Mr. Speaker, Canadians across the country rely on a safe, well-regulated rail system to get food from farm to fork, to get resources to employers and consumers, and to travel, whether it is to visit loved ones or to get to work. Canadians have a right to feel safe when travelling by rail. They should feel, when potentially dangerous goods are being shipped across the country and through their communities, that their families and homes are not at risk. It is the government's responsibility to ensure the safety of Canadians who travel on the rails or live near the rail lines, as well as the safety of the people who work on those rail lines.
Nearly two years ago, Canadians were stunned and saddened by the news of a derailment at Lac-Mégantic that took the lives of 47 people and demolished a portion of the town. This is the deadliest rail accident since Confederation in 1867. In the weeks following that tragedy, the Conservative government promised decisive action to ensure the safety and integrity of our rail system, but nearly two years later, we have no more guarantees than before, and the government is largely missing in action on this file.
The government's piecemeal approach to rail safety has done nothing to prevent the three derailments Ontario has seen over the course of February and March alone. This March, one of those trains, a train carrying dangerous goods, was on fire the entire weekend in Ontario. When asked recently about the derailments, the minister expressed her concern and stated, “There must be reasons behind it. It cannot just be a fluke of nature”.
I do not know if Canadians can be reassured from that type of answer from the minister, who is responsible for guaranteeing train safety. Perhaps the minister might look to the rail safety division in her department, which is understaffed, underfunded, and undertrained. It falls to the Minister of Transport to order railway companies to develop specific rules to ensure the safety of Canadians. It is also within the power of government to make regulations which apply to railway companies and then to audit and monitor to see if those regulations are actually being followed. It resolves itself by actual leadership.
Canadians look to their government to intervene when their safety is in question. It is one of the fundamental responsibilities of government. Yet at a time when it is very clear that Transport Canada has a lot of catching up to do, when safety should be its top priority, its budget was slashed by over $200 million in the main estimates. That 11% cut follows on an already scathing Auditor General's report, which noted, among other things, that the government only performed 26% of its planned audits and did not audit VIA Rail at all, despite the fact that VIA Rail carries four million passengers each year. Can anyone imagine carrying out only one-quarter of the planned audits? Three-quarters of the job was not done and the safety of Canadians is at stake on this file.
The report also revealed that the government does not have enough inspectors and system auditors to carry out critical safety functions. There is a capacity problem inside the Department of Transport. With the current workforce, the department has conducted too few audits. Only one-quarter of the planned audits that Transport Canada said were necessary to keep rail safe in Canada were actually done. With those staffing levels, how many years will it take before the department audits all key components of safety? When the minister was asked about this by my colleague the member for Ottawa South in committee this month, the minister reported hiring only one additional inspector. How is that good management or good leadership? How does that protect Canadians' safety?
An initial Transportation Safety Board report on the three most recent derailments points to track faults and yet the government refuses to make the necessary investments in inspectors and other key safety professionals. It has not been able to demonstrate improvement in its oversight for air and marine and the recent spate of incidents in rail does not give us any confidence that it will be any different.
This is troubling for the residents of greater Toronto. Many trains carrying hazardous materials move through our communities using the CN or CP rail lines. While the government has made some improvements by phasing out railcars that were involved in Lac-Mégantic and requiring more communication from railways on the frequency and volume of dangerous goods passing through communities, much is left undone.
For instance, I agree with my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, who was a very strong advocate for greater rail safety at Toronto City Hall and continues that advocacy here, that railways should inform municipalities and first responders that dangerous goods are being transported through their communities before they pass through, rather than telling them afterwards, and sometimes months afterwards.
As a Mississauga city councillor, I made the same request almost six years ago after the Goreway Drive derailment. Furthermore, phasing out one rail car was important in the wake of Lac-Mégantic, but the derailments in Ontario this year demonstrate that even more should be done. In fact, I will quote from the Transportation Safety Board report that says:
If older tank cars, including the CPC-1232 cars, are not phased out sooner, then the regulator and industry need to take more steps to reduce the risk of derailments or consequences following a derailment carrying flammable liquids.
Transport Canada needs to immediately put more robust tank standards in place now, not in 2025, when the provisions announced around those cars would be enacted.
There are a number of elements of the bill that Canadians have been calling for, but it is clear from how long it has taken for the Conservative government to act on them that it still does not feel that railway safety is enough of a priority. There are still serious problems at Transport Canada. Without the inspectors, who are needed to audit train and rail safety, we will find ourselves perpetually back here wondering how another train derailment occurred.
The bill also rightly allows inspectors and the minister to order a company to immediately correct safety problems. Legislation is important, but money is needed. There is nothing about increasing capacity so that there are enough inspectors to audit these safety management systems, so how will the minister know about the safety problems? Strong language sounds good but does not help Canadians today—action-oriented words with very little action behind them. Three-quarters of audits are not happening. When will that change?
As I mentioned earlier today, this Conservative government spends more money each and every year that it has been in power on advertising, more than on rail safety. It is spending $42 million on ads announcing an income-splitting plan that does not help most Canadians, while only spending $38 million on rail safety just two years after the Lac-Mégantic disaster and subsequent derailments, and while presiding over a 1,500% increase in the transportation of oil by rail in the last three years.
Should this bill pass, I sincerely hope the government takes another look at re-prioritizing its resources. It is clear that it will have to make changes to rail security, but now it must do more than piecemeal updates to rules and regulations here and there, and it must put its money on the table and adequately fund the department and the staff who work every day to protect Canadians across the country from spills, derailments, and other potentially devastating disasters