Speeches | Second Reading of my Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Bill

22 June 2015

Hon. Grant Mitchell moved second reading of Bill S-233, An Act enacting the Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act and making consequential amendments to other Acts.

He said: Thank you very much, honourable senators. Bill S-233 is entitled officially "An Act enacting the Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act and making consequential amendments to other Acts."

Now that may sound like an innocuous bill with a relatively subdued title, but this is really an exciting bill. It truly is. My colleague Senator Tannas from Alberta, where we have probably more pipelines underground than anywhere else on the face of the earth, knows exactly what I'm talking about.

This bill comes from excellent work, as usual, by the Senate, this time by the Senate Energy Committee under the direction at the time of Senator David Angus. We had undertaken a three-year study of energy strategy in Canada. I think we had 250 witnesses, and we travelled to a variety of places across the country to look into the issue.

In the meetings we held at two completely geographically distinct places, not related in any way, shape or form, it's probably true that the two people who spoke to me about this issue didn't even know each other. On one occasion in Calgary, a senior executive in the oil industry said, "Do you know that there is no comprehensive legislation in Alberta for requiring that people call before they dig?" We've heard that phrase, "call before you dig," so that you don't hit something by accident when you're digging with a backhoe or, for that matter, digging to put a fence post in your backyard.

Then we went to Sarnia, and completely unsolicited again, a senior executive of I think it was Union Gas said, "Do you know Ontario is the only province that has legislation covering extensively and rigorously the issue of call before you dig, the only province in Canada that has complete legislation?" They had just passed that legislation and it was yet to be implemented; it's just being implemented now. This would have been a couple of years ago.

Before I go any further, I should say that it was Bob Bailey, whom Senator Runciman may well know. They might well have sat in the Ontario legislature together. He was an opposition Conservative MPP who worked during the minority government with the New Democrats and Liberals to bring in this piece of legislation, which was precedent-setting in Canada and covered something that most of us would have just taken for granted as existing across all 10 jurisdictions provincially, would have been to some extent although not broadly needed in the territories, and would have had legislation federally as well. I was absolutely surprised when these two senior executives told me that there was no such legislation all across the country in a comprehensive way.

So what would this legislation do? Essentially what call-before-you-dig legislation does is further the work of the Canadian Common Ground Alliance, which is a private sector, non-profit alliance that has been building across the country its efforts to have structured call-before-you-dig call centres — now it's becoming click before you dig because the online version is even more convenient — to enhance the process of construction without damaging underground infrastructure and without incurring the costs and dangers that that causes.

We're all aware of it at some level, but I think it was last year, if not the year before, where in Quebec there was $75 million of estimated damage due to accidents to underground infrastructure — pipelines, for example, or sewage lines, waterlines or electrical lines — when somebody dug and hit them because they didn't take the steps to find out where they were.

The last year for which I'm aware that there was a full calculation of costs in Ontario — remember, not all of this is reported or costed — there was $37 million worth of damage. We're aware of cases where people are injured or killed because of burst pipelines that didn't have to burst had the construction company — the backhoe operator, whoever it is, the contractor — called before they dug, or in the case now of Alberta where 75 per cent of the contacts are through clicking on the website. This kind of damage and this kind of danger could be vastly reduced.

So what is call before you dig? It's a configuration of a variety of things. It requires a centre to which somebody could call. Up until this legislation in Ontario, a contractor would have to call as many as 13 different entities before they dug if they were to comprehensively call every entity that owned underground infrastructure. So you need a centre where the calls can be centralized, if I can use that word.

Second, that centre has to have the membership of, ideally, all underground infrastructure owners, from municipalities, to gas and oil pipeline companies, to telephone companies, to cable companies, et cetera, so that these call centres have a database to facilitate the location of underground infrastructure once they're called. Then you have to have a process, which the Common Ground Alliance works on as well, for best practices in dealing with how the digging is done. That's all part of a piece with respect to safer digging and construction practices in this country.

The third part isn't covered in this legislation, and it is the coming together to develop best practices in digging, which is part of what the Canadian Common Ground Alliance works on.

So we picked up from these two encounters that I mentioned earlier, and my staffer Kyle Johnston took the initiative and began to get in touch with people and we began working on it.

I want to mention two people who were instrumental in this: James Tweedie and Mike Sullivan, both of whom are in senior positions and have given much of their lives, much of it voluntary time, to the Canadian Common Ground Alliance and to call centre work across the country. It's with their help and their input that we began to develop this issue, and it was specifically with their help, particularly I believe Mike Sullivan, who worked very closely with my office to develop this legislation.

What we have learned is that there is either full or partial legislation in only three provinces. British Columbia and Alberta have very partial legislation, as we understand it, and Ontario now has full legislation thanks to the efforts of Bob Bailey, who did such a remarkable job in that province.

One of the most notable and successful examples of the type of legislation that I'm talking about is Bill 8 in Ontario, which is the brainchild, as I mentioned, of Conservative MPP Bob Bailey. I met with Bob Bailey recently to further talk about this legislation, and he appeared in the study that our Environment Committee specifically completed on the issue. I want to thank the members and the chair of the Energy Committee for allowing this study to proceed and for allowing a small section of our major energy study as a first step. I think we proceeded with 15 witnesses; we completed an excellent report, and that was, again, testimony to really good work by an excellent committee.

MPP Mr. Bailey worked extremely hard to bring this together. He identified that this type of legislation would help protect the safety of front-line workers but also that it would help to improve business. I would argue that it also helps to improve social licence for building pipelines and other underground infrastructure that people worry about because it is a way of reducing the danger of digging and the accidents that can occur.

We learned a number of things during our committee study. First, the federal government is generally not part of the safety regime, with the exception of the National Energy Board, which is slowly moving towards that goal. I should say more than slowly; they are intensely concerned about this issue and they were very helpful to us as well.

The second thing is that some provinces, for a variety of reasons, have simply been unable to or haven't gotten around to setting up similar regimes. Most provinces haven't, in fact. I think it's more that it's not high on their radar, but once it's brought to their attention, if we can promote it with this piece of legislation and work at the national level, there is a real potential for it to become a higher priority.

I should mention that in the U.S. case, they had the same kind of division we have between federal and provincial jurisdictions. Most of this falls under provincial jurisdiction. There is some federal element, which is going to be covered in my bill, but in the United States they brought all the states together and they have all 50 states now in a comprehensive call-before-you-dig program and they also were a model for what we are trying to do here.

It is obvious that, because most of this jurisdiction for underground infrastructure falls within provincial jurisdiction, it's more difficult for the federal government, beyond moral suasion, to cause this to be a national program and to establish national standards. However, there are areas where federal jurisdiction is relevant — certainly the National Energy Board, military lands, railroads and so on — where federal jurisdiction can be applied and legislation of this kind would be relevant. We have to be very careful in the case of military bases because of national security, but certainly with respect to National Energy Board pipelines, those that cross provincial boundaries, and other federal lands and, as I say, railroads and so on.

The underground infrastructure safety enhancement act will do several things. The legislation requires the owner or operator of any underground infrastructure that is federally regulated or that is located on federal land to, first, register the infrastructure with each notification centre that serves the province in which the infrastructure is located, if such a centre exists — this will be mandatory; it is very important that it is mandatory — and, second, pay the registration fees fixed by a notification centre referred to in paragraph (a) or by the provincial legislation of the province in which the notification centre is located.

The legislation will require the owner or operator of any underground infrastructure on federal lands to provide the description and location of the infrastructure to the notification centre.

Prior to undertaking work that results in a ground disturbance, the entity doing that work must inform the notification centre in that province where the dig will take place and which infrastructure will likely be affected.

After receiving that information, the notification centre — that is, the call-before-you-dig centre — must then, within a reasonable time, have the locators mark on the ground the location of where the dig will take place, using prescribed colour codes. There are prescribed colour codes.

In addition to the owners and operators being part of a provincial notification centre, the legislation will also permit the minister to enter into certain funding agreements, should the minister choose to do so, with provinces to provide certain incentives for provinces to set up a call centre and the surrounding call centre system. The minister may also make any regulations that are necessary for carrying out the purposes and provisions of the act.

Finally, the legislation will make consequential amendments to existing legislation for the purposes of fulfilling the tenets of this act.

Of course, people will be concerned about the cost of call centres. But, in fact, on the one hand, as I've said, there is great cost in not having properly functioning call centres because accidents do occur and people do fail to call — as I said, in the Quebec case, $75 million in one year and, in the Ontario case, I mentioned a statistic of $37 million in one year. That will surely not be the extent of all the damage, because these figures do not come from within a context where everybody is required even to report damage. The damages can be much higher than that and certainly the risk is high as well.

The costs are not costs that are placed on the person digging their fence post. They are not costs that are placed on the contractor who is building the building. The costs are paid for by the owners of the underground infrastructure. They are paid for per call — sometimes less than $1 per call and sometimes slightly more than $1 per call. But that has been proven, where it's been utilized, to be more than an adequate amount of money. In fact, in the United States, where some of this is done privately and on a profit basis, they actually make money at this. In Canada, this will be a non-profit arrangement — certainly what we are proposing is — and it has, at this point, wherever it has been done, been non-profit.

Bill S-233 would provide for legislation to cover call before you dig, click before you dig, or contact before you dig in jurisdictions that are covered by federal jurisdictions where there is underground infrastructure. We hope that it will catalyze greater interest in provinces across the country, essentially the nine provinces and the three territories — less important in the territories, given their geography, but certainly the nine provinces that do not have complete legislation — so that we can get mandatory membership of underground infrastructure owners so that we can have penalties for people who fail to call or click to get in touch with a notification centre before they dig.

In this way, we can facilitate and enhance the interest of the construction industry and individuals across the country to work on developing best practices for digging so that we can make our underground infrastructure safer and we can convince Canadians that it can be and is being dealt with safely. This is breakthrough legislation where federal leadership can really make a difference. Thank you.

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