Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank the sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, for her work on this file.
I am very sympathetic to the intentions of my NDP colleague. I know that she has worked very hard and has sought the support of several stakeholders. I am convinced that she is acting for the well-being and safety of residents in the greater Montreal area.
As I mentioned earlier, as the representative of the municipality of Lac-Mégantic, the location of a great tragedy familiar to everyone, I pay close attention to the issue of rail safety. I am sure that many members of the House share the concerns of the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie regarding the safety of people who have to cross railway tracks to travel between their places of work and their homes, for instance, or other users of the public roadways.
In short, the bill before us proposes to amend the Railway Safety Act to give the Minister of Transport the power to order a company to construct a road crossing and to authorize the payment of subsidies in this regard. This bill, as I mentioned, is designed to address a particular problem in Montreal, but there are some weaknesses that I would like to discuss.
The bill does not entirely eliminate the risk of accidents. It seeks to reduce the risk and the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie acknowledged that. It does however give absolute and total power to the minister and imposes no framework on the minister's powers. I have some problems with that. For example, the bill does not propose using overhead rail crossings, which are a much safer solution for those who have to cross the tracks.
I wonder whether Bill C-322, in its current form, was necessary. Is this the solution to the illegal crossings that my colleague was talking about earlier? The Canada Transportation Act includes some provisions on rail crossings. Section 100 of the act defines crossings as follows:
road crossing means the part of a road that passes across, over or under a railway line, and includes a structure supporting or protecting that part of the road or facilitating the crossing.
The member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie says that she wants to increase the safety of those affected, and I believe her approach is sincere in that respect. I do not doubt her commitment either. However, I have some questions about the method she has chosen with this bill in its current form. In my view, when we want to correct at-risk situations, we try not to create new ones.
Clearly, Bill C-322 first and foremost seeks to solve a serious problem in the Montreal area, but if it is passed, it will be pan-Canadian in scope. If we turn to the current Canada Transportation Act, section 101 of Part III provides instructions to that effect and certain prerogatives to the Canadian Transportation Agency. The act also provides for situations where, like in Montreal, there is no agreement between the parties.
In the event of an agreement, the act states:
101(1) An agreement, or an amendment to an agreement, relating to the construction, maintenance or apportionment of the costs of a road crossing or a utility crossing may be filed with the Agency.
We do not talk about what happens when there is an agreement, but what happens when there is no agreement? Subsection 101(3) states the following:
101(3) If a person is unsuccessful in negotiating an agreement or amendment mentioned in subsection (1), the Agency may, on application, authorize the construction of a suitable road crossing, utility crossing or related work, or specifying who shall maintain the crossing.
The act also stipulates that section 16 of the Railway Safety Act applies if the parties do not reach an agreement. Subsection 16(4) states the following:
16(4) Where a matter is referred to the Agency under subsection (1), the Agency shall, having regard to any grant made under section 12 or 13 in respect of that matter, the relative benefits that each person who has, or who might have, referred the matter stands to gain from the work, and to any other factor that it considers relevant, determine the proportion of the liability for construction, alteration, operational and maintenance costs to be borne by each person, and that liability shall be apportioned accordingly.
In short, the current legislative framework stipulates that, if a municipality or local entity and a railway company cannot agree, the Canadian Transportation Agency may take over and assume responsibility. It can authorize the construction, and determine how the costs will be shared between the parties, both for construction and maintenance.
My understanding is that the minister can already help the parties to find common ground through the various existing programs that would mitigate the financial consequences for the stakeholders. As we know, money is often the sticking point in those kinds of negotiations.
The member told us about her work with the various stakeholders who support her proposed legislative amendment. I would like to share a contrary opinion that must also be considered, namely the opinion of the Montreal Port Authority.
The Montreal Port Authority is against the bill. The rail line affected by the member's initiative serves the port. Setting up new crossings would probably disrupt port operations. Given that a train cannot stop at a grade crossing, the port authority says that the company would have to uncouple and re-couple the trains in order to carry out those daily operations. Those operations could significantly increase the risks for company employees and the general public, not to mention the higher levels of air pollution that those handling operations could generate.
The situation in my colleague's riding is quite specific. Since 2013, the City of Montreal has wanted to add six level crossings on a section of the CP rail line located in the northern part of downtown Montreal. Montreal filed an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is authorized to deal with such matters, as I mentioned earlier. The City of Montreal and CP were unable to reach an agreement, and the negotiations broke off a long time ago.
The Minister of Transport might try to call the mayor of Montreal to potentially resolve the situation by trying to find a solution or becoming involved in the matter and thus avoid having to make legislative amendments. This solution is available to the minister. In her speech, the parliamentary secretary mentioned the authorities that allow the minister to intervene at present. Does the minister intend to do so? In my opinion, he already has the authority and the minister could intervene and take action.
To go back to Bill C-322, we have to look at the basic issue, the safety of Canadians and their families. At the moment, there are certain shortcomings in the bill. Clearly, we encourage people to comply with existing laws and regulations. Pedestrians must not cross railway tracks where they are not allowed to do so, because it is dangerous and puts not only their own lives but those of others at risk. Unfortunately, statistics show that level crossings are not risk free.
I really must provide my colleague with some recommendations. Statistics show that railway and road crossings are equally dangerous for Canadians. At the end of October 2016, data from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada indicated a total of 89 accidents at road crossings, including 16 fatalities and 20 severe injuries. Our colleague talked about the high number of accidents outside road crossings. In other words: Canada's entire railway system. These are not specific locations we are talking about, but about a very large area. It is impossible to put road crossings everywhere and anywhere in Canada where there are railway lines.
We do not see how Bill C-322 in its current form could help to improve and solve the problem once and for all. In our view, a broader approach to road crossings is needed. I agree that specific measures must be taken to improve the situation in Montreal, and thus the safety of the people crossing railway lines illegally in Canada. We should come up with a framework within which the minister could use this new power to authorize new road crossings.
I offer my colleague my cooperation in the coming weeks; let us keep discussing the bill and see whether it is possible to make any improvements that would result in our being able to support it. Unfortunately, at the moment, we cannot support Bill C-322 in its current form.