Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-52 at third reading.
As the NDP transport critic and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, I found it interesting to study this bill.
I agree with the Liberal member who said in his question that there was not enough consultation and perhaps not enough study. Indeed, the study period was relatively short for such an important bill.
Let me be clear: the NDP will support the bill. We believe that the polluter pays principle is important. Clearly, it was only after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy that the government finally decided to do something about rail safety. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to finally spur the government to action, a tragedy that cost 47 people their lives, cost millions of dollars in damages and ruined many other lives.
It is sad that previous Liberals governments and the current government have been ignoring rail safety, the very principle of our rail system, ever since the Liberals privatized it. The problems only started when they privatized everything. They also left all the regulations, even inspections, up to the rail companies themselves. As we often say, the system that was implemented is based on self-regulation, and all the companies do their own audits and inspections. That is very clear.
This bill does have some very important points. As I have said from the beginning, we support the polluter pays principle. Obviously, it is not up to the public to pay for damages caused by the industry.
In the case of the Lac-Mégantic accident, MMA had only $25 million in liability insurance. When I asked the minister and Transport Canada officials about the cost, I was not able to get any firm figures, since the numbers vary. Apparently, $400 million has already been spent to repair damages. However, it could cost billions of dollars in the end. That is a huge amount of money.
Unfortunately, governments must pay because MMA filed for bankruptcy. The federal and the Quebec government had to spend money to repair the damage. When I refer to damage, I am also referring to the damage caused by the Conservative government for allowing self-regulation at a time when the rail transportation of crude oil has increased exponentially.
As for the budget, we see that there are gaps, and that has been raised many times. The government says it is taking action. However, there are budget cuts.
Let us look at just the office responsible for rail safety, the people who specifically look after implementing the system and ensuring that it is safe. We see that between 2010 and 2015, there were cuts of about 20%. Those cuts affected the people who look after rail safety and ensure the safety of Canadians. That shows that the government does not have its priorities straight.
We agree that there must be minimum liability levels. Once again, we deplore the fact that this was not the case earlier and that a company like MMA, with respect to Lac-Mégantic, only had $25 million in insurance coverage.
This bill is certainly a step in the right direction. It contains various categories for many rail companies, which will have to have minimum insurance levels based on the volume of dangerous goods shipped via its rail lines.
However, I asked the parliamentary secretary a question about the calculations. We wanted to know whether the amount established was sufficient. I gave the example of class 1 railways, like CN and CP, that have minimum insurance coverage of $1 billion. We learned from the news or other studies that these companies probably already had insurance coverage in excess of $1 billion.
Ultimately, the government reduced the amount of insurance coverage companies are required to have, when the purpose of the bill is to increase it.
Unfortunately, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, when we asked questions in committee we were told that the information belonged to the railway companies. However, the government has the power to get that information. The Conservatives are the ones who did the study regarding the insurance limit, and once again, they are not being transparent. That is shameful.
The parliamentary secretary spoke about the additional powers granted to inspectors and to the minister in cases where tracks are not safe. That makes me think about what happened in Gogama, in northern Ontario, where other derailments occurred. They happened despite the events at Lac-Mégantic and the public outcry in regard to the dangers associated with the transportation of dangerous goods by rail. I think that, like me, any Canadians who saw the pictures were shocked to find out that this type of derailment is still happening. Cars carrying crude oil are still exploding.
The parliamentary secretary told us that the government introduced new standards for the DOT-111 cars, which will eventually be replaced. However, it will be another 10 years before they are all replaced. These cars will still be on our tracks for another 10 years, even though the Transportation Safety Board described them as dangerous and unsafe. The TSB said that these cars were essentially the same as the old DOT-111 cars that exploded in Lac-Mégantic.
This concern has to be taken into consideration. I am asking the government to set a deadline and show more leadership when it comes to protecting the public.
There is also the issue of inspectors and self-inspection. The system that was put in place and that has the support of the Liberals allows companies to do their own inspections before potentially, maybe, submitting them to Transport Canada for inspection.
The Auditor General issued a scathing report on rail safety. He said that the inspectors overseeing the safety of the system did not fulfill their obligations and that all they do is look at the rail company's plans without ensuring that they effectively protect the environment and the public. That is a problem.
Another problem with inspectors has existed for a long time. Let us take the example of the derailments in Gogama, which caused explosions. According to the TSB's preliminary report, the condition of the rails was definitely a factor. When we talk about inspectors, the government responds that the companies do the inspections themselves and that it expects companies to properly inspect their rails. However, it is careless to rely on self-inspection.
Before the events in Lac-Mégantic in 2013, there were 116 rail inspectors at Transport Canada. After the events in Lac-Mégantic, there were 117. The government added just one inspector. It seems that others were hired, but they are not officially assigned to rail safety.
What is certain is that all of the workers and unions in this sector agree that there is a problem with inspection. Even the rail companies, as well as the Railway Association of Canada, report the same problem. It is clear that there is a problem.
The government, meanwhile, is addressing this problem by making budget cuts. It makes no sense.
How can the government say that it cares about the safety of Canadians and then turn around and cut the budgets of those who conduct inspections and make sure that laws are in place and that the companies are complying with them, as well as ensuring that the rail lines themselves are safe? It is shameful.
As for the polluter pays principle, I applaud the fact that the bill provides for a compensation fund. Unfortunately, as my NDP colleague mentioned in his question, this fund applies only to accidents or disasters involving crude oil.
One question was raised by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and a number of other stakeholders who appeared before the committee. Why did the government not include other dangerous goods? The Conservatives were asked that question today. They replied that they were studying the issue and they would see. Do we need to have another accident like the one in Lac-Mégantic for them to realize that something has to be done? It is important to raise this issue. This is not about demagoguery. The government did indeed act after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. The government has even said that this bill resulted from that tragedy. Why not also include a compensation fund for other dangerous materials, since that is a concern and the municipalities and first responders are asking for it?
Let us come back to firefighters. A question about training was raised by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, a question that we had also brought forward. Yes, the aim is to prevent accidents. However, prevention depends on inspection. As we know, the government is failing in that regard. What must be done to prevent an accident, or at least to respond quickly when one does occur? How can we ensure that first responders are properly trained and that they have the resources they need?
Unfortunately, this bill is silent on that issue. This is what firefighters, among others, proposed: since there is already a fund in place—once again, I am referring to the fund established from fees paid by oil companies—why not use it to pay for training to ensure that first responders, firefighters and those who respond to emergencies receive the training they need?
This problem has been flagged and it is a serious problem, especially because we are shipping more and more dangerous goods by rail. Furthermore, based on the Lac-Mégantic accident and what is happening in the United States, for example, we can say goods are increasingly dangerous and there is less and less information about these goods. That was clearly the case in Lac-Mégantic. The dangerous nature of the goods being moved was underestimated.
Legislators or those who implement the regulations are not well informed. What about the people who respond to emergencies? What we are asking for is simple. We are asking for a fund to cover training for first responders such as firefighters and paramedics. How do we intervene in this situation? The Lac-Mégantic accident opened our eyes.
The bill could have covered this, but unfortunately it does not. There is still work to be done. As I said, the NDP will support the bill and hopes that it will pass quickly. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
In committee, an amendment did not pass. It dealt with fatigue, or what is known as fatigue management.
The bill actually repeals a clause, repeals the definition of fatigue management, and we do not understand why. Just to be clear, what the definition basically said is that we have to base fatigue management on science, and what we are doing here is actually repealing that definition.
I asked the minister and officials, and the answer was not satisfactory. I think we want to make sure that we have a base, and our base was the definition of fatigue management, fatigue science. It was scientifically based, but unfortunately, that was deleted.
We will have to take a close look at the regulations. Unfortunately, from our perspective, the approach was going in the wrong direction.
We did not anticipate one of the other consequences that witnesses told us about in committee, namely the fact that some companies do not do the same kind of transportation for dangerous goods. Some companies transfer oil and other goods in certain places. These companies, therefore, do not transport goods the same way and do not have the same problems. This concern was raised, and I asked questions about it. I was told that these cases can be addressed through regulations. I asked the question clearly and openly, and now we will have to follow up. We have to figure out how to treat companies that do not pose the same risk but that transport goods that are, by definition, dangerous. We have heard that the costs can be quite high for these small companies. We are talking about smaller companies that might not have the means to pay for this insurance. As legislators, we need to trust Transport Canada and its officials to take that into consideration. We will keep a close eye on this issue.
There is something else we are disappointed in. It was already mentioned, and that is the fact that the environment has been put on the back burner. Certain priorities have been set out in the bill. We agree that municipalities or individuals who are victims of accidents should be compensated and helped at any cost. There is no doubt that they must compensated. However, the wording of the bill puts long-term environmental impacts in the back seat. The request cannot necessarily come from an individual who says he can no longer use a certain natural resource for the long term, a river for example, and that his rights have been violated in the long term. According to the current wording of the bill, only the government can go after the railways and say that they caused damage that undermines the long-term use of the environment. However, we know that in fact the government does not do that. It will not go after a company for damages. We are a bit surprised to see that this aspect does not have the same priority in the bill. We would have preferred it to be considered on an equal footing.
I would like to come back to the question that we asked ourselves: why did the government not go further in terms of coverage for dangerous materials? The reason I am mentioning this again is that the committee was almost unanimous in this regard. Firefighters, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the oil industry all asked us why the bill only went after oil companies or crude oil and why it did not provide for a fund that would cover other dangerous goods, since we know that other dangerous materials are being transported on our tracks. I asked the government that question. I was told that the matter was being looked into. I would have liked a more concrete answer.
However, we did obtain a more concrete answer in regard to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport said about the cars. He said that there will be new standards for the cars. However, the United States announced that a braking system will be implemented and gave us a timeline.
The government established a deadline of 10 years for oil cars, but as we said, we would like that deadline to be shorter. The United States said that the braking system for cars was a safer system. Unfortunately, the government did not give a deadline in that regard in its announcement.
The government told us that it was looking into the issue, but it has not even set a deadline yet.
We need to learn from our mistakes. Twenty years ago, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said that the DOT-111 cars were dangerous. The Liberal government did not do anything about it. The federal government did not do anything either and the Lac-Mégantic tragedy occurred. We need to think about that. The government needs to act quickly, show some leadership and protect the public.