Carolyn Bennett March 31st, 2015

By

Railway safety vs. pipelines – tough conversations to be had

Carolyn_Bennett_column

Among the many priorities parliamentarians took up upon our return in January was the ongoing debate on the Pipeline Safety Act. There is no question that pipelines are a critical element of our energy sector`s infrastructure, but it is our responsibility to ensure they are safe, sustainable, respect Indigenous rights and have the appropriate social license for their construction and long-term operation. From Keystone to Northern Gateway, to Kinder Morgan, Line 9 and Energy East, Canadians are paying attention.

Addressing pipeline safety is a crucial subject, but it is also important for all of us in St. Paul’s to embrace the complexity of this issue. Since Lac Megantic, we have all become acutely aware of the dangers of having explosive material coming by rail through populated areas.

There is no question that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but this, unfortunately, will not happen overnight. In the meantime we need a safe, sustainable and multi-faceted approach to manage our energy supply and exports in a responsible way. The federal government has a crucial responsibility to balance economic development, energy security, environmental impacts, Indigenous rights and socio-economic factors when approving any proposed resource projects. We must ensure our energy supply and exports that are moved to market are transported in the safest and most environmentally sustainable way.

Crude oil shipped by rail in Canada has increased 32,000% since 2009. This has direct impacts on the residents of Toronto-St. Paul’s, particularly given the freight trains currently routed through our community are regularly carrying up to 80 units of extremely dangerous and explosive crude oil.

The Transportation Safety Board suggested, as recently as February, that the federal government’s new rail standards do not go far enough, and the string of recent rail accidents occurring under the new rules support this claim.

Getting rail safety right is part of an effective integrated approach, but we also need a discussion of the role safe and properly regulated pipelines could play in stemming the increase of oil shipments by rail, often through densely populated communities like Toronto. When a train carrying oil derails, there is a serious chance of loss of life and of significant destruction of property. We need to have an evidence-based conversation about what method and routes of oil transport provide the lowest possible risk to the environment and public safety.

I believe Canadians are asking bigger questions. We need to have a conversation in which we recognize that pursuing economic growth and prosperity must be done in such a way that we meet the urgent need for action on climate change and environmental protection. In order for Canada to be a real energy superpower it needs to demonstrate leadership in all forms of renewable energy. However, it is essential that right now we engage in a serious discussion about the broader ramifications of how we develop our oil and gas sector and how we move those products to market. Many are asking why oil isn’t refined closer to the source, so that that less dangerous material is being transported.

Canadians expect governments to set tough regulations and ensure serious enforcement. Canadians expect the private sector to make responsible decisions and be held accountable when problems happen. Civil society needs to receive accurate information and have their concerns respected.

In the fall, more than 250 concerned citizens came together to discuss the issue of rail safety with my colleagues and fellow Members of Parliament Adam Vaughan and Chrystia Freeland and I. We will meet again for a follow-up on April 15, 6:30–8 p.m. at the Church of the Messiah, 240 Avenue Rd. at Dupont Street.

We hope to see you there. This is a conversation that requires we be provided with all the evidence so we can deliberate and then exert our civic efficacy.