Speeches | Safe Digging Month

29 April 2014

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Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to an issue that has an impact on the safety of Canadian contractors, workers, businesses, homeowners and the general public. The Canadian Common Ground Alliance, or CCGA, has deemed April as Safe Digging Month for the owners and operators of buried infrastructure across the country.

Safe digging involves three aspects. The first is that excavators, all the way from professional contractors to homeowners who want to put in a new fence, need to call or click in this digital age before they dig. Secondly, there need to be structured, regulated processes by which underground infrastructure is identified by the owners of that infrastructure. That information needs to be reported religiously to a regulated authority of some kind, or a structured authority, and that information needs to be stored for easy access for those who are about to excavate or dig in any kind of way.

Many of us don't fully understand the scale of the network of underground infrastructure that exists in Canada. Across the country, there are millions of kilometres of buried infrastructure, including electricity cables, gas, telephone and other kinds of cables, pipelines, water and telecommunications services. In Alberta alone, the total length of the buried infrastructure network is estimated to be in excess of 2 million kilometres.

Unfortunately, without the proper commitment to locate services and processes, this infrastructure can be damaged; this damage, in turn, can result in serious injury and even death, in the case of the excavators, workers, members of the public and first responders.

Striking infrastructure can also cause serious environmental risks or service disruptions. In fact, the CCGA estimates that buried infrastructure in Canada is damaged an average of 8,000 times per year, or about 31 times each business day.

Damage to underground infrastructure also imposes major costs to taxpayers. Prior to the introduction of legislation in Ontario in 2012 — the one province that has done it — it was determined that damage to buried infrastructure cost Ontario taxpayers alone over $33 million annually. With the passage of their Bill C-8, Ontario has become the first province to successfully pass legislation requiring all buried infrastructure within a public right of way to register with Ontario One Call. Bill C-8 is a model that would have merit in being applied in all jurisdictions across the country — provincial, municipal and even federal — to the extent that the federal National Energy Board and CRTC certainly have jurisdiction over underground infrastructure.

Reducing costs and improving safety is why groups like the CCGA and its network of provincial counterparts were established. These groups work to reduce damage to buried infrastructure across the country to ensure public, worker and community safety, environmental protection, as well as the integrity of services by promoting effective damage prevention.

Not only does the CCGA promote safe digging practices, they also help to facilitate one-call centres where all of this effort can be coordinated. Our Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources is currently undertaking a study and will be reporting very soon on that. Now that spring has sprung and contractors and homeowners prepare for their outdoor projects, groups like the CCGA would like to remind every one of us and all Canadians to call or click before they dig.

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