Masse Speaks on Bill S-2: Hazardous Materials

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, we are talking about hazardous materials and this bill would make some improvements to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.

In my area of Windsor West, approximately 42% of the nation's daily trade goes across the border to the United States. Hazardous material is routinely shipped through this corridor. The material is supposed to go through a number of different procedures, but we have not really seen enforcement of those procedures. We do not have a regional border authority that could actively monitor the way hazardous material goes across the border.

A pre-authorized barge system is supposed to be used for transporting hazardous material, This follows a series of different procedures as opposed to the system of simply going across a bridge and getting into the United States before an inspection takes place. There have been cases in the past of drivers removing from their vehicles placards identifying the material and the procedures to be followed if a spill occurred.

I would ask the hon. member if his government is committed to actually cracking down on the different types of illegal procedures that are happening on the border in the transportation of hazardous materials. Is his government committed to ensuring public safety? The Ambassador Bridge spans the Detroit River where our ecosystem is very much in line with Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes. We are concerned about them.

What is the government doing to enforce the proper transportation of goods across the border to the United States?

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Bloc mentioned the issue with regard to replacement workers, informally known as anti-scab legislation. The legislation is important to this debate on hazardous materials.

A number of different points were raised about the safety of workers. If working with hazardous materials, it is very important that people have the opportunity to get the appropriate training with subsequent follow ups to ensure that procedures are properly followed.

I know fire departments in Ontario municipalities have to request permission to even go onto CP and CN rail property to do the proper inspection of a number of different chemicals that go through our transportation hubs. It is important to note that chlorine gas, which is transported on railroads, has been classified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a weapon of mass destruction. In fact, there are now laws in the U.S. It is moving some hazardous materials travelling by rail away from larger urban centres because of the threat they pose to the population. Canada should be looking at that as well.

My question for the member of the Bloc has to due with replacement workers. In my previous work as a job developer on behalf of persons with disabilities and new Canadians, often there was not the appropriate training provided at work places. Sometimes it was because they did not have the appropriate procedures in place. Sometimes it was because there was no organized workforce and safety issues were lax. However, hazardous materials can be quite dangerous, everything from subtle compounds to other types of chemicals have lasting impacts on an individual.

Could the member comment on the importance of protecting workers, not only individuals who are at a regular work place at a regular time, but also replacement workers who are thrown into situations that can be more dangerous and have an effect upon them and their co-workers?

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spent part of his speech talking about trade secrets and what I guess is the balance between knowing the contents of the different types of hazardous materials and also knowing the trade secrets that make the actual chemical products in the market different from competitors' products, the trade secrets that also prevent them from being duplicated, either legally or illegally, so they have an opportunity to have their information protected properly.

Does the hon. member think that during the committee process there should be a review of this whole procedure of how to define what information is going to be there and where the catch-point is in terms of protection? Does he have any thoughts about how closely we should err on the side of caution for this documentation in the labelling? We could have different circumstances and not only in terms of literacy and languages. It is so important to have that on the labels so that people and workers know exactly what they are dealing with. I wonder whether or not the committee would even look at those aspects to find out whether there are some new procedures and techniques that would be helpful so workers of different types of languages, for example, could be protected.

I know that different communities, especially manufacturing ones in urban centres, do have a great deal of diversity. One of the barriers that we have often worked on in terms of labour and management issues in those manufacturing centres has been in getting the appropriate training, in having people routinely understanding not only English but French in the labelling. I am interested in knowing whether or not the committee should be looking at that as one of the potential prevention issues in hazardous material storage.

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to ask a question about an important subject related to workers' rights and safety.

A hazardous material is one that can be about prevention. By having knowledge and the proper information appropriately on display, as well as documented and provided for the workforce, it allows the opportunity for people to be educated about their handling of chemicals. Some chemicals, whether they are mixed or not with others, can be corrosive for hands. As well, other types of mixtures could create odourless gases and significant problems for not only the individual dealing with the chemicals but also other individuals in the area affected.

One of the interesting things the commission found is that since 1988 95% of the data sheets that provide information on dangerous and hazardous materials were not compliant with legislation. I would like to ask my colleague whether this should be a time as well to review the penalty system with regard to the neglect of the existing data system. Workers have a right to have that information in front of them not only in terms of their health but also how hazardous materials affect their families' health. Improper exposure to chemicals can have effects well beyond the individual by bringing it home.

I come from an area that has a lot of environmental toxins. In fact, there was a motion in the House that was narrowly defeated that would have created an action team, so to speak, to go to areas that have higher rates of cancer and other types of diseases related to environmental and human health to start providing remedial action to those communities so they could actually have some solutions to offset it and produce some prevention strategies.

One of the things we can control is the conduct of the data sheets in terms of being up to date and relevant. I ask my colleague whether the penalties should be looked at in terms of being increased because it is completely irresponsible not to have up to date information sheets and to have 95% of them in disrepair is not acceptable and a message has to be sent.