Transport Minister Lisa Raitt Reflects on Transportation Procedures and The Energy File

The Honourable Lisa Raitt was named to the Harper Government cabinet after her election to the House of Commons in 2008. Today, she is the Minister of Transport, having previously served as Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Labour.  A couple weeks ago Minister Raitt agreed to be interviewed for Energy magazine and I took the opportunity to raise a number of topics that would be of interest to our readers.  Here’s a transcript of that interview.

Recently you and Minister Findlay hosted a roundtable discussion in Vancouver with Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI) partners.  This is an important area of focus for the Government.  What came out of this meeting?

I have been involved with the Gateway and Corridor movement since the late 1990’s, but it was our government eight years ago who really recognized the importance of the initiative, committed to it, and funded it.  The APGCI is about bringing together the right stakeholders – those who provide transportation, those who oversee transportation, and those who utilize transportation – to help streamline the movement of goods and to discuss trends, emerging opportunities and challenges in Canada’s transportation system.

At the recent meeting In Vancouver we really saw the fruits of our labour over the past eight years with more containers moving out of Vancouver and now out of Prince Rupert than ever before.  But we can’t stop here.  What we heard in Vancouver is that we need to continue to work together to ensure the policy framework is in place to safely and efficiently handle increased trade volumes, particularly of Canada’s bountiful natural resources.  The safe and efficient movement of these products is crucial to Canada’s future economic prosperity.

The points you make about moving more containers at our ports is really fundamental in terms of making sure goods get to where they need to go on time.  Do you think the public understands the importance of corridors, be it a bridge in central Canada or a key port on the east or west coast, in terms of Canada’s current and future economic prosperity?

At a local level, I think Canadians recognize that where there is continued or increased port activity, there is going to be increased economic prosperity in the area.  I also think that at a national level, Canadian business owners and customers understand that when containers or trucks aren’t moving efficiently, the supply of goods to meet demand can be impacted.

Raitt believes Canadians recognize that where there is continued or increased port activity, there is going to be increased economic prosperity in the area.

Raitt believes Canadians recognize that where there is continued or increased port activity, there is going to be increased economic prosperity in the area.

 

Transportation safety, particularly the safe transportation of fuel by rail, has been a major focus for you.  It is actually becoming more important to the energy industry given the potential for rail to be used more and more as a transportation corridor for fuels.  What has been the single most important/critical accomplishment in this area?

We had a terrible event in July 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.  It necessitated quick government intervention in two ways.  First, we needed to be with the people from Lac-Mégantic in terms of making sure their community is cleaned appropriately and that they can rebuild.

“Safety and security is our top priority.”

Second, we have a role to make sure that if dangerous goods are moving throughout our country that they are being moved safely.  Safety and security is our top priority.  Through the investigation of what happened, it became apparent that there were some gaps in the system that needed to be filled and we moved on those very quickly.  I think the greatest accomplishment in the past year has been the speed with which we have responded to the Transportation Safety Board.  There was a great effort by Transport Canada, other levels of government, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, international partners, and others to take what we learned from the investigation and implement it as quickly as we possibly could.  We lead the world in terms of how we are responding to this incident because there were fundamental changes that needed to be made with respect to the movement of crude by rail.  We continue to study the final report from the Transportation Safety Board and we will take actions as needed – including addressing serious issues raised in the report regarding oversight by Transport Canada.

We typically think about pipes or wires as energy transportation corridors, but increasingly rail, road, and marine are also being looked at as affordable and efficient ways to delivery energy to customers.  Do you currently have a picture or vision of how all of the different modes of transportation are integrated and how effective transportation systems have a critical role in driving economic growth?

A group of accomplished and knowledgeable people under the leadership of David Emerson is doing a review of the Canadian Transportation Act and they are looking at this exact question.  If Canada is going to sign international trade agreements to ensure that we can sell our goods abroad and import goods for consumption, it is critical that we have a safe and efficient transportation system.  I know that the movement of energy will be a significant part of this conversation given that it will be the greatest resource moved out of our country in the future.  It goes without saying that a safe and efficient transportation system supports trade, economic prosperity and an enhanced quality of life through low costs, high productivity, and the best use of all modes and innovation in transportation.

Transportation safety, particularly the safe transportation of fuel by rail, has been a major focus for Transport Canada.

Transportation safety, particularly the safe transportation of fuel by rail, has been a major focus for Transport Canada.

Natural gas in the form of LNG and CNG is being considered more and more as an affordable and clean transportation fuel particularly for large transport truck and return-to-base vehicle fleets.  It is also being looked at more and more as a fuel for marine and rail fleets.  What do you see as the potential in this area?

Natural gas used as a transportation fuel makes an awful lot of sense and is something that I am a full proponent of.  The benefits of LNG as a fuel are significant, as it can save fleets up to 40 per cent in fuel costs and reduce (GHG) emissions by up to 30 per cent, compared to diesel.

We have consulted extensively, along with industry, and found that one of the greatest opportunities for natural gas use is in the medium and heavy-duty trucking sector.  Using natural gas as a transportation fuel makes economic sense and emission reduction sense.  As I have said before, it is all about using the right fuel, in the right place, at the right time.

I will also mention that Canada is working with the International Maritime Organization to develop a mandatory code to regulate safety for both passenger and cargo ships using gases or other low-flashpoint fuels. In the interim, safety equivalency approvals for LNG-powered vessels in Canada – based on existing international codes and rules – can be granted by the Marine Technical Review Board.

Natural gas used as a transportation fuel makes an awful lot of sense.

Natural gas used as a transportation fuel makes an awful lot of sense.

The Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council’s Joint Forward Plan sets the stage for improvements in the way regulatory departments and agencies in both countries work together. The Plan makes it easier for businesses to operate in both countries with 24 priority areas identified including the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel. I assume that Transport Canada has a role here?

I am very proud of the work that Transport Canada does on the RCC. The relationship between Transport Canada and the Transport department in the U.S. is viewed as a model relationship. We are progressing well with bi-weekly meetings to ensure that we make things smoother on both sides of the border.

You’ve had the NRCan portfolio, and now you have the transportation portfolio; two key portfolios for our sector as we look at building the use of natural gas as an affordable and clean energy option for Canadian communities not currently connected to natural gas and as a transportation fuel. W-hat comments can you offer us on what we might do to deliver the choice of natural gas to more Canadians?

I can tell you that about 55 homes and businesses in rural Milton, where I live, learned that natural gas is a clean, reliable, and affordable energy choice and are switching to natural gas ahead of the coming winter heating season.  So, I would encourage continued efforts to build awareness about the opportunities and advantages of natural gas in communities across Canada that don’t currently have access.  Our government will continue to support responsible energy use that saves money for Canadians and helps create jobs, growth, and prosperity across the country. I know that Transport Canada and Natural Resources Canada will continue to be interested in better understanding the domestic opportunities for natural gas use in Canada.