The following post was published in the Hill Times on Monday April 4, 2016.

 

The Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE) represents Transport Canada employees who are responsible for the safety and security of the travelling public.  In some respects, the Liberal government recognized this important mandate with the establishment of a National Transportation Strategy that attempts to improve major public transit projects while working with its provincial and municipal counterparts. Unfortunately, the recent budget announcement demonstrates the lack of funding and understanding for those areas which fall solely under federal jurisdiction – namely aviation, rail and marine protections.

The government cut Transport Canada’s 2016-2017 budget by 21%.  Some of these cuts are this government’s reaction to the 11th hour increase in inspector hiring by the previous government.

Attracting skilled inspectors is very difficult.  In order to get the skills required, inspectors are usually hired from the private sector where wages are now higher. The average inspector age is in the 50s creating a much higher attrition rate. The solution imposed by the previous Minister of Transport was to hire additional inspectors without the dedicated salary dollars. UCTE believes the Liberal government is taking a step backwards by cutting Transport Canada’s budget.

The total inspector complement has not grown in over 10 years. Where there is shrinkage in road and aviation safety, there is growth in rail and transportation of dangerous goods in response to the Lac Mégantic tragedy. At the same time aviation traffic is growing at 3% or more per year while the shipping of oil by rail have more than tripled in the last 3 years and will more than double again in the next 10 years.

Senior management positions at Transport Canada are growing and the overall management structure is becoming more confusing. There are two Directors Generals in one civil aviation position tripping over five Regional Director Generals.  Transport Canada tells us that the Director Generals are the “responsible executives” for each mode and but only the Regional Director Generals sit on the senior management committee.

We have a government that increased budget deficits by over $25 billion in one year, yet they have chosen to significantly cut back transportation safety oversight. This is based on their belief that transportation companies should be given more responsibility for safety, not less.  Inspectors continue to tell us that the government increasingly wants them to “audit” a transportation company’s “Safety Management System” rather than inspect. We must not forget that audits are largely a paper exercise where inspectors do not even leave their office.

There is an ever-increasing list of inspection and audit nomenclatures and roles that challenge even the most knowledgeable. Transport Canada senior management appearances before the Standing Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure demonstrates the department’s challenges to effectively address issues about inspections, audits, numbers of inspectors, and performance management.

Our fear is that there will be further cut backs of inspectors because Transport Canada relies on the railway companies, the aviation companies, the airports, the marine industry and the car manufacturers to inspect themselves.

Transport Canada needs to:

·       Get rid of the top heavy bureaucracy and bring back inspector hiring. The new cuts at Transport should not result in cut-backs to front line inspectors and administrators that are critical to transportation safety in Canada;

·       Bring back the direct and unannounced inspections by skilled, trained and qualified inspectors and have them report to only one responsible Director General by mode;

·       Restore the complete segregation of the inspection and SMS audit functions;

·       Significantly cut back regional management redundancies

The government must remember that, above all else, Transport Canada’s mandate is the safety and security of the travelling public.

Christine Collins

National President

Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE)