. There is going to be dramatic pressure on our railways to carry more oil. How are we going to deal with this? What are the consequences? What are the risks? The government does not want to have that conversation.

Those are the kinds of elements we should be bringing together to make sure, as we project outwards, which is our obligation here, that we get a better system that is safer and in which Canadians have more confidence.

Last, if the member thinks there is a disconnect between the water approach in Ontario and what has been happening here, he should go back and read Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor's report on Walkerton. He will see very familiar language.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am truly honoured to rise in this place today to speak to this very important piece of legislation. I represent the great riding of Wetaskiwin, which has major rail lines in it, both CP and CN. Constituents in that large rural riding know the value railways have, and I take very seriously the importance of the safety of the operation of the railways in that riding.

Before I go on, I would like to advise that I will be sharing my time with the dapperly dressed member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, who will, I am sure, enlighten the chamber with his thoughts as well.

I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-52. It is a good bill. It is the safe and accountable rail act, which would reinforce the government's polluter pays principle for the rail sector.

The polluter pays principle holds industry accountable to Canadians and supports responsible resource development. It also reflects Canadians' expectations about making responsible parties pay the costs of the accidents they are responsible for.

The polluter pays principle is a key part of the modernization of the liability and compensation regime in other sectors, including the marine sector, the nuclear sector, pipelines, and offshore oil and gas. A number of those bills have already been brought before the House, where we have made exactly the same kinds of legislative changes when it comes to the polluter pays principle in dealing with absolute liability and so on.

In voting for this bill, parliamentarians will be supporting this important principle. This is our government's objective: to ensure that sufficient funds are available to compensate victims of railway accidents and to pay for cleanup costs in the event that those things may happen.

The polluter pays principle means, first, that railways pay the cost of accidents for which they are responsible. Therefore, we are proposing that each railway be required to hold a minimum amount of third-party liability insurance to cover the cost of an accident. This is a good thing. This would give a level of assurance to Canadians that their tax dollars would not be used when it comes to an accident, cleanup, or spill or any of the other damages that might be associated with a minimum level of liability. These minimum insurance levels would be established in the legislation so that they were clear and transparent and so that Canadians would know what they could expect.

With this approach, Canadians would be reassured in the wake of something like the Lac-Mégantic tragedy that railways would have enough insurance to cover these costs when accidents, unfortunately, may happen in the future.

These insurance levels are based on risk. It is an insurance program, and it will be based on risk, as any other real insurance program is. They were developed based on an analysis of rail accident cost data and the potential severity of incidents involving certain types of dangerous goods. The levels range from $25 million to $1 billion, based on the type and volume of dangerous goods the railway may carry. When the new regime comes into force one year after the bill's royal assent, railways that carry little or no dangerous goods will be required to carry $25 million minimum in insurance.

Requirements for railways carrying higher amounts of specified dangerous goods, including crude oil, would be phased in over time. Initially, the railways would be required to carry either $50 million or $125 million of insurance coverage. One year later, those requirements would increase to $100 million or $250 million of coverage.

Railways moving substantial amounts of specified dangerous goods, such as our major national railways, CN and CP, would be required to carry a minimum of $1 billion in liability insurance.

We have heard that some short lines may have difficulty adjusting to the enhanced insurance requirements or that the increased costs may affect their viability. However, as the Lac-Mégantic incident has shown us, accidents involving smaller railways carrying dangerous goods can result in catastrophic damages. It is for this reason that the government committed to hold railways more accountable through enhanced insurance requirements.

Phasing in the highest levels of insurance for short lines at $100 million and $250 million would help mitigate concerns and provide the railways required to hold these amounts with sufficient time to adjust. We do not expect that railways required to hold either $25 million or $1 billion in insurance would need additional time to adjust, so those levels would take effect immediately after the legislation comes into force. This is only fair.

Railways would have to notify the Canadian Transportation Agency of any changes affecting their insurance coverage. The agency could make inquiries to ensure compliance, and the insurance requirements would be enforceable through penalties of up to $100,000 per violation. These measures would ensure that railways were properly insured for their operations.

Another important component of the bill is the polluter pays principle and its clearly established liability in this legislation for railways.

Under the bill, railways would be liable up to their minimum insurance level, without the need to prove fault or negligence—and I have to stress that, without the need to prove fault or negligence—for a railway accident involving crude oil or any other designated good.

As our 2013 Speech from the Throne commitment implied, the railway is not the only responsible party in a railway accident that involves goods such as crude oil. Our government committed to requiring both shippers and railways to carry additional insurance, so that they are also held accountable.

Shippers of dangerous goods like crude oil are a part of the polluter pays concept for the railway sector. This is because such goods have inherent characteristics that contribute to the severity of an accident.

Accordingly, the bill would provide for a mechanism to share liability for accidents more broadly between shippers of crude oil and railways. This would be done through a shipper-financed fund that would supplement a railway's insurance if and when necessary. The fund would be triggered once the cost of a crude oil-related railway accident exceeds a railway's insurance level.

The fund, combined with the insurance levels, would protect potential victims and pay for environmental cleanup and restoration. It would also reimburse governments for the cost of responding to a railway accident.

This two-tiered approach—the insurance and then the fund for any accidents that go over the insured amount—would provide a broad range of coverage for damages in the case of a crude oil railway accident. Higher insurance levels would ensure that railways have more resources available to pay for their liabilities. For accidents involving crude oil, the fund would insure that all other damages and losses were compensated.

This regime would equally cover all actual loss or damage incurred, including damage to people, property, and the environment. The costs incurred in responding to the accident might also be claimed. In addition, the federal or provincial Crown may seek compensation for the impairment of non-use value of public resources.

We are focusing on crude oil because this is a dangerous product that is moved in large quantities by rail over long distances and is a particular concern for Canadians following the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. However, recognizing that other goods have characteristics that could also contribute to the severity of an accident, we have provided the option of adding other goods to the fund in the future by regulation.

Shippers of crude oil would contribute to the fund through a levy of $1.65 per tonne shipped. This levy would apply to any shipment of crude oil carried by a federally regulated railway including a shipment originating from the United States or on a provincially regulated short line.

Capitalizing the fund to $250 million initially would provide substantial additional coverage for crude oil accidents, but this is a notional amount and certainly not a cap on the fund. The bill would allow the minister to discontinue and reimpose a levy as necessary.

Based on a reasonable projection of oil-by-rail traffic growth in the coming years, we determined that a $1.65 per tonne levy on rail shipments of crude oil would likely generate $250 million for the fund in approximately five years. However, the bill provides flexibility for the levy to continue longer than five years should oil-by-rail traffic grow at lower than expected rates.

It is important to emphasis that. Regardless of the capitalization target, the fund would cover all rail accident costs above railway insurance. In the unlikely event that damages exceed the amount being held in the fund, the consolidated revenue fund would provide a loan to cover the shortfall and pay the remaining claims. Any loans from the consolidated revenue fund would be recouped from the industry through levies. These measures are also to reinforce the polluter pays principle.

As I conclude, I want to urge all members to think carefully about how they are going to vote on this piece of legislation. Canadians are counting on us to make a good decision on their behalf.

As we have seen, the accidents have happened in Lac-Mégantic and in my riding of Wetaskiwin, where there are so many communities right on the CP and CN lines. We start out in places like Millet and Wetaskiwin and go down through the Maskwacis area, through Ponoka, Lacombe, and Blackfalds, through Red Deer, and so on; and the CN line goes out in the eastern part through communities like Mirror, Gwynne, and so on. These are communities that are near railway crossings.

The railway traffic in Alberta has increased tremendously over the last number of years with the expansion of oil sands projects and the inability of some pipeline companies to get their projects approved. We have seen an increased dependency on rail for the movement of these items, so it is very important to reassure my constituents, and reassure not only Albertans but any people who have a rail line going through their community, that there will be the coverage available and it will not be at taxpayers' expense as it was with the absence of this legislation, unfortunately, as we saw at Lac-Mégantic.

This is very important legislation, and I encourage all colleagues to vote for it. While they may have criticisms of the bill, or they may want to play politics with this bill, in essence, it would be a sad commentary if we could not come to an agreement in the House that the bill, while it would never be perfect for 308 members, certainly is good enough to be passed into law before we rise for the summer.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 7th, 2015 / 4:50 p.m.


Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the remarks of the member across the way.

In the current context of deregulating rail transportation, the number of inspectors is not the only parameter to consider. Indeed, many of the inspection tasks are not done by Transport Canada inspectors, but by the railway employees.

Let us talk about Lac-Mégantic. When the shameful company Montreal, Maine & Atlantic was found at fault, the first thing that happened was that the employees in charge of inspecting the level crossings in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, for example, were laid off. All that safety work came to an abrupt halt because those employees were no longer employed by the railway.

Even though we agree on this bill and on creating this fund, we wonder how this will resolve the problems associated with self-regulation and the fact that the safety guidelines are written by the railway companies and not by the inspectors.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the hon. member was making the case for nationalizing the railways or not, but that certainly would not be the position of the Conservative government.

The member talked about an unfortunate accident, but what he does not understand is that, in that particular case, because the company did not have insurance, it was immediately on the hook and had to lay off its inspection staff and other staff accordingly.

The bill has several clauses in it that would require companies to share the information with Transport Canada in a timely and effective manner. However, had the bill been in place, a company like MMA would have had the insurance it needed to pay the damages and would not have gone through nearly the financial suffering it did, because it would have also had the fund on top of that. Now, that would not have prevented the accident from happening, but it would have prevented the incident the member is talking about, which would have allowed MMA to stay out of the financial trouble that it would have been in because it would have had insurance coverage that would have carried it through the duration of that particular disaster.

While the hon. member has a good point, his logic that got him to the point where is asking the question just does not hold water.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been an MP for four years. I have often seen how the Conservatives operate and the occasional collusion of the Liberals. These two parties like to join forces on certain issues. A recent example I have in mind is the anti-terrorist bill, which unfortunately passed at third reading here in the House. The Liberals and the Conservatives are also complicit in matters of deregulation, as my colleague from Saint-Jean pointed out.

In 1999, the Liberals went ahead with implementing complete deregulation and allowing self-regulation. Furthermore, it has taken 20 long years, under Liberal and Conservative governments, for the Transportation Safety Board to sound the alarm about the DOT-111 tank cars. In the end, those 20 years of neglect make for a truly pathetic track record.

Although the bill is not without merit, and we support it because it does take some preliminary steps to improve the situation, it does not address the problems of inspection and prevention. Furthermore, it removes the issue of fatigue management, which is an urgent and central problem.

What justification is there for eliminating fatigue management from the Railway Safety Act?

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4:55 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member finally got to his question dealing with fatigue. I got a little fatigued listening to him finally get to that particular point, but in all fairness, the question is a very serious one.

Anybody who drives a truck or flies on an airplane knows that pilots are subject to the rules about how long they can fly and truckers keep log books about how long they can be on the road.

The member would know that the proposed amendments in the bill would change the regulation-making power for safety management systems to add in the concept of employee fatigue management. Therefore, that is captured in the essence of this bill. The result would be that railway companies would be required to take into consideration the management of their employees' fatigue and include scheduling in their safety management system.

We are making progress on that, which is why all members of this House should support this bill.

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4:55 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the safe and accountable rail act.

Following the tragic July 2013 accident at Lac-Mégantic, our government acted quickly to strengthen safety in Canada's rail and transport of dangerous goods systems. Our actions have been based on three fundamental elements of rail safety, which are prevention, preparedness and response, and liability and compensation. This bill relates to the third of those pillars, liability and compensation. Today, I would like to outline how this proposed legislation would strengthen our liability and compensation regime for federally regulated railways.

The events of Lac-Mégantic highlighted the importance of having a strong liability and compensation regime for rail, and adequate compensation available in the event of a major accident. In the 2013 Speech from the Throne, we committed to hold railways and shippers accountable. To act on this and to examine how to strengthen our regime, we undertook a comprehensive review, which included two rounds of extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, including railways, shippers, provinces, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the insurance industry.

Our objective has been to ensure there are sufficient resources to adequately compensate potential victims and pay for cleanup costs. Our aim is also to make sure that the polluters pay, so that the taxpayers do not shoulder the financial burden in the event of an accident. These key principles are also central to the liability and compensation regimes that are currently being updated in other modes and sectors, such as offshore oil and gas, marine tankers, and pipelines. This proposed legislation would achieve these goals by sharing liability for rail accidents between railways and the shippers of crude oil, clarifying liability to benefit claimants, making more resources available for compensation, and ensuring compliance with the new regime.

What we are proposing is a two-tier system similar to the approach taken for marine oil tankers. The first tier would enhance insurance for federally regulated railways by imposing risk-based mandatory minimum insurance requirements. The second tier would share accountability for rail accidents with shippers of certain dangerous goods through a supplementary compensation fund.

Let me get into some of the specifics of the first tier, enhanced railway insurance. The responsibility for railway accidents rests first with the railway. The bill would establish minimum mandatory insurance levels that are explicitly linked to risk. The Canadian Transportation Agency would assign railways to a minimum insurance level based on the type and volume of the specific dangerous goods they carry. The minimum mandatory insurance requirements take into account the potential severity of accidents. The requirements range from $25 million for railways that carry few or no dangerous goods to $1 billion for railways that transport significant volumes of dangerous goods. Insurance would cover the damages involving third party injury or loss of life, third party property damage, and the risk associated with a leak, pollution, or contamination.

The bill would also clarify the railway's liability for accidents involving crude oil. Railways would automatically be liable up to their insurance limit without having to prove fault or negligence, and the railways would have to be operationally or physically involved in the accident in order to be held liable. This would give potential victims more certainty regarding their compensation claims, and it would protect taxpayers from having to cover the excess liability that we know can result from a catastrophic accident. For other accidents, liability would continue to be established through the courts, based on fault or negligence, as it is today.

I will turn to the second tier of the proposed new regime, which is the shipper-financed compensation fund. As I mentioned earlier, railway companies, through their insurance, would be the payers of the first resort for rail accidents. However, for accidents involving crude oil, any damages above the railway's liability limit would be covered by the fund. This fund would be financed by shippers through a levy of $1.65 per tonne of crude oil carried by the federally regulated railway and deposited into a special account of the consolidated revenue fund.

Our focus on crude oil for the fund responds first and foremost to the concerns that were expressed in relation to the Lac-Mégantic incident. Clearly, Canadians are concerned about the growing volumes of oil being transported by rail across long distances and through many communities, a trend that is expected to continue. Our approach recognizes that this is a new and significant phenomenon and we need to have adequate measures in place to hold the industry accountable. However, in the future some other dangerous goods could be scoped into the fund through regulation.

The combination of the enhanced insurance requirements and the supplementary fund would provide sufficient resources to cover the vast majority of potential accidents. The fund would be the payer of last resort in the rare event of damages from a rail accident involving crude oil surpassing the railway's insurance level. Furthermore, should an accident be of such a magnitude to deplete the resources held in the compensation fund, the consolidated revenue fund would be called upon to act as a backstop. This would ensure that all damages resulting from a rail accident involving crude oil would be covered.

It is important to emphasize that even in such an extreme situation the taxpayer should be protected. Any public money loaned to the compensation fund would be repayable with interest on terms set by the Minister of Finance through levies on the industry.

Another important part of establishing this compensation fund is putting in place an administrative body that can manage the fund effectively and in a cost efficient manner. To that end, we are modelling the fund's administration on that of the ship source oil pollution fund in the regime of marine tankers. A fund administrator would be responsible for establishing and paying out claims after the railway's liability limit was reached. As well as reporting on the management of the fund to Parliament through the minister of transport, after paying out claims, the fund administrator would be able to seek reimbursement from any at fault third parties through the courts.

The fund would achieve two important goals. First, it would ensure that shippers are held accountable for the liabilities associated with transporting their dangerous goods. This reflects the fact that shippers are a part of the polluter pays equation and that the nature of their products contribute to transportation risk. Second, the fund would provide added resources that could be called upon to compensate for damages, if required.

The benefits of this two-tiered regime that I have just described would only be felt if it operates as designed. That is why we have included enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance. To ensure railways comply with the enhanced insurance requirements and collect and remit levies for the fund, monetary penalties of up to $100,000 per violation could be applied. Penalties would not be applied to shippers. Instead, to ensure that levies were paid, a railway's common carrier obligations to the shipper would be conditional on the shipper paying the required levy to the railway. In other words, the goods would not be shipped without payment of the levy.

A robust liability and compensation regime for rail complements our government's actions to further strengthen the safety of our rail system and the transportation of dangerous goods. Putting this legislation in place would ensure that should other rail accidents occur polluters would be held accountable and would provide the resources needed to compensate victims and to clean up the environment. I therefore urge all members to adopt the bill.

I come from an area of the country in southern Ontario, from a community that has been known as the railway capital of Canada. At different times, 36 different railways have run through St. Thomas, Ontario. It is quite proud of its railways heritage and its railway safety. As far as I know, we only had the one significant accident. In 1886, Jumbo the elephant was hit by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario. The largest elephant known to man, P.T. Barnum lost one of his greatest assets. I believe he would have wished this type of insurance plan was in place to have compensated him when Jumbo the elephant went down that day to the train in St. Thomas, Ontario.

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5:05 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario


Bernard Trottier ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for La Francophonie

Mr. Speaker, there is some important insight to be gleaned from the member's comments.

First, I commend him for focusing on the actual content of the bill. It is an important one, focused very squarely on the compensation and liability regime for railroads. It is not a panacea.

Railroads have been operating for well over a century in North America and in Canada. They will continue to operate and be a real cornerstone of our economy, our vibrant continental and international economy.

Could my colleague expand on the compensation fund? I think we all understand insurance and how that works, and the need for companies, where there are risks, to have adequate insurance. Certainly in the case of Lac-Mégantic, that railroad, the MMA, did not have adequate insurance to ensure that the victims were properly compensated.

On the compensation fund, the notion is that the railways are responsible for the risks, but the shippers are responsible for the risk as well. Could the member comment on that? How will the shippers take some responsible for the risk? At the same time, will this compensation fund affect their competitiveness? We understand how important it is to the petroleum industry in our country. It pays for all kinds of things that we appreciate in our great country.

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5:05 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have put in place what we think is belt and suspenders, in the way of being able to compensate. The railways are asked to carry a level of insurance based on the types of products they carry and the amount of business they do.

The second phase of that is a compensation fund that is available for the much larger accidents that would not be covered by insurance or might not be able to be covered by insurance, even though we have ensured that the railways carry that insurance.

The fund is created by $1.65 per tonne of oil, in this case oil carried. It is paid as the shipping happens so the fund is robust, is always complete, and it has money there. Over time, it will be able to handle any sort of accident that may happen, although we hope the fund is never used. All Canadians would hope that is the case.

As we continue to move dangerous products, like oil, by train, there is the opportunity that it might happen. Beyond the insurance of the companies involved, this will create a greater fund for those much larger and perhaps more dangerous situations.

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5:10 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

The Canadian disaster relief fund is an interesting aspect of the bill, but it does raise some concerns.

First, we do not understand why the amount was set at $250 million. Second, the money for this fund will be in the general revenues of the government.

I studied the budget extensively and I am in the process of going over the budget implementation bill, and I cannot say that the government inspires confidence. For example, to balance the budget this year, the Conservatives raided the national contingency fund.

I would like my colleague to clarify all this. I am not sure he will be able to reassure the public.

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5:10 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be more than able to reassure. I will be able to reassure the member opposite that constituents in my riding and across Canada have been putting their faith in this government and agree that a promise made is a promise kept.

In the sense of balancing a budget, and I thank the member for bringing that up. Back home that is a pretty significant piece. I thank the member for allowing me to advertise that a little here.

The legislation we are debating today is also a promise made. When the members opposite vote for it at the end of this level of debate, it will be another promise kept. We then can tell Canadians that rail safety matters, that rail safety is taken care of, that railways will be asked to carry a level of insurance. We will also be able to put together the consolidated fund for those larger incidents that may or may not happen.

I thank the member for pointing out the great work of this government in its budgeting, and balancing of it. I thank him for allowing me to talk a little more about it today.

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5:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, I must inform the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine that there are 17 minutes remaining for government orders. The hon. member would normally have 20 minutes for his speech, but I will interrupt him at 5:30 p.m., at the end of the time provided for government orders.

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5:10 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be brief. Today, we are debating a bill that will supposedly improve rail safety in Canada. One of the government's main responsibilities is definitely to ensure public safety.

There has been a spectacular increase in the amount of oil shipped by rail. In 2009 there were 6,000 cars transporting oil, whereas last year, in 2014, there were 110,000. Canadians certainly have the right to ask questions, especially whether their safety is really this government's priority. The Lac-Mégantic disaster showed that there are serious flaws when it comes to safety.

Today, we have before us a bill that will not improve rail safety, but will instead address the issue of insurance after an accident. This is a reactive rather than a proactive bill.

We do not improve the safety of Canadians by sending a cheque after an accident occurs. We must improve the public's safety. The quality of Canada's rail system is very questionable, primarily because of the bills passed by successive governments in the past 20 years. That is what I am going to talk about.

I welcome the opportunity to address the government's bill, Bill C-52, the so-called safe and accountable rail act, which is a revised version of the existing Canada Transportation Act.

The biggest problem I have with the legislation is that it is based on an act that was inadequate when it was passed in 1996 by a Liberal government, and in turn, that bill was based on an even worse act passed by the Conservatives in 1987.

What we are being asked to do now, frankly, is comparable to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have a fundamental responsibility to ensure safety, not to spend hours discussing insurance liability for rail companies. That is certainly a first step, and it is why I am going to support the legislation, but it is a tiny step. We need to go an awful lot further.

The changes proposed today are only the beginning of an answer. Canadians need a new act that is based on fundamental elements that have been lacking all along. From the very start, the current act has lacked the basics necessary to maximize the performance and safety of our multi-modal transportation system and especially its rail component.

The maintenance and safe, effective operation of a national transportation system fully addressing the needs of this country, the private owners of the majority of that system, and the shippers and passengers who depend on it requires that it be conceived as a whole. The essential elements would be policy, legislation, planning, and adequate funding, which the government sorely lacks in many fields of its jurisdiction.

Legislation is but one element in the development of a comprehensive and effective national transportation system. However, the Canada Transportation Act lacks many of these building blocks, the most elementary being a basic national policy balancing public and private interests.

As is said in the introduction to this legislation's review discussion paper, Canada's transportation system is “substantially more market-based, deregulated and competitive” than it was in the period before the Mulroney Conservatives introduced their deregulatory act in 1987.

In fact, our transportation system today is largely based on a laissez-faire approach that reserves only a few areas for public oversight. Its most vital flaw is the lack of an underlying, proactive policy.

As a result, Canada's transportation system is a series of silos that have been cobbled together by multiple and often competing owners without a comprehensive plan. All of them have wound up being patched up with this makeshift legislative and financial band-aid to correct the flaws created by a boundless faith in this hands-off, strictly-for-profit approach. It is totally unrealistic.

The VIA Rail Canada program, funding for remote airports and roads, scattershot safety fixes, a last minute renewal of federal funding for the Algoma Central passenger service and the government's Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, these form a patchwork of intervention in a system that the government likes to think does not require intervention, yet it continues to intervene.

There is no central policy or plan at work here, and it has been said that this type of necessary intervention is too frequently only taken by governments such as this in the run-up to an election. Pardon the pun, but this is no way to run a railroad. It is certainly no way to run a country.

The Canadian approach is far different from that taken by other countries that view transportation not just as a business, but as a potent tool for national, economic, social and environmental growth and security. This especially applies to the rail sector.

The United States took a similar laissez-faire approach to railroading for decades. With the construction of its highway interstate network, the national rail system there drifted along without benefit of a clear policy, nor comprehensive planning, nor balanced or sustainable funding, very similar to Canada today. The result was the collapse of large parts of the system and the need for government intervention under crisis conditions.

The revision of the U.S. approach to railroading is now under way with the enunciation of clear, inclusive policies that are interlocked with legislation, planning and funding to realize this new national vision. The objective is to maximize the potential of rail in concert, not in competition, with the other modes.

Making changes to the limited amount of legislation embodied in this CTA is only a small part of the solution. Without a clear and comprehensive national policy, even the best legislation will fail because it is based on what amounts to an absence of policy. Revising the CTA in the absence of enlightened and proactive policies cannot and will not decisively correct its major deficiencies.

There are two specific areas that concern me greatly. The first is the safety of the transportation network that has evolved under the current CTA and the predecessor deregulatory act on which it is based. This especially applies to rail.

We have now gone through a wave of rail accidents that have demonstrated how much our system has declined. If this was only to include Lac-Mégantic, that would already be much too much, but we have experienced numerous major derailments, both before and after that disaster, that have demonstrated that our rail system is degrading, and degrading rapidly.

Just as bad, it is not being monitored adequately on behalf of the public. What we have now is a self-regulating rail safety network, and it is not working.

Our rail safety regime under the CTA is badly flawed. It provides inadequate protection for individuals, inadequate protection for communities and its workers. In the pursuit of profits, corners are being cut and this inadequate attention to safety is not being revealed until it is too late. What we have now is reactive rail safety legislation.

To be effective, there must be a new safety legislation within the CTA that is not only better, it must be vigilantly enforced. Any new legislation must recognize that the public interest can only be adequately protected when the regulator has the power and the resources to enforce the rules.

Some believe that compelling the railways to carry more insurance is the answer. This is the very basis of this current legislation. While it is part of the solution, this is reactive in nature and after the fact. It does not prevent accidents; it merely analyzes them after they have occurred.

Funds should also be invested in improved infrastructure and safety appliances, which would prevent fiery derailments that pose an unnecessary risk to public safety. I am extremely disappointed that the bill does not include the implementation of a safety system that would have a major impact on Canadian rail safety. PTC, positive train control, a highly effective high-tech system, has been mandated by the U.S. Congress for all main lines handling passenger trains and freight trains carrying dangerous goods.

PTC would have had substantial impact on the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. In fact, it could have prevented it by alerting employees of the impending catastrophe as soon as that train began to be under way. There could have been intervention at a critical time. At the very least, the PTC system would have allowed for the minimization of the eventual derailment that led to the devastating explosions and the horrible loss of life. This bill does not even contemplate the application or the requirement for advanced technologies such as PTC.

I would also point out that the requirement to safely equip and maintain operations with advanced systems such as PTC would generate a domestic economic uplift. It would stimulate Canadian railway supply industries and creates jobs, such as in La Pocatière, Quebec and in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Private railway funding of large insurance policies usually just goes to offshore insurance companies and does nothing really to improve safety.

Furthermore, legislation aimed at improving rail safety must recognize that it requires on-the-ground inspection by trained government personnel who have the power to rigidly enforce the rules. There must be an adequate number of them to do it on a constant and daily basis.

I also believe that CTA needs to be revised to play a major role in proper functioning of our passenger rail service, VIA Rail Canada. There is precious little in the act today aimed at establishing the mandate, rights or obligations of our national passenger service, or even other passenger or commuter operations. I attempted to correct this situation with Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, which would have required consequential amendments to the current CTA. That overdue legislation was defeated by the current Conservative government.

There is little in the current act to protect and direct the provision of a proper rail passenger system. There is, in fact, only one clause in the current CTA that affords any legislative rights in delivering a necessary service to millions of Canadians. When it has been applied on a very few occasions, it has been helpful but it does not go far enough in establishing VIA's right to operate on the lines of the privately owned freight railways.

VIA, like the whole transportation system, will never function effectively as long as our national transportation system is based on legislation that does not allow for the protection of the public interest. Nor does it respect the fair rights of our for-profit freight railways. These two are not mutually exclusive. A strong and healthy transportation system is vital to improve Canada's global competitiveness, security, social well-being and environmental performance. We won't have that as long as we allow our multi-modal system to function in what amounts to a policy vacuum. That is what we have today under the CTA, and no amount of tinkering is going to correct it.

As other nations with which we compete have demonstrated, the federal government needs to become much more engaged, innovative and supportive in addressing the numerous challenges that stand in the way of delivering safe, modern, adequate and sustainable transportation services across our land. To be truly effective, the CTA needs to be revised on the basis of a comprehensive national transportation policy that takes into account the needs of all stakeholders, public and private. This is a matter well beyond any revision of the act, solely presented here before the hon. members. It must originate at the highest levels of our federal government and it must include a serious dialogue.

The current bill was presented to a parliamentary committee in two sittings. This very important piece of legislation was rammed through much too quickly. Many stakeholders did not have the opportunity to speak. We need to take all of the steps necessary. This bill is simply a first step.

Let us remember that when the minister recently, with her American colleagues, announced new regulations regarding the transportation of dangerous goods, the minister and her American counterpart said that from now on, in urban areas of 100,000 people or more, the speed limit for dangerous goods will be 40 miles an hour. The problem with that is that it is not the density of the population nearby that is the real problem; it is the quality of the railway itself.

There are many areas of this country where we have allowed companies not to complete sufficient rail maintenance. They have deferred it to future periods, and when the rail cars run on these inadequately maintained rails, there is risk of accident. The government then has to act in a crisis situation, such as it did in northern New Brunswick, where it had to negotiate under the gun with a rail company to ensure that the railway was going to be properly maintained over the next 15 years.

This should not be managed in a crisis mode. We know the problem is the quality of the rail itself. We know that private companies are self-monitoring. Without proper supervision by the government and its agencies, this problem is simply going to be compounded. Again, the amount of rail transportation of our oil products is skyrocketing, and the danger to the public goes up at the same rate.

We have to take our responsibilities seriously. The government has taken only a very small step in that direction with this legislation. We need to do an awful lot more to prove to the Canadian public that we are taking our job seriously.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There will be three and a half minutes remaining for the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine when the House next resumes debate on the question, as well as the normal 10 minutes for questions and comments.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), as reported with amendment from the committee.