Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to private member's Motion No. 241, brought forward by my NDP colleague from Burnaby-Kingsway. He has worked very hard on this important motion to bring it to our attention for which I congratulate him.
Motion No. 241 deals with a subject matter that I also have been supporting and have done a lot of work on over the years. That is why I want to say a few words today. It is important to note that another one of our colleagues from the New Democratic Party, the member for Winnipeg Transcona, has worked very hard on this
issue. We all thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister for responding in the way they have.
The motion essentially deals with the establishment of a Canadian test site for Operation Respond, a computerized database of hazardous materials that would improve safety for firefighters and help save lives and property.
There is no question in my mind that this is a critical motion which every member of this House should support. At the same time the Minister of Transport should be as we speak preparing to establish this test site. As the parliamentary secretary indicated a few minutes ago, I believe that is what he is doing. I am very pleased to hear that tonight and I recognize the support the government has given to this motion.
This is an issue that is most important to Canada's firefighters. It was first brought to my attention by Saskatchewan firefighters during one of their lobby days on Parliament Hill. The firefighters annual lobby effort is one of the most effective I have been subject to in my eight years in Parliament. I congratulate the firefighters on that.
I also want to congratulate Doug Coupar who was the Canadian director of the International Association of Firefighters. His efforts were instrumental in the success of this lobby. During that lobby they told me that firefighters dealing with incidents involving hazardous materials need to know precisely what chemicals are present and how to handle them. The faster they can obtain this information the more effectively they can protect their own safety and that of the community around them.
The situation today is not adequate. Operation Respond, on the other hand, is a system that gives firefighters firsthand access to information that they need by use of a laptop computer and a modem installed in their emergency vehicles. They simply enter a number which has been assigned to each load travelling on the rails or highways into that laptop and within one minute they can know exactly what materials are onboard that vehicle which may have been involved in an accident. They will know what safety precautions to take and how to contain the incident they have encountered more effectively.
Compare that to the 10 minutes to several hours that it sometimes takes under the existing system. The sources of the information for Operation Respond are databases kept by the carriers. The system is applicable to all forms of transportation in its ideal usages, trains, trucks, ships and aircraft. I hope we will be able to find a way to ensure that this happens. Operation Respond makes a tremendous amount of sense.
In May of this year I wrote a letter to the Minister of Transport. I stated: "I have recently met with Canadian firefighters who are interested in securing a Canadian test site for a program they refer to as Operation Respond. I know you are familiar with the proposal and I think you were supportive of the concept prior to your appointment as Minister of Transport.
"The concept of identifying hazardous materials in transit is a very important one because the most dangerous aspect of firefighting is responding to incidents involving hazardous materials. Firefighters in Canada are especially hampered, they say, by a lack of information available at such incidents, especially within the critical first minutes upon arrival at the scene.
"Firefighters in Canada are urging you to make Operation Respond's Canadian test site a priority of your government by committing staff and resources to the project immediately. I am writing today to say that I agree with the firefighters' request and I trust that you will make this commitment without delay".
That was the letter I sent to the minister after the Saskatchewan firefighters along with their colleagues from across Canada visited me here in Ottawa.
In June the minister responded to my letter. A major part of his response to me was that the CANUTEC system, the system in place today, seemed to be working just fine but there was always room for improvement. The minister said there were Canadians currently in the United States monitoring the Operation Respond system and he suggested that perhaps this fall there might be recommendations coming forward to change the way the Canadian system operated.
I am very pleased to see today that perhaps the experience in the United States has had an effect here in Canada and it is as a direct result of the firefighters lobby and their request that these matters take place.
In light of how important this issue is and in light of how supportive of change the firefighters are, I think it is time that we in Canada took action.
The motion in front of us today gives every parliamentarian in Canada a chance to confer with the minister, the cabinet and the department and say that firefighters know what they are talking about. By voting in support of this motion today we may actually be doing something that will one day prevent a serious human accident and perhaps even save a life.
I was proud to support the call of firefighters in May and I am proud to support this motion today.