Mr. Speaker, my colleague wants this to be an issue of relevance, but it is relevant because this is the only solution that the NDP has. This legislation is principally designed as a national solution to a challenging circumstance in her riding where, according to her, there are not enough rail crossings, and therefore pedestrians in her riding are crossing the rail track at multiple uncontrolled locations and trespassing on private property. At issue is just that lack of pedestrian crossings on the Canadian Pacific Railway Outremont spur.
I wonder if the bill in its present form is actually necessary. Is this type of large-scale reach the only solution to the illegal crossings that my colleague referenced when she brought the bill forward?
I would like to take a minute or two to look at what is in place presently. My NDP colleague just referred to the Railway Safety Act being vague and confusing, and he gave some examples, but I do not think this bill is going to be the solution to clear that up. The Canadian Transportation Act includes some provisions on rail crossings. Section 100 of the act defines a road crossing as “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 she wants to increase the safety of affected areas where pedestrians are crossing. I believe her approach is sincere, but as I have mentioned, we have questions about the method that she has chosen.
When we try to correct at risk situations, we should be very careful that we do not create new ones. I think that would happen if the bill were passed.
Although it tries to deal with a local issue, the bill would be national in scope, and it should be judged on that basis. Federal legislation already provides municipalities and local authorities with the authority to deal with these types of situations, 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 a local authority and a railway cannot come to a conclusion and negotiate an agreement to build a crossing, the Canadian Transportation Agency can step in. It can authorize the construction of that crossing. It can determine what percentage of the construction costs each party will be responsible for. It can also determine who will maintain that crossing.
This current process puts the onus on individual local authorities, which is where it should be, to determine whether a new railway crossing is required, where and when that crossing is built and should be built, taking into consideration development plans and how much they are willing to contribute financially to see that crossing built.
The current legislative framework stipulates that if a local municipality or entity and a railway cannot come to an agreement, then the Canadian Transportation Agency can take over and assume responsibility. It can authorize the construction and determine how those costs will be split between the parties, both for the construction of the crossing and for the ongoing maintenance of it.
The minister can already help parties find common ground through various existing policies and can do it in a way that deals with the financial consequences for the stakeholders. As with so many other things, money often ends up being the sticking point on many of these negotiations.
The member told us about her work and the support she had from various agencies. However, the Montreal Port Authority is not one of those agencies that supports her proposed legislative amendment. That is the local entity involved in this situation.
Municipalities have the primary responsibility for their own infrastructure. It makes sense for them to be the ones that decide when, if, and where the railway crossings should be built. It should not be up to the Minister of Transport to determine whether a crossing must be built in a local area. It needs to be given over to the local government to make those decisions, and that is where it should stay.
As I said, the Montreal Port Authority does not support the bill. The rail line affected by the member's initiative serves the port. Setting up new crossings would disrupt port operations. Given a train cannot stop at each grade crossing, the port authority has said the company would have to uncouple and recouple the train and allow people to cross. That would significantly disrupt the operations and increase the risk for company employees and the public. I know the member does not want to hear that as a consequence of her legislation.
When people are crossing at uncontrolled locations, they are in effect trespassing on private property. The sponsor of the bill is saying that just because people are trespassing and putting themselves at risk, the minister has some obligation to build crossings for them. We do not believe this is the case. Increasing the number of pedestrian crossings increases opportunities for people to be injured and/or killed. That is not a good solution to the issue we are faced with here.
Statistics show that railway and road crossings are dangerous for Canadians. Data at the end of October 2016 indicated a total of 89 accidents at road crossings, 16 fatalities, and 20 severe injuries. These problems happen across the entire rail system, not only at these uncontrolled crossings.
We do not see how Bill C-322 in its current form could help improve and solve the problem once and for all. In our view, a broader approach to this is needed. Specific measures should be taken to improve the safety of people crossing railway lines illegally in Canada. We need to come up with a framework to deal with that.
We will oppose the bill because it proposes the wrong solution to the problem in Montreal and other densely populated cities that have rail crossings in them.
The issue is really that pedestrians are trespassing on private property, which typically has industrial activity also occurring, thus exposing people to major danger. The answer is not to give them even more opportunities to be injured and/or killed.