House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

It being 11:05 a.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

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 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.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Karen McCrimmon Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by thanking the hon. member for her initiative and her speech this morning. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Bill C-322, which would amend the Railway Safety Act to provide the Minister of Transport

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I just want to indicate that there are five minutes for questions and comments, so this should be a question or a comment to the member who just spoke.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

First of all, Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the excellent work that my colleague has done on Bill C-322. Indeed, she has asked the right questions and raised a major issue for the people of her riding.

As the MP of a riding where there was a railway tragedy, I am very sensitive to the issue of railway safety. Could my colleague elaborate on the potential risks of adding new crossings to the rail system?

I believe this is one of the issues of the bill. We had the opportunity to discuss it together. I will raise this issue again this morning because every new crossing added to Canada's rail system presents risks as well. Therefore, the solution put forward may be creating new risks.

I would like to know whether my colleague has thought about this and what she is proposing in that regard, because the current bill does not seem to take such concerns into consideration.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question; perhaps I could have talked about it more in my speech.

I actually believe the bill will serve to reduce potential risks rather than increasing them. The numbers are very clear about fatal accidents as a result of trespassing, and that is what we are seeing. Every morning, there are several hundred trespassers in one single place in Montreal, and this is not counting all the other places in the country. Fatal accidents as a result of trespassing are twice as high as those at crossings. However, a lot of crossings have been set up across the country in the past 10 to 15 years in Canada, according to the data from the Department of Transport.

It will be up to the minister to do his studies and analyses. If trespassing occurs frequently in some places and it becomes clear that it is not sustainable, the solution to reduce the risks will be to provide safe crossings, which is easy to do.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I must admit that I am surprised to see that the minister does not have the right to set up new crossings, but he is able to remove or modify them.

I also understand why private companies might be interested in this sort of bill. The member mentioned Ubisoft and gave us a concrete example. Does she have other concrete examples of private companies affected by this kind of issue so that we truly understand the importance of such legislation?

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hochelaga for her question. Indeed, there are examples from all over the country.

I will again use Montreal as an example, since that is the one I am most familiar with. Many companies like Ubisoft have expressed concerns about the safety of their employees and are asking for crossings. Several companies in the area have joined forces and are working with civil society and local elected officials to come up with a solution to this problem.

Some companies have even adopted temporary solutions. For instance, if I remember correctly, Ubisoft rented a minibus to shuttle its employees between the subway station and the office. Personally, I think that is ridiculous. Small businesses cannot afford such things and are worried.

Another example is the whitewater rafting companies I mentioned. In British Columbia, five rafting companies are threatening to shut down because their access to the river has been blocked.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Kanata—Carleton Ontario


Karen McCrimmon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-322, which would amend the Railway Safety Act and provide the Minister of Transport with an authority to order a railway company to construct a road crossing. I will explain the reasons why the government will not support the bill.

The Government of Canada does have a mandate to oversee the safety of federally regulated railway operations in Canada. Dating back to its inception in 1989, the Railway Safety Act, administered by Transport Canada, gives the current Minister of Transport direct jurisdiction over railways that fall within the legislative authority of Parliament, as well as the authority to oversee their safety.

Transport Canada's role is to monitor regulated entities, such as federal railway companies, local railway companies, provincial railways that operate on federally regulated track, and road authorities, which can include municipalities, provinces, and band councils, for compliance with the rules, regulations, and engineering standards under the Railway Safety Act through a robust oversight program.

Transport Canada also monitors for safety and has the authority to act to address threats and immediate threats to safe railway operations through various means, including ordering corrective actions. In fact, the Railway Safety Act provides both the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada railway safety inspectors with several authorities to address railway safety issues when there is a risk, threat, or concern caused by a railway operation to the safety of the public, as well as railway personnel, and the protection of property and the environment.

In addition, the Grade Crossings Regulations, which came into force in November 2014, contain a number of provisions that set out roles and responsibilities at federally regulated grade crossings, fostering collaboration between railway companies and road authorities toward improving safety.

Allow me to describe the existing authorities and mechanisms that are currently in place.

The Railway Safety Act provides inspectors with direct authority to conduct inspections and audits and to address safety threats. The act provides authority for an inspector to issue a notice to inform a company that a threat to safety has been identified. The notice is provided to the company identifying the threat and the company must provide a response as to how it will address it. Where a threat is deemed immediate by an inspector, the Railway Safety Act also provides authority to include an order in the notice restricting the company's use of railway equipment, infrastructure, or railway operation creating the immediate threat, or allowing that operations can continue but under terms and conditions specified by the inspector until the company mitigates the immediate threat on a more permanent basis.

In June 2015, the Safe and Accountable Rail Act was passed, which amended the Railway Safety Act and provided a series of broader authorities for both the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors to better address rail safety threats, risks, and concerns. These new authorities allow inspectors to issue notices, in the event of a threat to safety, to any person or entity that has responsibility in relation to that threat, including railways, road authorities, and municipalities. Furthermore, in the event of an immediate safety threat, an inspector may issue a notice and order to any person or entity, again including railway companies, road authorities, and municipalities, and order them to take specific corrective actions to remove the immediate threat.

These broadened inspector authorities complement a similar authority for the Minister of Transport. If the minister considers it necessary in the interests of safe railway operations, the minister may order the company, road authority, or municipality to stop any activity that might constitute a threat to safe railway operations, or to follow procedures, or to take corrective measures specified in the order, including constructing, altering, operating or maintaining railway work, which includes crossings. Another key consideration, in addition to these existing authorities under the Railway Safety Act, is that a process for opening new road crossings already exists.

Whereas Transport Canada is responsible for the safety oversight of railway operations, the Canadian Transportation Agency, an independent quasi-judicial tribunal, sets the ground rules that establish the rights and responsibilities of transportation services providers and users, and resolves disputes.

Rest assured that these responsibilities are complementary to addressing both safety and economic concerns with respect to rail crossings in Canada. Both organizations promote a collaborative approach for road authorities and railway companies to work together to determine whether to open a road crossing. Should discussions be unsuccessful, proponents can access services, such as mediation and adjudication, through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

It is important to note that agency decisions made through adjudication are legally binding and can include where crossings should be located, conditions the crossing must meet, and apportionment of the costs. In the exceptional circumstances that the minister orders the construction, alteration, operation, or maintenance of a railway work, the proponent may, if there is another beneficiary of the work, refer the allocation of liability and costs to the Canadian Transportation Agency for a determination.

In either instance, once a road crossing is to be opened, the road authority and railway company are responsible for the safety of the crossing and Transport Canada is responsible for monitoring compliance to the standards and regulations.

Moreover, Transport Canada takes appropriate enforcement action when safety concerns or instances of non-compliance to the regulations and standards are identified. In addition to the tools already mentioned, inspectors can use administrative tools, such as letters of concern sent to railways and road authorities, in order to mitigate safety concerns. In the event of non-compliance, Transport Canada's actions may range from a letter of warning to a fine through an administrative monetary penalty to prosecution and finally to the suspension or cancellation of the company's railway operating certificate, essentially shutting down its operations.

To be clear, when all other avenues have been exhausted and when there are exceptional threats to safety, the Minister of Transport already has the authority, under section 32.01 of the Railway Safety Act, to order a company, road authority or municipality to, among other things, take corrective measures to address a threat to safe railway operations, including constructing a road crossing.

We understand that certain communities living in close proximity to railway operations are struggling to combat willful trespassing on railway property. I believe the intention of the bill is sincere and is a way to address these trespassing issues. While the government fully understands the importance of this issue, the bill looks to amend the Railway Safety Act. However, doing so would duplicate existing authorities already in place.

As I have mentioned, under the Railway Safety Act, the Minister of Transport has the appropriate tools and authorities to respond to safety concerns or threats to safe railway operations. I know the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada will not hesitate to exercise these delegated powers when necessary.

It is for these reasons that the Government of Canada does not support Bill C-322.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

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.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.


Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, this is an important issue. Canada's railways play an important part in our nation, not only for their value of moving goods and people, but as part of our cultural identity.

We all know the story of the last spike and how the government worked with the Canadian Pacific Railway to build our first transcontinental railroad in 1885. That silver spike was driven into the railbed in Craigellachie, just a few kilometres west of my riding of Kootenay—Columbia. At that time, rail was the most efficient way to transport goods and people from one end of the country to the other. That is why the government played an important role in funding and building the railway.

Sir John A. Macdonald's government was brought down due to his accepting bribes from CPR for helping with the railway, and he was re-elected in part due to his promise to complete the railway. After it was completed, it became popular to take the train across the country to see its sights, staying at many of the fantastic hotels that the rail company built to house wealthy guests, including Glacier Hotel in my riding.

At that time, safety may not have been as important as it is today. It is said that Agnes Macdonald, wife of then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, was so thrilled with the sight of the mountains that she road the train's cowcatcher all the way through. That must have been a “mooving” experience, for sure.

Today we have a very different situation. The railroads are privately owned, but responsibility for their safety lies with the Government of Canada and the federal Department of Transport. However, that responsibility is currently one way. The government can order a railway to close or alter a crossing, but it cannot order the railway to create one, and that is what this legislation is about.

Bill C-322 would grant the Minister of Transport the powers to require the construction of crossings on a rail line. Why is this important? It is important because the situation right now is untenable. Canadians, including individuals and businesses, have demonstrated that they sometimes have legitimate requirements to cross railways at locations other than currently regulated road crossings. However, the rail companies refuse to allow the crossings and they refuse to make them safe.

This is especially true where rail lines run along rivers and lakes. In order to reach the waterway, people are sometimes given the choice between taking an extremely long detour or crossing the tracks illegally and unsafely. In my own riding of Kootenay—Columbia, we have a situation like this. The Kicking Horse River is an offshoot of the mighty Columbia River. It gets its colourful name from an incident in 1858, when Dr. James Hector, a member of the Palliser expedition that was exploring the area, was kicked and knocked out by a horse while trying to lead it across the fast-moving water.

Whitewater rafting in the Kicking Horse River outside of Golden, B.C., is some of the best in the world. Every summer, as many as 40,000 people, assisted by a number of successful companies, load onto rafts to challenge the rapids. The sport brings valuable ecotourism dollars into Golden and provides dozens of jobs, particularly for our youth. To get to the water, rafting companies carefully lead groups across the railway tracks to the lower canyon. They have been doing so for over 40 years without a single accident. Last year, CPR told them that their activity was illegal and stopped rafters from crossing the tracks, citing safety.

I will read to the House a statement from CP issued in early June 2016: “CP cannot support rafters accessing the Kicking Horse River at this it poses a significant risk to their own safety as well as the safety of CP crews and the freight they are transporting.” Subsequently CP put up a metal gate barricading the crossing, and threatened to charge anyone who “trespassed”, their word, to get to the river.

Let me repeat: rafters have been crossing the tracks there for 40 years without a single accident, and now millions of dollars are potentially being lost to this rural seasonal economy because the company has decided not to create a safe crossing.

Last summer, two companies began helicoptering people across this newly closed access, adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of family rafting vacations. There was nothing that the federal government or provincial government could do about that, until now. Bill C-322 would allow the minister to order CP and other railways to create safe crossings in special situations like this. If rail companies are concerned about safety, the solution is not to ban crossings but rather to make them safe.

Now, one may wonder why CP would not create a safe crossing to allow access to the Kicking Horse River. Initially it said it would—but only if the federal or provincial government paid for it. That is right. This company, which earned over $6 billion in 2014 and made a profit of almost $540 million in the first quarter of 2016, said the taxpayers should be on the hook for it to build a crossing over its own tracks. This is unacceptable, and it is worrisome.

Level crossings must be built in strategic locations so that pedestrians, cyclists, and even whitewater rafters can move around safely. The improvement of active transportation and the mobility of people are important priorities across Canada. It should be a no-brainer for every member of the House to support this legislation.

Unfortunately, the government is hiding behind obsolete regulations that prevent the minister from ordering the construction of new crossings, while he already has the power to order them closed. The government seems to be unwilling to take on the responsibility to give Canadians freedom of movement, to save Canadian lives, to force some companies to act in a way that favours small communities, to provide safe access to Canada's rivers and lakes across railroad tracks, which surely should be a fundamental right for every Canadian.

I do not want to encourage anyone to illegally cross railway tracks. That is what government inaction would have people do. We want to make sure such crossings are legal and safe where they are needed.

Across Canada, unregulated crossings cause twice as many accidents and fatalities as regulated crossings, and in some places hundreds of people cross railway tracks every morning. Of course, decades ago, kids in Saskatchewan would walk the railroad tracks to get to school. That may happen to some degree today as well.

By one count, on May 15, 2012, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., 289 pedestrians and 81 cyclists crossed the railway right-of-way in Mile End between Saint-Dominique and Henri-Julien streets in Montreal. Every one of these Canadians could have been fined a minimum of $287 under the Railway Safety Act. Under current laws, these were trespassers, and what they were doing is dangerous.

The lack of safe crossings jeopardizes public safety and causes mobility issues in our communities. New Democrats have introduced this bill because we want to improve security for all Canadians, whether they are walking, cycling, driving, whitewater rafting, or just trying to access rivers and lakes near their homes.

Who else is supporting this legislation? There have been a number of groups, of course. They include whitewater rafters in British Columbia, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, BC Healthy Living Alliance, Saskatoon Cycles, Canada Bikes, Citizens for Safe Cycling, Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, Ontario By Bike, Jane's Walk, Vélo Québec, Piétons Québec, the Outremont Pedestrians and Cyclists Association, and a variety of municipalities, cities, and businesses.

I invite members to join me in supporting this legislation, which simply gives the transport minister powers to create safe crossings where they do not already exist. It is in the interest of communities, in the interest of Canadians, and in the interest of safety.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to issues surrounding Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act in relation to road crossings.

While the government recognizes the complexity of railways and municipalities having to coexist, I would like to explain why the government cannot support the bill.

Essentially, the bill would introduce inconsistencies into the Railway Safety Act, which is the subject of a comprehensive statutory review that has been moved up to start in 2017 rather than 2018. This was announced on November 3, 2016, by the Minister of Transport. It will provide an opportunity for our government and parliamentarians to consider rail safety in a more comprehensive way than through private members' bills designed to address one-off situations.

This is very significant. I have the experience in my riding of Nickel Belt. It is very important that these issues related to rail safety be addressed in partnership with communities and all levels of government. Together we have the responsibility to improve rail safety across Canada, and this private member's bill seeks to address only one specific situation.

As members of Parliament, we all need to provide leadership in our communities to gather all levels of government to improve rail safety. Round table discussions with various communities—federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous communities, the private sector, and Transport Canada—are crucial.

The statutory review of the Railway Safety Act that has been moved up by a year to 2017 is a move in the right direction.

First, in addition to a rigorous and robust rail safety regulatory framework, there are well-established, existing measures and processes in place, which ultimately makes the proposed bill redundant.

I will illustrate this redundancy by detailing the existing process for the central issue of the private member’s bill: opening or constructing new grade crossings.

To begin, the Grade Crossings Regulations clearly define the responsibilities of the railway company and the road authority with respect to grade crossings.

Understandably, with approximately 14,000 public grade crossings along more than 48,000 kilometres of federally regulated railway tracks across Canada, the regulations recognize and entrench the shared responsibility for rail crossings. Railway companies, road authorities, municipalities and band councils in provinces, and private crossing owners are each responsible for managing safety at grade crossings. This is why Transport Canada encourages rail companies and communities to consult with each other to seek solutions through collaborative approaches.

Likewise, the existing process under the Canada Transportation Act encourages road authorities and railway companies to work together to agree whether or not to open a road crossing, where to open a crossing, and how to apportion the costs.

When the railway company and the municipality agree, the agreement may be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that makes decisions on a wide range of matters involving federally-regulated modes of transportation, including rail.

These agreements usually include rates to be charged for work performed and specify which parties are responsible for paying for the work, as well as maintenance and liability. The filed agreement becomes an order of the agency authorizing the parties to construct or maintain the crossings, or to apportion the costs, as provided for in the agreement.

If a rail company and a road authority agree on a grade crossing but disagree on who should pay for the work, either party can ask the Canadian Transportation Agency to apportion the costs of that project. When an agreement cannot be reached, the parties have access to mediation services through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

In most cases, the agency first tries to resolve first complaints through facilitation or mediation. Mediators assist the parties in negotiating a mutually satisfactory settlement among themselves.

When mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is for one of the parties to approach the agency in question. Adjudication can take up to 120 days, depending upon the complexity of the case. The agency's ruling under adjudication is legally binding and can include where crossings should be located, how many are required, conditions that the crossing must meet, and apportionment of the costs.

Whether through mediation or adjudication, when crossings are required, Transport Canada provides safety-related advice to agencies before making its decision. All new crossings authorized by the agency must comply with the safety requirements of the Railway Safety Act and associated regulations, such as the Grade Crossings Regulations.

Under the act, the proponent for a new grade crossing must give 60 days' notice to other parties involved. When all other avenues have been exhausted and where there are exceptional threats to safety, the Minister of Transport already has the authority under section 32.01 of the Railway Safety Act to order a company, road authority, or municipality to, among other things, take corrective measures to address a threat to safe railway operations, including construction of a road crossing.

As members can understand, the process in place is a rigorous one even before construction of a grade crossing begins. It goes without saying that the next steps in this process are just as rigorous.

The grade crossings standards referenced in the Grade Crossings Regulations set out the safety criteria for the construction, alteration, maintenance, inspection, and testing of grade crossings. These standards uphold safety at federally regulated crossings by promoting consistency and bring all federally regulated crossings in Canada under one common standard.

Transport Canada's role includes monitoring railway companies through audits and inspections to verify that they meet safety standards under the Grade Crossings Regulations. To do so, the department conducts regular monitoring of rail works and operations, informs railways and road authorities of any safety deficiencies, and, if required, takes appropriate action.

In addition, as previously noted, the Railway Safety Act was amended in June 2015 to provide broader ministerial authorities to address safety risks, threats, or concerns. If the minister considers them necessary in the interests of safe railway operations, specific measures may be ordered, such as constructing, altering, operating, or maintaining a railway work, and a crossing would be included.

While the impetus for Bill C-322 to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to cross railway tracks is certainly worthwhile, road crossing issues are complex and multi-jurisdictional, requiring the involvement and co-operation of multiple players: the federal government, rail companies, road authorities, municipalities, and members of the general public. The relationship between Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency strikes the required fine balance between road safety and the needs of the communities. Ultimately, the government is confident that the regulations and processes in place have the necessary rigour and flexibility to address the interests of this proposed bill.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Before we continue, I just want to remind the member that I will have to cut off the debate on the private member's business because the time will have expired, but she will have time to finish that at a later date.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join with my friend and colleague, the deputy critic for transport, to discuss Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act with regard to road crossings. If passed, this legislation would give the Minister of Transport the power to order the owner of a rail line to build a grade-level crossing across the track and to authorize the payment of a grant for that purpose.

My understanding is that this legislation is principally designed to address a challenging circumstance in the sponsor's riding, where, according to the sponsor, there are not enough rail crossings, and therefore pedestrians are crossing the rail track at multiple uncontrolled locations.

As the issue at hand is a lack of pedestrian crossings along the Canadian Pacific Railway Outremont spur, and as it is common practice by the current Liberal government, one wonders why the Minister of Transport has not called his former caucus colleague, who happens to be the mayor of Montreal, to come up with a suitable plan to build grade-separated overpasses and underpasses for pedestrians to cross the track. However, as per another common practice by the government, it is easier to declare that rail safety for the middle class is a priority for the current minister than to do something about it.

It need not be said that rail safety is a priority for all Canadians, regardless of their personal financial circumstances.

While the intent of Bill C-322 is to address a local issue, it will be national in its scope and should be judged on that basis. Federal legislation already provides municipalities and local authorities with the ability to get a railroad to the table to get a crossing built. Section 101 of the Canada Transportation Act states that if a municipality or the relevant local authority and a railway are unsuccessful in negotiating an agreement to build a crossing, the Canada Transport Agency may, first, authorize the construction of that crossing; second, determine what percentage of the construction costs each party will be responsible for; and finally, determine who will maintain the crossing. This current process puts the onus on each individual local authority to determine whether a new railway crossing is required; where the crossing can and should be built, taking into consideration its development plans; and how much they are willing to contribute financially to see that crossing built.

Municipalities have the primary responsibility for their infrastructure, so it makes sense for them to be the ones determining if and where a railway crossing should be built. It should not be up to the Minister of Transport to determine whether a crossing must be built; it is up to the local government to determine whether it would like to see the rail crossing built.

While Transport Canada does have the ability to close a crossing if it is considered unsafe, this power exists in the interests of safety.

When people cross the track at an uncontrolled location, they are in effect trespassing on private property. The sponsor of this bill in effect is saying that because people are trespassing and putting themselves at risk, the minister needs to build more level-grade crossings.

To be clear, if pedestrians would use existing crossings instead of trespassing on busy railway spurs, the safety of the tracks would not be compromised in this respect. As cities grow around historic railway-owned rights-of-way, the kind of situation we are seeing in Montreal, where there may not be enough grade-separated crossings, will only become more common. Unfortunately, and on too many occasions, pedestrians are cutting holes in fences and taking shortcuts to wherever they need to go rather than walking to existing crossings.

In 2015, accidents between pedestrians and trains resulted in 31 fatalities. The dangers for pedestrians cutting across the track without knowledge of whether a train is coming are obvious, but they are not heeded enough.

I consider it a heavy burden to place on rail operators to have to contend with trespassers as part of their job, when they are already operating heavy equipment under challenging circumstances. I believe that the mental welfare of train operators should be considered in this debate on how to handle the densification of areas around rail lines in cities.

My issue with the bill is that increasing the number of pedestrian crossings that are not grade separated will only increase the opportunities for trespassing on private lands. This will in turn increase the opportunities for pedestrians to find themselves in fatal accidents or to stumble and fall.

I will be opposing the bill, because it proposes the wrong solution to the problem in Montreal and other densely populated cities that have rail lines crossing through them. There will never be a crossing at every single location that is most convenient for all pedestrians. The issue here is that pedestrians are trespassing on private property, thus exposing themselves to major danger.

Governments and railroads share a combined responsibility to ensure that pedestrians stay off the tracks to the greatest extent possible and to make that an ongoing priority in infrastructure initiatives.

I see that my time is coming to an end, so I will leave it there and resume the debate when the bill is next taken up.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business



The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member will have three and a half minutes to finish her speech when the issue is before the House again.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario


Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism


That in relation to Bill C-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration of the report stage and one sitting day shall be allotted to the third reading stage of the said bill; and

That fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration of the report stage and on the day allotted to the third reading stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing Ontario


Carol Hughes NDPThe Assistant Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1, there will now be a 30-minute question period.

It is at this time that I invite hon. members to rise in their place to give an indication of the number of members who would wish to participate in the 30-minute question period.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Madam Speaker, very simply, the hon. House leader knows full well that the hon. Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, as well as other members of her caucus, have been on the record decrying this very parliamentary motion when they were on this side of the aisle, when they were in opposition. Indeed, I am quite concerned that it is being used on a measure that relates to the national security of our country and the parliamentary oversight that is being proposed by the bill. Certainly we have not debated it long enough. There have been a number of meaningful amendments by the government. I would like to know how she can square the Liberals' opposition to these kinds of motions when they were in opposition with what they are doing today in the House.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member and I, as well as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, have been working closely together. We know that it is always better when we can work together.

I believe that our government has been very reasonable in providing the opposition time to debate this bill at second reading, in committee, and at report stage. Let us consider the stats. We have had more than 40 speakers express their views on the bill, and we look forward to hearing more members speak today and at third reading. Moreover, after we include today's debate, we will have debated this bill for more than 17 hours.

The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security also had the opportunity to study this bill extensively. The committee held eight meetings to study this bill and heard from 41 witnesses. The work the committee did was appreciated and was very much considered.

We have to take our responsibility to Canadians very seriously. It is important that we have meaningful debate and advance legislation. I regret that we have to bring ourselves to this. I think we need to ensure that members have time to speak and that the government can also advance important legislation such as this.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I join with my colleague from the Conservative Party, the official opposition, in registering serious concern about the government's actions today.

The experts we have talked to on security and intelligence issues are frustrated by the fact that these amendments, done at the last moment at report stage, weaken the oversight that is available. That we would proceed with only government support for such a critical initiative on national security and intelligence is a matter that should disappoint all Canadians. This is the government's sole response to the controversial Bill C-51, which the Liberal government, while in opposition, supported. They agree that these amendments would weaken the job parliamentarians would be asked to do.

Why is the government not willing to allow time for all parties to try to seek consensus on this bill? My colleagues and I are standing ready to work with the hon. House leader and with these experts. Why is the government refusing to work with us?

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I have appreciated the opportunities to work with the member as well. The member has to understand that as a government, we have a responsibility to have meaningful debate as well as to advance legislation.

When it comes to the important work the committee did, the government has more than considered the recommendations. This government actually has advanced legislation that is different from what was introduced at committee, because we took the work of the committee very seriously. The committee had eight meetings and 41 witnesses. Within this place, we have had more than 17 hours of debate.

It is important to note that this was an election promise that we are delivering on. Witnesses at the public safety and national security committee were all pleased to see us moving forward with this committee of parliamentarians and made some suggestions to improve it.

The committee made some of these changes to improve the bill. We have accepted many of them. During clause by clause on Bill C-22, the following amendments were made and included by the government: the Liberal amendment to broaden the committee's mandate in section 8, further sub-amended by the NDP and agreed to by all parties; the removal of the chair's double-vote from clause 19, ensuring that the chair would only cast a deciding vote in the event of a tie; and a whistle-blower clause that would require the committee to inform the appropriate minister of any activity it discovered that was not conducted in compliance with the law, proposed by the NDP and accepted by the government.

When it comes to a commitment to work together, this government is being very reasonable. I believe we can continue working together, and I encourage the members opposite to really consider these amendments seriously.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Madam Speaker, in the context of this debate, it seems that the Liberals continue to use time allocation to drive through their agenda. Obviously, it is our job as members of Parliament to hold the government to account and to ask questions in regard to this.

This same hon. minister has put forward a discussion paper that would basically pre-program these kinds of time allocation motions so that the government would not have to stand up and say why it needs to push forward its agenda. I would like the member opposite to explain why she feels that limiting debate in this place, particularly in the area of time allocation, is in this House's interest and is in the interest of the Canadian people.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise and respond to the hon. member's questions. He was part of the previous government, which really abused the time allocation tool.

Time allocation is the only tool that exists for a government to advance legislation when there is a stalemate. We have a duty to ensure that all legislation is brought to a vote. This piece of legislation has had a lot of debate and many members have spoken to it in the House. All members of Parliament are elected to represent the voices of their constituents. This government is elected to ensure that the voice of Canadians is advanced, and this was a campaign commitment.

It is important to note, since the member referenced it, the importance of modernizing this place when there are limited tools that do not allow us to work better together in a more modernized way. I look forward to working with the member opposite to modernize this place, and I am sure he can agree that we can work better together. I appreciate his reading the discussion paper, and I look forward to his being part of the conversation.

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, the Leader of the Government in the House has talked at length about the number of witnesses we heard in committee. Beyond the substance of the bill, one of the points that kept coming back was mentioned in a Globe and Mail column by a number of those experts: the importance of having a non-partisan committee along with the process that leads to its formation and the subsequent work.

Several parties must support it so that it has the highest possible legitimacy. Actually, one of the reasons why the government committed to creating such a committee during the campaign is the erosion of public confidence in our national security agencies and the need for mechanisms to be in place to ensure that Canadians can rebuild their trust.

How can the Leader of the Government believe that using time allocation and preventing us from debating the fact that the government is discarding a substantial number of amendments carried in committee can help us create a body that will restore public trust in the national security agencies?

Bill C-22--Time Allocation MotionNational Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, time allocation is the only tool that enables the government to move a bill forward when an impasse is reached. We are duty-bound to ensure the bill is passed. We do not make these decisions lightly, and we remain committed to ensuring all members have a sufficient and reasonable amount of time to debate the bill in the House of Commons.

Furthermore, we also recognize our responsibility to deliver on our promises to Canadians. We need to work together. We have heard from the committee, and we are proposing a bill that we think is good for Canadians. It is a necessary step. We must work together, and we will continue to work with the opposition.