moved that Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (road crossings), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, my bill is very straightforward. At present, the Minister of Transport has the power to order the closure or modification of a railway crossing, level or otherwise. However, the minister does not have the power to order the construction of a new crossing around rail lines.
The people of Laurier—Sainte-Marie are leaders in active transportation. A lot of people use public transit, bike, or walk in order to get around. This is true throughout the island of Montreal. We do have one problem, however: a rail line runs right through the centre of the island and cuts off connecting corridors.
Although not used extensively, this rail line is nevertheless extremely important. However, all the infrastructure around it was built to accommodate cars. As I just said, active transportation is very common in my area, which is densely populated and very walkable. In fact, the city grew around the rail line, and this is creating some serious problems.
I will give an example. I know that I am focusing a lot of my attention on Montreal, but I will talk about other places later. In Montreal there is a place near the offices of corporations such as Ubisoft where people have to take a detour of 800 metres, nearly a kilometre, to get to the metro station on the other side of the tracks. People tend to cross the track where there is no crossing, which is extremely dangerous. In Canada, there are twice as many fatal accidents at illegal crossings compared to safe crossings.
The other day near that location, I saw a mother pushing a stroller across the tracks illegally. This is not uncommon. That is why businesses, municipalities, and citizen groups have long been calling for the construction of crossings at suitable or strategic locations to be given due consideration.
I mention Laurier—Sainte-Marie a lot, but in Montreal this problem also affects the people of Outremont, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, and Papineau. I hope the people of Papineau will share their concerns about this with the Prime Minister. For 20 years, citizens, municipalities, private companies, and elected officials have been calling for action on this, but to no avail.
When I looked at this issue because of what was happening in Montreal, I discovered a few things. I realized that this was a problem not just in Montreal, but also in Toronto and Saskatoon. This problem exists all across the country, and not just in urban areas.
My colleague will probably talk later about a very good example of this problem in British Columbia, where a railway runs along the shore of Kicking Horse River. People, including employees of rafting companies, used to cross the railway to access the river. CP closed people's access, blocking the way to the river, which is one of our natural resources, to the detriment of rafting companies. They are now required to use helicopters, which increases the cost of their operations.
In short, this is a very common problem. The systems in place do not work. Since I was talking about British Columbia, I will quote the Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training, and Minister Responsible for Labour for the province of British Columbia:
From the moment the Province heard about the challenges facing the rafting season, staff have worked to find a way rafters can continue to safely cross the CP tracks in Golden. Staff have been on the ground and at the table in Golden with suggestions and solutions. CP has made it abundantly clear that it is unwilling to be a reasonable partner, despite its earlier commitment to work...to find a solution.
What can the minister do in the face of such obstinacy? Nothing. He is completely powerless, as I said earlier. He has the power to order a closure or modification, but he has no power to order the construction of a new crossing. This bill simply gives the minister that power. The bill does not dictate that a crossing should be built in any particular location. It simply gives the minister the same power to create a crossing as the power to close one. It seems very reasonable to me. The minister and the appropriate bureaucrats could examine each request and each file and then make a decision based on the safety of our citizens. There are places where, some mornings, up to 500 people cross railroad tracks unsafely. The last thing we should do is wait for an accident to happen before taking action.
That is why the bill is so important for enhancing safety, including for cyclists and pedestrians. As I was saying, most of the network was built with cars in mind. The bill has received and continues to receive much support. It has the support of Canada Bikes, Citizen for Safe Cycling, in Ontario, Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, Ontario By Bike, Glacier Raft Company, Golden, B.C., Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, BC Healthy Living Alliance, Saskatoon Cycles, Jane's Walk, in Ontario, Vélo Québec, Piétons Québec, Collectif pour les passages à niveau, and the Association of Pedestrians and Cyclists of Outremont, and other municipalities, cities, and businesses. If any of my colleagues are interested, I have a letter from Ubisoft in Montreal calling for the same thing. Again, many people and the City of Montreal have been calling for this for over 20 years.
Given all this support, I hope we will also have the minister's support. It would be surprising, to say the least, if the minister said he did not want to provide the tools to ensure public safety. We are providing him with a tool. We are giving him a gift on a silver platter. I hope he will graciously accept this gift and use his new powers wisely. This is essentially a matter of ensuring public safety.
In closing, I would like to read a joint statement issued by Piétons Québec, Vélo Québec, and Collectif pour les passages à niveau, which sums up the situation very well:
Rail lines...create urban boundaries that seriously inhibit active movement in inhabited areas...Measures taken in the past ten years or so to control and restrict access are ineffective because of the high number of users without satisfactory alternatives.
...The problem of illegal crossings can be solved by developing infrastructure suitable for the urban environment [such as level crossings]....To that end, the regulations governing railway crossings must be updated to meet the specific needs of urban areas and allow people to use rail crossings safely.
I would like to add that in the greater Montreal area, on the south shore among other places and in Toronto as well, there are crossings for pedestrians and cyclists that work very well. They do not have a problem.
The last quote I read to the House mentions urban areas. However, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, there are also problems in rural areas. A Conservative member told me about the problems in Alberta.
As I was saying, the only thing my bill will do is restore the balance between the minister's ability to close, change, and open grade crossings and provide him with a new tool that he will be able to use, as he sees fit, to improve the safety of Canadians.