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Response to Debate at 2nd Reading of Bill S-229 (Call Before You Dig)
November 2, 2016

Colleagues, I rise today to speak to Bill S-229, An Act respecting underground infrastructure safety, also known as “Call before you dig”.

Colleagues, we may find that if we dig down too far, we will hit ice, as it appears that hell is most certainly freezing over. Senator Mitchell and I are agreeing once again on a bill before us in this chamber.

I am the critic of Bill S-229, however, I am fervently supportive of the initiative and commend Senator Mitchell for bringing it forward.

As someone who spent a great deal of my career digging trenches, I personally have been responsible for digging up utility lines. And, I therefore am aware of the impact it can have on the surrounding area, and the large geographic area that can be affected in a single instant. One time, I dug up a phone line that cut out all telephone service to South Eastern Manitoba.

This “Call Before You Dig” issue captured the attention of many Senators several years ago when the committee on Energy and Environment undertook a study on dangerous transportation of goods. After a few witnesses raised this issue and the need for action, the committee subsequently undertook a study on notification systems, and published a report entitled “Digging Safely: One Call Notification Systems and the Prevention of Damage to Canada’s Buried Infrastructure”.

The Committee found that: “the risk of damage to buried infrastructure by uncontrolled excavation is a daily public safety concern across Canada and is the leading cause of damage to buried infrastructure”.

The report makes clear what many jurisdictions have already discovered. The risks and costs associated with digging are entirely preventable if we implement a comprehensive excavation safety system.

One-call centers are already existence. They are largely non-profit entities created by utilities that make it easier for excavators to contact owners and/or operators of underground infrastructure before digging. The idea is, that instead of calling numerous utilities that could have operations under a worksite, the excavator makes a single call to a one-call centre, which then facilitates line locating services from multiple registered utilities.

The statistics in the report are quite staggering: thousands upon thousands of incidents of damage to buried infrastructure in Canada that could have been completely preventable if the appropriate calls had been made.   

Currently, not all provinces have a one-call centre available. And a bigger issue, even in the provinces that have a one-call centre for utilities, the call is not mandatory, except in Ontario. And, for oil and gas pipelines, it is only mandatory in British Columbia and Alberta. Further to that, in Ontario, utilities on federal lands are not subject to provincial law to register with the province’s one-call centre.

To clarify, legally, there is a requirement for excavators to identify the location of buried infrastructure on the worksite, but no legal requirement to actually contact the one-call centre. This is in stark contrast to the one-call national system in the United States, who was an early adopter of this notification system. All states have at least one-call centre, and it is required by law that excavators contact one-call centres before digging.

As Honourable Senators know, I also have a bill before this chamber concerning the construction industry, Bill S-224, the Canada Prompt Payment Act. The multi-jurisdictional nature of construction work in Canada makes for some similarities in the two bills, both in terms of scope and limitations. Like the Prompt Payment Act, Senator Mitchell has two major goals in bringing federal legislation forward. First, we are able to directly impact the fraction of construction work that is done on federal land. Secondly, and just as importantly, we are sending a strong message to the provinces that they too need to ensure there is a comprehensive system in place.

Also, like prompt payment, Canada is behind the game on this issue. Many countries, including virtually all United States jurisdictions, including all states, and the federal government have enacted both prompt payment legislation and Call Before You Dig legislation. In fact, all 50 states and the federal government participate fully in a coordinated national "call before you dig" system. Both issues require a national strategy and a comprehensive system, and these are two major steps forward.

We need to show our contractors and construction workers and subsequently the Canadians impacted by construction work, that we are hearing their concerns, and doing everything in our power to improve our current systems.

I have some initial concerns with the grant provisions, or “funding agreements” from the federal government to the provinces. At first glance, I am not sure that this provision is necessary. However, I am certainly willing to listen to the arguments, and I look forward to the study of this legislation at committee.

I will be supporting this bill and I urge all honourable colleagues to do the same.

And on that note, as I said, legislation like this and the Prompt Payment Act are non-partisan issues that affect all Canadians. I truly hope that Senators in this chamber will not do what has been done with the Prompt Payment Act, where they have kept the bill stalled for 7 months, playing politics at the expense of Canadians.

I hope instead that we will act responsibly and move both bills forward in a timely manner.

 Thank you.




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