House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was railway.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member believes in rail safety so much that her party voted against every major investment our government has made in rail safety. If the NDP did not think our budget this time around got the job done, it not offer a single amendment in that direction.

I hope the member opposite is not suggesting for a moment that VIA is somehow unsafe. It got a four out of five ranking in an independent panel study, which looked into rail safety in Canada, for having a very highly integrated safety culture. We made record investments in the stimulus period to help it renew its fleet. The member voted against that, by the way.

The member knows full well that, with the completion of the stimulus projects, it requires less money being sent to VIA than in the last two budgets. That is not a cut; that is the end of stimulus.

I would like to ask the member, if this bill needed more for rail safety or needed to be improved, why is it that her colleague sitting over shoulder, the vice-chair of the committee, gave consent along with all the other NDP members to pass this bill in its entirety in less than 10 minutes with not a single amendment. Let the member explain that one.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wish the member across would show the same kind of passion when it came to actually standing up and investing in rail service in our country in a meaningful way.

There was a $200 million cut to VIA Rail, and yet the member across claims to be a champion for rail service. I know the government is averse to facts, but that is exactly what we are seeing here.

Let us take the case of rural Canada, for example. Coming from western Canada and having had the chance to sit down with so many people who live across the Prairies, I see a real concern about what the government is doing in terms of cutting back on rail service, the impact of the dismantling of the Wheat Board on short-line rail, producer cars and the breaking down of linkages that rural communities depend on.

I would like to see the member turn to his colleagues and show that same kind of fervour in convincing them to invest in the rail service we all believe in.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments on what I want to focus some attention on. The member represents the Churchill area. It is an area in which I have had opportunity to raise, on a number of occasions, concerns in regard to the rail line and the impact, such as on the Wheat Board and so forth. We have talked about economic development with the rail lines, and how important that is.

My question is on something that I had asked a previous member of her party, and that was in regard to the New Democratic Party's position or policy with regard to the nationalization of our railway. What is the position of the New Democrats? Do they see that as something they are in favour of? If the member would not mind answering, I would really appreciate it.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring my colleague's attention back to what we are discussing here today.

The member mentioned my riding in his question, and I appreciate that. The more attention to Churchill, the better. Unfortunately Churchill is going through some very difficult times as a result of the government's dismantling of the Wheat Board and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's insulting commitment of $25 million to hopefully inspire grain companies to ship through Churchill, something that is a complete farce.

What I would say is that I am proud that our party has always stood for public services and ensuring that when we have something like VIA Rail, a crown corporation that we believe in, we recognize that it is there to be invested in to the benefit of all Canadians. The threat of privatization under the government is a very real one. Unfortunately the Liberals got the ball rolling on that one in a big way. We have seen the impacts, a decreased quality of life in many parts of rural Canada and an unwillingness of young Canadians to move to or move back to rural Canada.

What we are saying is that the way to do it is to stand up for a critical service in all ways, safety and funding. I am proud we are doing that.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired: Bill S-1003, An Act to authorize Industrial Alliance Pacific Insurance and Financial Services Inc. to apply to be continued as a body corporate under the laws of Quebec.

This bill is deemed to have been read the first time and ordered for a second reading at the next sitting of the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the third time and passed.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a great honour to rise in this House and speak on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay, a region that exists because of the railway.

It is also important to talk about this bill on safer railways at a time when we have so many issues facing railways in Canada. It is clear that if we look at the simple test for whether government has vision, whether government understands the issue of infrastructure, whether government has a forward-looking vision, we look no further than rail. Rail has been the kicking dog of Liberal and Conservative governments looking to squeeze it, to undermine it, to so-called privatize it, and we have seen a continuing loss of service while the rest of the world moves forward with smart high-speed rail.

Just this past February, when the VIA Rail train derailed at Burlington, we had three people killed and 42 passengers injured. We see the $200 million in cuts that are coming to VIA Rail now under the Conservatives. We see the undermining of rail links in important jurisdictions across rural Canada like Churchill, Manitoba. We see the government's complete lack of interest in the importance of a high-speed rail corridor that would connect Windsor to Quebec City through our densest populations and allow people who are pretty much trapped because of the density of traffic in the suburban regions of this country to be able to move at a reasonable rate.

However, nowhere do we see it more than in the deliberate dismantling of the Ontario Northland railway by a government that, if we look up “myopic” in the dictionary, there Dalton McGuinty would be. Let us talk about the Ontario Northland as an example of the failure of federal and provincial governments to address railway services. I know he is a good friend of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but I hope the Minister of Foreign Affairs does not mind my castigating his friend in the House of Commons.

The story of the Ontario Northland is interesting because at the turn of the last century Queen's Park had zero interest in the land that was north of the French River. It did not have any desire to spend a dime on it until it found out that Father Paradis and the Oblates were bringing francophone settlers over Lake Timiskaming to settle into Ontario and suddenly the good Orange Protestant burghers of Queen's Park were outraged. They had to find a way to get anglophones up into land that was being settled by francophones. That was the only time they ever wanted to spend money in northern Ontario. So they decided they would push a rail line north of Lake Timiskaming.

However, as the workers were getting to Lake Timiskaming, at mile 103, they hit the largest silver deposits that had ever been found there. They were found by railwaymen, Fred Larose, Mr. McKinley and Mr. Darragh. Suddenly Queen's Park thought that maybe there was a use to northern Ontario and that it would go up and find all the resources it could and take them out. That has been pretty much the colonial relationship between northern Ontario and southern Ontario ever since.

It transformed the economy of Ontario, in particular Toronto. Toronto was a sleepy backwater at the time of the silver rush in Cobalt. However, so much investment money was coming in from the United States and from London that they needed a place to set up, so they set up in Toronto because the train line got them within six hours of the biggest rush since the Klondike. That ease of access on the train transformed economic development, so Toronto established itself and it still has that claim today as the largest centre for international capital for mining exploration in the world. That started from that rail line.

Out of Cobalt, the prospectors went north. They went to Val d'Or in the east and as far as Red Lake in the west because they knew there was a value to the land. So the Ontario Northland railway was set up as a development corridor and all the communities were built along that.

Now fast forward 100 years and the Ontario Northland still plays that important role. It is not just with trains, not just with buses. We have the role of telecommunications to isolated small communities that would otherwise pay exorbitant rates so they are now under Ontario.

A few weeks ago, we had a flood in Fort Albany up on the James Bay coast and the flood separated the community from the mainland. People were contacting me and saying they had run out of food. They needed to get food up there, so we spoke with the Cochrane food bank and we managed to secure 1,200 pounds of food to get into Fort Albany, and we did that through my office.

The question then was how to get 1,200 pounds of food to Fort Albany in the middle of the flood crisis. We called Ontario Northland and said, “We need you to move 1,200 pounds of freight to help this community in need”. Ontario Northland said, “Get it to the freight yard in Cochrane tomorrow. We will get it to Moosonee. That is the end of the rail line; from there, you figure out how to get there”. We managed to work with Air Creebec and we got it in.

When we asked Ontario Northland, it was not even a question of whether they would get paid to help one of our communities in northern Ontario. They did it as a public service because they are there for the public. I want to commend the excellent work that Ontario Northland did in that situation, as they have done time and time again in the past.

The rail plays an important role, and it is fascinating that the Liberal government in Ontario has decided that public transit is something it does not invest in if it is rural public transit, that it is not right to subsidize public transit if rural people use public transit. In an urban area it is implicitly understood that there will be some kind of support, because public transit is not about making profit, it is about offering a public service.

We see the McGuinty government exaggerate the numbers. Every time there is an investment in the Ontario Northland, it claims that is a subsidy. How could anybody run a province if they figured that every time they had to make an investment, they were somehow subsidizing the province, subsidizing the people? The fact is that this is an investment, just like highways. Governments never say they are subsidizing the highways.

However, work needs to be done to ensure safe corridors, because we have had accidents on the Ontario Northland railway. South of Temagami about 12 years ago, acid tankers overturned. We need to invest just as we need to invest in roads, yet there seems to be a double standard that says it is okay to invest in highways—even though there is not much investing in highways in northern Ontario—but it is not okay to invest in freight.

In northern Ontario, on the Ontario Northland Railway, we are moving thousands of tonnes of freight a day and we are moving passengers. It plays a unique role. Beside that, we have two-lane traffic running through some of the roughest rock cuts in Canada, and it happens to be the Trans-Canada Highway. It is the trucker route across Canada. In January, I do not know how many times I have sat at North Bay, unable to go north because some poor driver has hit a rock cut or hit passengers, yet beside it we have a perfectly safe rail system

The government's solution is that it will save a few bucks somehow along the way by getting rid of that rail service and putting the freight and the passengers onto the two-lane ribbon of moose pasture that runs through northern Ontario. Somehow that will be more efficient.

Perhaps most galling was Mr. McGuinty's assistant in northern Ontario, Rick the anti-minister of northern Ontario Bartolucci. Their explanation is that the reason they are cutting out the development corridor and allowing it to be cherry-picked by the private sector, who will take this or that but leave the rest to fall apart, is that they will reinvest it in health care.

Northern Ontarians has seen a lot of dubious mining deals over the years. They are not saps and they know that people in Kirkland Lake, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls, Timmins, New Liskeard, Englehart or North Bay who are getting cancer treatments have to go down on the train to get medical services. I do not know how many families I have seen on the Ontario Northlander with a sick child going down to SickKids for cancer treatment. They can travel on the train because it is at least comfortable for the family.

Dalton McGuinty tells us, “Do not worry. We are going to put those sick kids on a bus, and you are going to get better service.”

People in the north know better. They remember how just last year the ONTC—and I do not blame it for this, because it was getting no support for offering public transit in the north—was actually trying to save money by excluding going into some of the most major communities on the route because the ONTC does not have enough money to serve the public.

When we talk about development of the rail lines and talk about safety, it is about an investment. It is fascinating that the McGuinty government is looking to rip up the rails and ditch the Northern Ontario Development Corporation at a time when the Ring of Fire is about to be developed.

The Ring of Fire will be the largest mining development perhaps in the last half century, perhaps in the last century. The fundamental question is this. Getting access to this ore comes from rail, so if they are going to rip up the lines and get rid of the development corridor, is this all about a plan to take unprocessed ore and ship it off by truck to China?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words in regard to the member's comments.

The hon. member seems to focus his attention on the Ontario Liberal government. The NDP in the province of Manitoba, I can assure the member, has no better an approach at dealing with rail line abandonment or improving rail line services to people who live in northern Manitoba.

One could talk about the impact of the Wheat Board on the community of Churchill, which is dependent on the rail line. The NDP Government of Manitoba was truly quiet on it.

I think it is important to recognize that all three levels of government have a role to play in rail line safety. That means there needs to be co-operation from the federal government, provincial governments and municipal governments in order to deliver better, safer rail line services. That is what this bill is all about.

I wonder if the member can comment on how important it is for governments to work together in order to provide better-quality rail line service across the country.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to invite my hon. colleague to Liberal Ontario. He would probably go back and sing the praises of the New Democratic government in Manitoba, because if one has lived under Dalton, it is something that my hon. colleague across the way would agree with.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

May 1st, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

That's true. Never have I heard something more truthful.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not trying to make this an issue of partisanship. This is not about being partisan. This is about the facts, and the fact is that at the provincial level we are dealing with a myopic government that does not understand the need for investing in infrastructure. It thinks it can just walk away and infrastructure will magically take care of itself. Its real message is that it figures it can just walk away from it and the people of northern Ontario will just shut up and take it, just as they are supposed to take it every time Queen's Park pulls out another service.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Timmins—James Bay. He certainly represents his riding quite well. I am sure his constituents are quite happy with the member.

The member referred to “Rick the anti-minister of northern Ontario Bartolucci”. He made the announcement about the cuts to Ontario Northland hundreds of kilometres away from Ontario Northland's headquarters. He made the announcement in Sudbury instead of North Bay.

Why does my colleague think this minister would make such an important announcement so far away from the headquarters of Ontario Northland?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. Before I go to the member for Timmins—James Bay, I would like to remind all hon. members that the matter before the House is Bill S-4, which deals with certain matters. I would encourage all hon. members to make their comments relevant to that, and the questions as well.

The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for that excellent intervention, because we are talking about rail safety, which means fundamental investment in order to ensure safety.

I do not want to talk about whether Mr. Bartolucci has invested in safety or not. I like the man; Rick is a good guy. However, he would not even come into the communities that are affected and are worried about rail safety.

I would invite Rick Bartolucci to come with me to North Bay, Englehart or especially Cochrane to see how well the McGuinty lack of investment in northern Ontario is going down.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough Southwest.

I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this matter as the NDP critic for high-speed rail between Quebec City and Windsor. The dream is eventually to connect with Detroit and Chicago. Rail provides our future with an incredible opportunity, and I will come back to that in a minute.

I want to note a number of important things with respect to Bill S-4 that are important in terms of jurisdictional changes in updating and modernizing the act. These changes are important not only in terms of Canada's overall economy but also in how they relate to people in our constituencies.

In relation to a rail issue taking place with CP right now, I would like to thank Mary Reaume and Mary Kavanaugh in Windsor. I am pleased as well to note Robert Taylor and Randy Marsh from CP and councillor Allan Hoberstadt and staff person Ian Bawden. These individuals have agreed to meet to work on a rail noise, vibration and flooding issue.

I would like to talk a little about that, because modernizing the act would provide a little more accountability, and hopefully more co-operation will take place with respect to rail issues.

We were able to get funding from the Let's Get Windsor-Essex Moving fund to separate a grade on Howard Avenue in Windsor. This is a fund for border infrastructure improvements. It is a very busy area, and there were a lot of issues with regard to pedestrians and with trucks and cars backing up.

A proper process was not in place or it was missed somehow in the planning process, and residents suffered repercussions when the grade separation took place. Consequently, residents living behind on Memorial Drive have been subjected to flooding, noise, vibration changes—a whole series of things. They have submitted a petition asking for a panel to look into this. I would like to thank those residents for their patience. Perhaps we can identify this with a meeting coming up.

It is important to note that rail was the birth of the country in many respects and is still important daily to our constituents. Companies need to be held accountable and changes have to take place.

We are going to see the macroeconomics of the importance of rail in the future with the opening of the Panama Canal. A lot of goods will be coming in through the Port of Montreal and Halifax. It is anticipated that a lot of these goods will be shipped on the rail system as we transfer them into the midwestern United States. That country does not have deep enough ports, and the ports are not as attractive as what we have on the east coast.

The safer railways act review is really important. I was a former transport critic, and we held many hearings at committee and looked at everything on this issue from safety management systems to the necessary infrastructure requirements. We have the romantic notion of rail being part of our past, but it is really going to be much more for our future.

It is important to note high-speed rail as well. The Railway Safety Act would modernize some of the issues with respect to high-speed rail, and that would be very important.

We all heard about how the recent tragic VIA incident took place. I wish to send my condolences to the families and to those who were injured.

The rest of the world is moving forward with investments in high-speed rail. Many G8 countries are doing that. Canada is the only G8 country that does not have high-speed rail. We are the only ones who have been left out of the equation. Modernizing the act is important, but at the same time we need funding allocation.

I have been working on the Quebec City to Chicago run. Last year I went to Michigan and met with officials of a department there. I wrote a letter to Kirk Steudle of the Michigan Department of Transportation inquiring about what is happening on the American side, because tens of millions of people live along the Quebec City-Chicago corridor. This would provide us with an opportunity for great urban planning as well as for improving the environment and bettering our economy.

I asked Mr. Steudle what his department is doing. He replied that improvements are being made that would eliminate a series of choke points, thereby relieving congestion and resulting in an increase in speed to a maximum of 110 miles per hour. The long-term vision also includes doubling the number of daily round trips in the Detroit-Chicago corridor.

There are rail tunnels that connect Canada and the United States. There are two in Windsor. We did have passenger rail between the United States and Canada through this corridor in the past. However, it stopped in the 1930s. We still have that infrastructure today available to us. It is exciting that the tunnel for passenger rail service is available again.

Improvements include: the Kalamazoo - Dearborn Service Development, for $200 million; the Ann Arbor Station Project; and the Midwest Corridor Regional Equipment Pool, where another $268.2 million was awarded to purchase 48 more passenger rail cars.

I want to quote Kirk Steudle, who was appointed director of the Department of Transportation for the state of Michigan. He states:

It is our understanding that the investments being made in high speed rail service in Michigan will prompt similar projects and studies in Canada, which would allow expansion of the high speed corridor from Chicago-Montreal. Improved and expanded service along this corridor will enhance our economic competitiveness,promote energy and environmental efficiency, and support interconnected communities by providing a more reliable passenger rail service.

MDOT looks forward to working closely with you to bring new investment to our region.

Sadly, I have seen the department of transportation on this side cut $200 million from VIA Rail. The United States is going in exactly the opposite direction. It sees the merit of this project. It is open to it and wants to connect to this corridor. It sees the bigger vision. Imagine, we could have Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, and maybe eventually extend the improvements to Ottawa. We could have good passenger rail service around this corridor. This would be an economic investment that is critical at this point in time.

I proposed what I think is a modest strategy similar to the Detroit corridor. The Minister of Transport could convene a special working group. It has been done before with the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council. I think it is important to lay out the strategy behind this. The CAPC model not only brought in the auto manufacturers, it also brought in the union, the dealers, the parts people, the tool and die/mould makers, the entire automotive chain. The CAPC laid out a business plan and a measurement system for how to deal with our auto sector.

Sadly, the government has not convened a major meeting of this kind in two or three or four years. It has only had some executive meetings. It is sad because that is a model that I could envision. I was hoping the minister would take that up and would bring in the cities.

I have had a chance to meet with Mayor Fontana of London. He is interested. The mayor of Quebec City is interested. The mayor of Windsor has been supportive. A number of municipalities would provide opportunity and guidance with regard to this project. Then, on top of that, we would have the railways, CP Rail, CN Rail and VIA Rail, and other groups that could look at the overall business plan with regard to passenger rail and rail issues. They could look at the things that are preventing some of the improvements from taking place, and get them out of the way.

The goal is, and this is what they are doing in Michigan, to improve the overall line. It is really critical to eliminate some of those things, whether they be separation grades or improvements to the lines so they can go faster. Michigan is buying some lines, and those municipalities will know the problems and weak spots. It would be very important for us to get them together and look at the costs and how we make the improvements. That would be a positive way to approach things.

Once I conclude, I really hope that the government and the minister rethink their decision and take advantage of this opportunity for economic development and environmental development along the corridor with Michigan. That would be a real benefit to all of us. It would be an economic issue championed by municipalities, the province and the federal government.