Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
The entire country was shaken when, on July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil rolled downhill and derailed. We watched footage of the explosion and the fire with our hearts in our mouths. We mourned, with the families, friends and communities, the 47 people confirmed and presumed dead. We wondered why there were more and more accidents on what was once the safest way to travel. We were shocked when we found out that in this case Maine and Atlantic Railway only carried $25 million in third party liability insurance, which is not nearly enough to cover the incredible magnitude of the resulting damage and loss of both life and property that night.
Currently, estimates of damages in Lac-Mégantic exceed $400 million, and the cost of rebuilding Lac-Mégantic to what it once was will be far higher. Taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup and rebuilding costs, and we cannot put a price on the tragic loss of 47 Canadians.
The rail system in our country has gone through decades of deregulation, underfunding, mismanagement and bad decision making under the present government and the previous government.
The bill does not go far enough to address many of our concerns. I support the bill, but we must do more. The tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment has shown us that our liability and compensation regime for rail must be strengthened. However, it is important to also address the fundamental problems that have led to a dramatic increase in rail accidents.
In 1999, the Liberal government amended the Railway Safety Act to accelerate deregulation, a policy continued by the subsequent federal governments. In 2001, direct federal oversight was replaced by safety management systems, which were drafted by the companies themselves. The federal government's role in rail safety changed profoundly.
Meanwhile during this time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rail accidents. These accidents have had increasingly dangerous consequences in our communities. According to the Railway Association of Canada numbers, in 2009, only 500 cars a year were carrying highly flammable fossil fuel. In 2013, 160,000 cars carried flammable fossil fuel. By 2017, our rail system is expected to be transporting 33.9 million tonnes of fossil fuel per year. These numbers do not include other hazardous materials being transported through our communities.
There is absolutely no doubt that protecting the public is our core responsibility and improving liability and accountability measures is long overdue for our railways.
It is sad that it took the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic to get the government to be serious about that responsibility. We have had exponential growth in the transport of hazardous materials. We should have been working on increasing protections ages ago.
In 2013, 144 accidents involved dangerous goods, 7 of which resulted in dangerous goods being released. Many of us have heard of the three derailments in northern Ontario. These derailments happened in the space of less than a month, between February and March of this year. In two of these derailments, tank cars carrying crude oil burst into flames. In both of these incidents of fire, the tank cars involved were upgraded models of the DOT-111s.
The government ordered the phase-out of the DOT-111s over the span of a decade. The Transportation Safety Board, which investigates railway accidents, has flagged the length of the phase-out as a huge concern.
In fact, in February 2014, there was a derailment in my riding on Sewells Road and Reesor Road. According to police, the freight car was empty, and a CN Rail spokesperson confirmed that no dangerous goods were involved and no one was injured. We were very lucky.
My riding is criss-crossed by railway tracks and is home to CN's Toronto east rail yard. The Canadian National line, running near Steeles, transports oil and gas and other flammable materials every day. Most of the tracks run at street level, in many instances, a few metres from homes, from parks where children play or people bike and run.
I am speaking today because I am concerned about the carriage of volatile materials with inadequate regulations in such close proximity to where my community members, my neighbours live.
Aside from discussing liability after an accident, we need immediate measures so we can help prevent and mitigate disasters.
I am not the only one who feels that we need stronger measures for rail safety. On March 31, the mayor of Toronto and 17 councillors from across the municipality wrote to theMinister of Transport, asking that Transport Canada establish stronger protections for cities than the ones being implemented right now. A recent report by the Toronto Start found that dangerous goods were often transported through the heart of Toronto.
The city has a set of recommendations, and I am proud to stand with them and demand stronger enforcement of regulations, and the adoption of stronger regulations to keep Canadians safe, Torontonians safe and all Scarborough residents safe.
As I mentioned, the goods transported by our rail system have been increasingly dangerous and our rail safety regimes need an overhaul to keep people safe. This would also mean that we need adequate resources to implement this plan in Bill C-52 and to implement additional oversight and regulation called for by our communities.
However, the budget at Transport Canada was cut 11% this year, or by $202 million. The government spent $42 million on economic action plan advertisement last year, yet spent $33 million on rail safety. It is shameful. Year after year, Transport Canada has seen budget cuts.
How can the government talk of meaningful oversight without providing the resources to do so? Oversight clearly requires resources.
As for Bill C-52, essentially, it requires minimum insurance levels for railways transporting dangerous goods and establishes a disaster relief fund paid for by crude oil shippers to compensate victims of derailments, provinces and municipalities.
We are concerned that the minimum insurance levels established in this bill may not be sufficient. Insurance levels should be based on the threat to the public, not just on the type and volume of the goods being transported. Estimates of damages at Lac-Mégantic exceed $400 million, but these new rules do not appear to get us to that level for small companies.
The bill would also establish a pooled disaster relief fund that would be made available if the minimum insurance levels were insufficient. However, is the relief fund going to actually have enough money? That is the question that is on everybody's mind.
For the 200,000 barrels of oil transported daily, Transport Canada estimates that oil levies would contribute about $17 million annually to general revenues. This is a step forward, but there are certainly many outstanding concerns. We would need to have that levy in place for about 15 years before we could actually reach the $250 million level where it believes we would be able to respond to any level of crisis. I would again point to Lac-Mégantic. It cost $400 million for the damage done in that one accident alone. Therefore, this levy would certainly not be enough.
We also want to ensure that the fund being established sufficiently covers all disasters, including unlimited liability for the railway's negligence. The bill would ensure that municipalities and provinces would be better able to be reimbursed by the railway company for the cost of responding to a fire caused by their operations. However, we have a long way to go to ensure accidents are less likely.
We need to figure out how to protect the lives of people living in Canada. We need real plans to manage the risk created by the kinds of dangerous goods being transported through our communities. We need to ensure that the federal government maintains an active role in rail safety regimes. After those years when the Liberal government allowed self-regulation and we saw numerous increases in accidents and a decline in safety, we need to ensure there are independent inspectors and that companies are held accountable.
Finally, we need to continue the national conversation about how we are going to process oil, bitumen and other natural resources in our country. We have an opportunity here to do much more in Canada to create real rail safety, and passing this bill will not create a safe rail transport system. Canadians deserve real rail safety measures and safe rail systems. This bill is one step, but it just does not go far enough.