Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the motion by the member for Burnaby-Kingsway, which strikes me as an interesting one. We could even say that it is a good opportunity to point out where the work of parliamentarians can have an influence on departments when they are a bit slow to implement something.
We have a member who has just told a minister, a department with several thousands of employees, that they perhaps should have done something a little sooner, the question having first come up in 1991. Some things could have been done and the motion introduced is certainly interesting from many points of view.
It should be noted that what we are talking about is implementing a test site to ensure that computerized data about hazardous materials can be made available very rapidly to fire fighters called to accidents.
It is a rather complex situation, because it also involves the provinces. There is WHMIS in Quebec, which concerns the handling of all hazardous materials, and these various programs must be linked up so that the computerized system works and so that everything is done legally and in accordance with provincial jurisdiction.
It is understandable that the member for Burnaby-Kingsway has included the word "rapidly" in his motion, because Transport Canada has been slow to act. This is clear from the letters of support he has received from the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Canadian Police Association. It is something that people have been waiting for.
These are the groups who have been dealing with the problems for a long time now, those with the expertise, because, in the case of hazardous materials, it is important that the information be available in the first five minutes after they have been informed of an incident.
It is also important to have very precise information, on electrical and mechanical systems, for instance, anything that can help avoid a misstep that would create a problem worse than the original one.
For some time, Transport Canada depended on the CANUTEC telephone system, but now it is obvious this is not enough. What is needed is a faster, more suitable, more accurate system which provides us with access to the computerized tools developed in recent years. There is no excuse for being behind the times, like
dinosaurs, particularly in areas where vital actions have to be taken quickly.
I feel that this is all the more vital because there are volunteer fire fighters, as well as professionals. This summer, I attended the KRTB (Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata, Basques) fire fighter competitions. About ten different fire brigades were involved. It was easy to see just how vital physical dexterity, courage, tenacity and endurance are to a fire fighter.
I was thinking, as I examined the motion of the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway, that it was important for this type of service to be made available to people who perform these duties on a volunteer basis, and quickly.
One might think that rural fire fighters will not run into major fires and major problems, but then the railway comes to mind. All that is needed is one train wreck, since the rail lines cut through the whole region, one incident with a hazardous waste spill. Without the necessary information , we would find ourselves in a very touchy situation in which volunteer fire fighters, children's fathers and mothers, could find their lives in jeopardy if the wrong steps were taken.
A society can be judged by the protective services it offers. Those who are supposed to intervene in hazardous situations should have access to a quick and effective source of information so they can provide a satisfactory service.
This is an interesting motion that will compel the government to take action as soon as it has been adopted. Awareness of the problem has already increased thanks to today's debate and to the vote that will follow so that this motion can be put into effect.
To the Bloc Quebecois, it is also important to ensure that this test plan is implemented in accordance with provincial jurisdictions, taking into account the practical aspects of operations and of quick intervention, but to ensure that data bases are made available to those who manage the system so that the information is available and this sort of service is provided in the proper way, it will be necessary to guarantee free access to information and to ensure this is done in accordance with existing legislation.
For instance, after testing the site in British Columbia, we cannot afford to wait six months, a year or two years until it can be used in Quebec, just because the provincial jurisdictions were not taken into account. This aspect must also be considered when establishing the test site, so that here in Canada we will be able to establish something similar to what is already being used in the United States. The system will provide the kind of service that will help us avoid major accidents involving humans, sometimes loss of life or financial loss. The service will help people who already serve the public and are prepared to face hazards in the course of their daily lives.
In this context, Parliament would do well to support a motion of this kind, especially since the Canadian government seems to be dragging its feet. It is not a bad idea to do some moving and shaking to ensure that this project gets off the ground.
One wonders if we had a system where jurisdictions were clear cut and the responsibilities of all concerned were clearly identified, whether this type of action would not have taken place more quickly, because there would have been one authority responsible. There would be no passing the buck. I hope that some day we will have that kind of system, for the benefit of Quebecers and Canadians.
But meanwhile, the motion presented by the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway is a very interesting one. I think it deserves support. In concluding my speech, I move:
That the motion be amended by adding after the word "should", the following:
", in agreement with the provinces,".
So this experiment should be carried out to reflect the responsibilities of all levels of government so that, in the end, we will have a better way to protect both fire fighters and all those who may be involved in disasters as a result of accidents across this country.
Subtopic: Hazardous Materials