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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was rail.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for York South—Weston (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the system in Canada of railroads being allowed to let their rails deteriorate as long as they go slower along those rails. In those circumstances, individuals who live nearby are subjected to much slower trains taking much longer to go through and, therefore, making the rail crossings more dangerous. Those individuals are also subject to the notion that these rails are not particularly safe.

It all comes back to the notion of how Transport Canada is inspecting and managing the safety of the rail system in Canada.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, clearly my riding is one of those, like that of the member for Davenport, that has a very busy rail corridor running through it. That corridor is carrying DOT-111 and DOT-1232 cars full of very dangerous oil at reasonably high speeds. The residents in my riding and those in Davenport are all worried that the greater increase in numbers of these vehicles is exposing them to a greater risk.

The minister demanded that these rail companies investigate the possibility of diverting these cars around major cities as is done in the U.S. Unfortunately, Transport Canada refused to share those risk assessments with either the public or the parliamentary committee. Therefore, we are in the dark as to what risk these railroads and these speeds pose to the individuals who live along rail corridors and who live in my riding of York South—Weston and in the member's riding of Davenport.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, that is a pretty weak argument in favour of pipelines. If the Liberals are trying to suggest that VIA Rail is the cause of derailments, we are not here to talk about that. We are here to talk about whether the equipment that is being used and the manner in which it is being used is safe for Canadians. It is my belief that currently it is not safe. To throw up smokescreens is not helpful to this debate.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Davenport.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill, which is strangely entitled “the safe and accountable rail act”. I would question the safe part of it, but it certainly is a way of making railroads more accountable for their actions.

The parliamentary secretary said a moment ago that the prime purpose of the bill is to make Canadians safer. I wonder how a bill that deals primarily with insurance and liability would actually make Canadians safer, unless of course, we are proposing to give over the regulation of the railroads to the insurance companies and make the insurance companies responsible for making sure the railroads are safe. Maybe that is what it is doing, but that is certainly not something I am in favour of.

It is a core responsibility of government to protect its citizens. That can come in any number of ways, but here we are talking about how to protect the citizenry of Canada from the actions of a federally regulated body, namely the railroads.

Protecting our citizens is not something the government should see as an expense on the expense line of the ledger, and yet that is all too often what we hear about. It is actually a duty and it is not something on which we should be looking to cut our expenses or cut taxes and make Canadians less safe. It is not something it should be seeming to do, but we have seen the Conservative government do it time and time again, in food safety, in airline safety, and now in rail safety, where we have a system that clearly did not protect the 47 residents of Lac-Mégantic nor the centre of that town which was destroyed by the rail system, which the current government and the Liberal government before it helped to create.

The bill is a step in the right direction. Clearly, the government seems to have adopted the NDP principle that the polluter should pay and that the person who is responsible for something like this should pay, but we think that this could go a whole lot further. There are flaws in the bill that need addressing, and we will discuss those in committee.

However, the bill would not really do what the government suggests it would do to make the rail system safer. It would make the rail system more financially reliant on the shippers and rail companies themselves and less so on the federal and provincial governments. It is a shifting of responsibilities. It is not a creation of safety per se, unless, as I said earlier, we are expecting the insurance companies to be the ones to manage the safety systems in Canada.

Why is there all this focus on rail safety suddenly in this country?

The focus is caused in part because of Lac-Mégantic. Lac-Mégantic opened our eyes to a number of other issues that face us in the rail safety world.

One was that there is a 500-fold increase in the amount of crude oil that is being transported across the country, and it's crude oil that we have also discovered is not particularly inert. In fact, it is very explosive. Once this oil reaches its containers, it catches fire almost immediately, in some cases with huge and explosive results, as was the case in Lac-Mégantic and a number of other places across this country.

As a result, we have witnessed, with that 500-fold increase in the transportation of these dangerous goods, an alarming increase in the number of incidents involving these dangerous goods. There were 11 in the past two years alone. They were major accidents involving rail and the transportation of crude oil.

Now, I will hear the Liberals yelling that if we are not going to have it in rail, we are going to have it in pipelines. Some of this oil, in fact most of this oil, cannot be transported in pipelines because it is too dangerous. It is too gaseous. It would create too high a pressure inside a pipe. It does the same thing in rail but in a much smaller container. As a result, while rail containers are apparently safe as long as they are standing still and not moving, those rail containers, once they are moving and break, have disastrous consequences.

We also have discovered that the containers the government has been using for some considerable period of time to transport water, milk, and inert substances, but only in the last few years have we been transporting enormous quantities of dangerous goods in these containers, were known in 1989 to be unsafe. That was over 25 years ago and yet the government did not do anything about this until last year.

Last year, the minister announced that 5,000 of the 80,000 of these railcars would be taken off the rail immediately and that the rest would be replaced over the course of three years. Then we discovered that the ones that are replacing them are not safe either. Now we have been told that we are going to replace the railcars over a period of 10 years because the DOT-111s and DOT-1232s are not safe for the transportation of oil.

What do we do in those 10 years? What kind of effective safety are we promoting for the people of Canada if the vehicles that are going by their homes, schools, churches and daycare centres are not safe? That is part of what we are hoping the government will actually consider.

We also discovered as a result of this incident, but also as a result of the good work by the Auditor General, that Transport Canada is not doing a good job in particular with regard to managing the safety management system, SMS, with which the Government of Canada has replaced the direct oversight of the rail system. In theory, where before we had random inspections by government inspectors, now we have a system where the government inspects a safety management system put in place by a railroad for compliance and that the inspection of that system is how the government inspects the railroads. The trouble is the inspection of the system did not happen. As the Auditor General discovered, it was not happening, and in something like only 20% of the cases where transport officials intended to audit a railroad did they actually do it.

The Transportation Safety Board also found that Transport Canada had not been doing a good job with regard to its inspections of the safety management systems of the very railroad that failed, MMA, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. We examined the results of the Transport Canada investigation. It found 18 separate causes for the incident, although the minister and the parliamentary secretary said it was just one individual. No, it was not one individual. The Transportation Safety Board said very clearly there were 18 separate causes, some of which were with Transport Canada. It did not audit MMA. Despite knowing that it had serious flaws since 2002, it did not audit it. It did not follow up on the safety deficiencies and did not oversee the organizational and operational changes which MMA made, including the one-man crews, which was part of the reason that this all happened.

We have a government that is responsible for Transport Canada, and in turn Transport Canada, with a 20% cut in rail safety over the past few years, does not have the wherewithal to do all of the inspections that it needs to do of the safety management system. We have a system that is falling apart all around us, caused at first by the Liberals and now continued by the Conservatives, a safety management system that is not keeping Canadians safe.

I come back to the title of the bill, the safe and accountable rail act. Yes, it does something about when there is an accident, but we should not be saying “when there is an accident”. We should be saying that there should be no accidents.

Last week at committee, CN admitted freely that there will be accidents, that there will be derailments. If we are going to admit that there are going to be derailments, how are we going to effectively protect Canadians? These railcars are not going to be replaced for 10 years. In the derailments that have taken place, such as in Lynchburg last year, the railcars carrying dangerous oil were the DOT-1232s, the newer more modern ones, and the train was going 24 miles an hour. In Gogama the train was going 38 and 43 miles and hour. In Mount Carbon, West Virginia, the train was going 33 miles an hour. In Galena, Illinois, the train was going 23 miles an hour. They all exploded. They all broke and exploded.

We have been told by the government that it is going to limit the speed of these vehicles in cities to 40 miles an hour. Clearly, even 23 miles an hour is too fast. If we are going to have derailments, we should at least make sure that the oil stays in the car when it derails. The only way to do that is to slow the trains right down, maybe to the speed that was in place after the Mississauga derailment, which was 15 miles an hour.

I welcome the fact that the government is paying attention to rail safety, but I wish the government would actually do something to make Canadians more safe.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, with Bill C-52, the federal government appears to be suggesting that as it is the regulator it is also the responsible party when it comes to paying for or assuming the responsibility to regulate those who should pay for the result of a disaster or derailment. However, with Lac-Mégantic, the federal government has only paid a small portion of the actual cleanup costs. We are wondering whether this bill will cause the government to rethink its decision not to compensate fully the Government of Quebec for the costs related to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, part of which is because the railroad involved was under-insured.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that troubles me is the limit on liability. The Lac-Mégantic disaster resulted in about $400 million worth of liability, of which $25 million was covered by insurance. There is $375 million, so far, that we know of, of expense to the taxpayer.

Even if this fund were fully implemented, that would still leave $125 million missing. That is funnily close to the amount the Province of Quebec has been asked to pay, by the Government of Canada, for the failure of a federally regulated system, and of the owners of the vehicles, which is a federally regulated railroad, to contain the vehicles in Lac-Mégantic.

Would the provinces and municipalities be on the hook in the way they are in Lac-Mégantic? Will the government consider reimbursing the Province of Quebec the $155 million it has already spent on the Lac-Mégantic disaster, and it will spend more, as a federal expense, as it was a federal railroad?

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, would the member comment on the fact that in the last two years there have been 11 major derailments involving the transportation of oil in this country and in the United States? By some fateful luck, the only one that involved a loss of life was the tragic one at Lac-Mégantic. Clearly that is not a record that any government should be proud of, and I do not think the government should be proud of its actions to date on trying to keep Canada safe.

The bill would raise the amount of insurance, but ought we not protect the public rather than just insure the railroads?

Mount Dennis Outdoor Community Skating Rink March 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, winter is finally behind us. In York South—Weston, this cold, harsh season was made warmer and brighter by a dedicated group of volunteers who for the third year ran the Mount Dennis outdoor community skating rink in Pearen Park.

I was delighted to host a Family Day skating party there. Over 400 individuals learned to skate at the rink this past season. Nearly 900 used the free skate loan program. The rink continued its fine tradition of making a positive difference in the community, one smile and one skating lesson at a time.

With a tip of my toque, I would like to congratulate rink coordinator Simon Chamberlain who received a volunteer Toronto award for his outstanding efforts and ice master Guy Ruggieri and his over 40 volunteers who gave generously of their time to make this grassroots initiative a smashing success.

Margaret Mead said, “... a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That is a fitting tribute to the Mount Dennis volunteers.

Housing March 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the minister still does not get it.

The fact of the matter is it started out being $3.6 billion in 2010 and even by his numbers it is now $2.25 billion. We have lost $1.5 billion from the housing system in Canada from the federal level.

That loss will be absorbed by people like the seniors at Beech Hall who will no longer be able to afford their rents. There has been no indication from the current government at any time that Beech Hall will somehow be able to receive any assistance from the federal government.

The minister has now said that CMHC is giving them time to prepare. They have been prepared for a long time for the end of this agreement, and they have been pleading with the federal government and CMHC to try to provide a continued subsidy because that is the only way these 41 seniors will stop being homeless.

Housing March 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my question to the minister on Thursday, January 29, had to do with Beech Hall, a co-op seniors complex in my riding of York South—Weston.

This complex uses federal funding to provide rent assistance to 41 low-income seniors. When the government ends this funding at the end of this year, those 41 seniors will no longer be able to afford their rents and will risk becoming homeless.

The government position seems to be that these operating agreements, which subsidize housing for some 200,000 low-income Canadians, can expire and the funds can be returned to the treasury. The funds are no longer available for rent subsidy. They are available for the Conservatives to help the rich through devices such as income-splitting for high-wage earners and tax-free savings accounts for the rich to hide more of their income from tax. This is so wrong.

Jack Layton, rest his soul, pressured the Liberals to put back some of the money they had so ruthlessly taken out of Canada's housing commitments. The Conservatives voted against it, but they now take glee in pointing to the money as somehow being their idea. It was not.

The bottom line is that as these agreements expire, the Conservatives are refusing to reinvest it in any way in housing. Many of these co-ops are in need of major retrofits. Forty-year-old buildings need new roofs, new heating systems, new windows, and new energy-saving technology. Co-ops will not be able to afford both the necessary repairs and rent subsidies, and the government knows this.

Beech Hall is one such complex. Besides the reality that the government will end their subsidy, the truth is that they do not own the property. It is leased. Lease payments will continue; the subsidy will not. The buildings need $20 million in retrofits over the next 10 years. Beech Hall does have a small reserve, but it is nowhere near the amount needed to provide either the subsidy or the building repairs.

To glibly say, as the minister did when I asked the question, that the federal government provides the provinces with $1.25 billion in housing funding and that the provinces should decide which properties, such as Beech Hall, should receive a provincial subsidy is ignoring the reality of the situation. In 2010 Canada provided $3.6 billion to affordable housing at the federal level. Funding is now down to about $2 billion, and it will fall still further as the operating agreements expire. Just as the Liberals did in the 1990s, the Conservatives are eliminating affordable housing as a federal responsibility.

After the Liberal cuts, the waiting lists in my city of Toronto have continued to grow, to the point that there are more families waiting for housing than there are units in total. Wait lists are now measured not in months or years but decades. The city of Toronto's housing stock, inherited when the Liberals got out of the housing business, needs nearly $2 billion in repairs. The city cannot afford the repairs, let alone try to build new stock for some of those 80,000 families on the wait list. The repair backlog is so great that some 4,000 units are in danger of being unfit for human habitation.

For the government to take even a nickel out of the housing subsidies so that it can give it to the well off to buy their vote is despicable and not in keeping with Canada's rich history of helping the less fortunate.

House prices in Toronto reached a new high of over $1 million for a detached house, and rental prices have followed in lockstep. A recent conversation with a single mother of a disabled child showed just how desperate the situation is. Her rent is more than her income, plus her child support, plus a large part of her child's disability benefits. What is left for food is paltry. She and her child have been on a wait list for eight years.

Conservatives just do not get that their policies will make people homeless. It is time they stopped taking money out of housing to give tax breaks to the rich and started dealing with the problem the Liberals created.

The seniors at Beech Hall are waiting for the minister's answer. Will 41 seniors be left homeless by the government?