House of Commons Hansard #255 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.


Railway Companies
Private Members Business

11 a.m.


Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should oblige all railway companies that receive National Transportation Agency authorisation to abandon branch lines or sections under the National Transportation Act, 1987, to offer such branch lines or sections for public sale before abandoning them.

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to thank my colleague in the New Democratic Party, the hon. member for Winnipeg-Transcona, for letting me take his place this morning and for taking my turn last Monday. As you know, last Monday, this House, at the behest of the Leader of the Government, went so far as to sit on the day a referendum important to the future of Quebec and Canada was held in Quebec. Another demonstration of love and affection from our colleagues in the Liberal Party.

I just want to say that in Quebec, we have a useful motto: Je me souviens . I can tell you Quebecers felt this decision was highly improper, as was the demonstration of love and affection in Montreal by 60,000 people on the Friday preceding the referendum and financed by Canadian Airlines, Air Canada and VIA Rail.

I repeat, we have a useful motto in Quebec: Je me souviens . I can tell you that as the transport critic, as soon as I get a chance I will certainly return the favour to these three companies.

Motion M-494 reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should oblige all railway companies that receive National Transportation Agency authorisation to abandon branch lines or sections under the National Transportation Act, 1987, to offer such branch lines or sections for public sale before abandoning them.

Perhaps I may explain that the purpose of this motion is, in a way, to apply retroactively a provision that appears in Bill C-101. I imagine this will not be news to anyone who is familiar with the railway sector and especially with the decisions of the National Transportation Agency. As you know, when a company, either CN or CP, used to go before the National Transportation Agency, permission to abandon lines was practically automatic.

Bill C-101 now before the Standing Committee on Transport provides that before a line is abandoned, it will first be offered for public sale. I should explain that if Bill C-101 is adopted in its present form, railway companies will have to submit a three-year plan, starting in 1996. The fact remains, however, that some branch lines are already in the process of being abandoned, although interested groups or provincial governments may have shown an interest in continuing operations.

The purpose of this measure is therefore to deal with part of what has happened recently. However, if Bill C-101 is adopted as tabled, which means offering for sale prior to proceeding with abandonment, our party will not object to the substance of the bill. However, we will try to obtain extensions of the time limits because some are really too short to allow for a proper evaluation of the operations offered for sale. But we will have a chance to discuss that later on.

As I was saying, the purpose of this motion is to save segments of railway lines for which a decision of abandonment has been issued by the National Transportation Agency. Bill C-101 provides that the railway companies must offer for sale the segments they wish to abandon. Even considering all the deficiencies of the abandonment procedure in Bill C-101, this measure should make it easier for these segments to be taken over by short line railway operations, because it would oblige railway companies to sell segments that are to be abandoned.

There are segments in Quebec that would probably be viable as short line railways: the decision of abandonment has already been issued, but the tracks are still intact. Today we have no guarantee that railway companies will first try to sell to short line railways, in order to maintain segments. In fact, we could hardly expect railway companies to sell to short line railways if it is more attractive to sell a segment for uses other than railway transportation. It is common knowledge that railway companies in Canada own large

amounts of real estate. They may prefer to speculate in real estate as opposed to continuing a railway operation. That is the point I wanted to make.

Public interest is not a consideration in commercial decisions by railway companies. That is unfortunate because, as you know, in some cases these companies obtained the land around a right of way when this country was first settled. Furthermore, Canada expanded from east to west thanks to the railways. Western Canada was developed thanks to the railways. These companies were given crown land for their railway rights of way and now are acting more like speculators.

In Quebec there are at least three major branch lines in this situation: Chapais, Lachute and Québec Central, totalling some 550 kilometres. Negotiations are currently under way concerning some of these lines.

The effect of our motion would be to ensure that railway companies negotiate in good faith with those interested in creating SLRs to run these branch lines. You will note that my trust in the national railways is rather limited. Had we had been able to have faith in them, this motion would have been totally unnecessary; the necessity for it arises out of our less than total confidence in them.

The Government of Quebec has already done its part with respect to the Lachute branch line by forbidding any change in its land use. If CP lets the situation get any worse, however, the tracks that are in place will deteriorate and no longer be useable.

It is therefore important for the CP to put this branch line up for sale promptly. It is also interesting to see, since Quebec does not of course possess the fullness of its powers that would have come with sovereignty, the concrete action taken by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Regional Development Guy Chevrette in announcing this past October 16 that the rail corridor linking Mirabel and Thurso would be declared a special intervention zone. Publication on October 11 in the Quebec official gazette of a draft decree to that effect had the immediate result of reserving the land covered by the decree for railway purposes and of forbidding any operations contrary to that use.

I would like to take this opportunity to praise Mr. Chevrette, the minister responsible for regional development, for he-unlike certain of our friends across the way, the Minister of Transport for Canada in particular-is well placed to appreciate the importance of a rail line, an airport or a seaport as a tool of regional development. I mentioned before in this House and it bears repeating that several businesses are interested in locating in outlying areas of Quebec or elsewhere and insist as a prerequisite-it is sometimes their principle condition-on there being a deep water port, an adequate highway and superhighway system, and a rail line if the material to be shipped is very heavy and cannot be trucked. Merely looking at the state of our highways and superhighways is enough to again convince us how lax the federal government is, compared to the U.S., when it comes to truck load limits.

As an illustration of the railway's worth as a tool of economic development, let me give the example of a cement plant project at Port Daniel in the Gaspe, in the riding where my spouse was born. This is a village of some 3,500 people, with a very high rate of unemployment-we are all aware of the state of the fishing industry in Gaspe-and the developers interested in the cement plant have set two conditions. First, there must be a deep water seaport, which the Port Daniel bay provides, and second the cement dust, or powder, or whatever it is called, must be shippable by boat or by railcar, thus making the presence of a rail line a condition for the deal. CN is considering abandoning the Gaspe rail line. Obviously, if there is no rail line, the 450 jobs that would be created by the cement plant will never see the light of day, because of the two conditions set by the developers.

I am pleased to inform the member for Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who once again reveals that he is totally disconnected from his riding. He should, perhaps, go there a bit more often and be a bit more active. He should be aware that this was another of the requirements set by the promoters.

What is a special intervention zone, such as the one the Government of Quebec established for the Mirabel-Thurso railway corridor? Quebec's act respecting land use planning and development permits it to establish special intervention zones in order to resolve land development problems whose urgency or seriousness justifies such an intervention.

This is the first time, since the law came into effect in 1980, that a minister has used such power to declare a special intervention zone by order. This decision stresses the importance the government accords to maintaining the rail link between Thurso and Mirabel to protect the economic development of the region.

I would also like to stress how important and how timely this matter is. We could perhaps come up with a short list to justify just how relevant and current our motion is. We could quickly make a list of abandoned lines. We could name some in each province.

In Ontario, for example, the CN Chatham line is scheduled to be abandoned on July 14, 1996. There is also the Newmarket line. In Quebec, there is the CN Chapais line, from Franquet to Chapais, 97.34 miles long; the CN Taschereau line, from La Sarre to Cochrane, 82.42 miles; the CN Montmagny line, from Harlaka to Saint-Romuald; the CN Chandler line, from Sainte-Adélaïde to Gaspé-you can see with what I was saying about the cement plant

project earlier, how relevant this motion becomes-; the CN Sorel line, from Sorel to Tracy; and the list goes on.

In British Columbia, there is the CP Slocan line; in Manitoba, the CN line at Erwood; there are other lines in Ontario; the CN line from Foothills to Spur Turo; the CN Graham line; the CN Manitouwadge line; the CN Midland line, and the list goes on. All of this adds up to a total number-and I will try to find my figures here-of abandoned lines for the year representing, by region, 48 per cent in Ontario, 19 per cent in Quebec, 23 per cent in the Maritimes and 10 per cent in the Prairies.

This motion clearly illustrates the urgency of ensuring the availability of lines already approved for abandon, until new provisions in Bill C-101 apply, if they are passed as a whole, and thus of ensuring that the recent past is covered, rather than have the companies ruthlessly abandoning lines with the support of the National Transportation Agency, because, I repeat, it was almost automatic. I had an opportunity to experience the trauma of arguing before the National Transportation Agency, when I argued in favour of the CP Lachute line, and we saw which way the Agency invariably leans. It is unfortunate, but, I think the number of decisions the Agency has made in favour of the railways clearly illustrates what I am saying.

In conclusion, what we are seeking with this motion, is to force the government to implement the provisions of Bill C-101 immediately in order to preserve railway branch lines that are important for Quebec, until Quebec achieves political sovereignty, of course, which we expect to be very soon. Then, it will be able to exercise its powers to the fullest and will not have to go and beg before the National Transportation Agency of Canada for decisions to be made. As Jean Lesage said in 1960, we will be "Maîtres chez nous", and that is what Quebecers want.

Railway Companies
Private Members Business

11:20 a.m.

London East


Joe Fontana Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Beauport-Montmorency-Orléans.

His concerns reflect an appreciation for the approach advocated by the government toward rail line rationalization. The wording of his motion implies support for the line rationalization process set out in Bill C-101, the National Transportation Act.

The government has noted the widespread concerns expressed by several interested parties regarding the existing rail line rationalization process. Deficiencies have been recognized and we believe a remedy has been proposed through Bill C-101.

On October 2, 1995, Bill C-101 was referred to the Standing Committee on Transport. Committee hearings are currently under way.

Canada's rail network is overbuilt. Eight-four per cent of CN and CP traffic is moved over one-third of the network. Traffic density is only 60 per cent of the average of the top seven major railroads in the United States. It has been estimated that some 50 per cent of current CN and CP trackage is surplus to their needs. However, many of these lines could be successfully operated by short lines or regional railways.

Rationalization is under way but it is occurring slowing due to the complicated abandonment process contained in the National Transportation Act, 1987. There is widespread recognition that future rail financial viability will depend greatly on the railway's ability to accelerate plant rationalization and restructuring its networks.

Bill C-101, the National Transportation Act, is intended to streamline and modernize transportation regulations. In particular it will lift the regulatory burden on rail to increase its competitiveness in an increasingly continental market.

The bill contains provisions to streamline and shorten the current process for rail rationalization, making it commercially oriented, less adversarial and more conducive to the sale or lease of surplus rail lines to new operators. In conjunction with those provisions, the process for entry of smaller low cost rail carriers to operate in co-operation with CN and CP has been eased.

As demonstrated by the U.S. experience following deregulation of its railway industry in 1980 with the passage of the Staggers Act, railway rationalization need not result in the abandonment of track. In the United States since 1980, although 34 per cent of the total rail route miles were trimmed from the rail line railroad networks, less than half that track was abandoned. Almost 30,000 miles of track were sold to successful short line railways and saved from abandonment.

Today there are over 500 short line railway companies in the United States, of which 263 were created since 1980. In Canada only 10 new independent short lines were created since 1988.

Let me emphasize that the line rationalization process set out in Bill C-101 is not as radical as that in the United States. However one of its main features is that it will provide opportunities for any interested party to acquire lines surplus to the needs of CN or CP for continued use as rail lines.

In the event that there is a lack of interest in purchasing a particular line for rail purposes or a sale agreement is not reached, each level of government will have an opportunity to decide whether or not to acquire a line at net salvage value for public purposes.

Only after a railway company has gone through the process I have described and it has been unsuccessful in transferring the line to a new owner, whether it be a private company or a government, will it be able to abandon operations over the line and dispose of the land corridor and track assets. This will be a major improvement over the current process.

The current process has caused some parties significant concern. For example, some provincial governments have expressed their wish to preserve an economic rail line, even though they have not had any traffic on them for many years, in the event that some day there may be a need for them. However, it has been normal practice when lines are put forward for abandonment that the provinces do not take positive action to find a new operator or acquire the lines themselves.

Under the National Transportation Act, if a rail line is not purchased by new operators for continued rail purposes the onus is placed on governments at all levels to come forward and express their interest in the rail corridors by financing the cost of their acquisition at net salvage value.

Even if the government possessed the powers to comply with the action requested in the member's motion there would be no beneficial outcomes. Currently only five rail lines have been ordered abandoned by the agency. Three of them are scheduled for abandonment in 1995 and the remainder in 1996. Negotiations are under way for the purchase of one of the lines to be abandoned in 1996 and no interest has been expressed by anyone in the purchase of the others.

There is really nothing more to add except that on the strength of the motion I look forward to the hon. member's support of Bill C-101, the National Transportation Act. We should not delay the bill, as the hon. member has suggested, but should get on with, hopefully in the next two to three weeks, getting it through the House so that the process is improved and interested parties, be they short lines, governments or other interests, can take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new rationalization policy of the government.

Railway Companies
Private Members Business

11:25 a.m.


Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I prepared to speak on the motion it seemed the hon. member from the Bloc must not have realized what was in Bill C-101, because it is exactly what he is asking for.

However I listened to the content and the direction of his speech and obviously he was aware of it. It seems as though he went around in a circle and fell out the middle. I am not really sure what its purpose was unless it was simply to take another 20-minute opportunity to bash Canada and promote Quebec's separation.

The member is looking for a particular provision that is contained in Bill C-101, specifically in clauses 143 and 145. On the one hand he says this is an urgent matter and that he wants to get it done very quickly. At one point he used the word retroactively. There are a couple of things with the Bloc Quebecois that I would like to do retroactively.

There is a bit of a paradox here. While the hon. member stood to say this was an urgent matter that needed to be taken of quickly, Bill C-101 is scheduled to go for clause by clause consideration and to come back to the House for final passage the week following next week's break. He also said that Bill C-101 needed to be extended, that there has not been enough time and that they want to stretch it out.

I do not know why he needs more time. We have heard dozens and dozens of witnesses, intervenors in committee. The hon. member, as the transport critic for the official opposition, is a member of the committee. Perhaps he needs more time because he has not been at many of the committee meetings. He showed up once or twice.

I am the national transport critic for the national opposition party and I have been at those meetings. Any time I have not been able to attend my colleagues have been there in my support and in support of people across Canada. People can approach the government and make application to the government. They can also approach a creditable, viable opposition party when they do not happen to agree with what the government is doing or they want to ensure there is more pressure and support.

The hon. member has shown up at committee meetings on occasion. I cite one of those occasions to show how his interest has nothing to do with national transportation or with the act. It only has to do with his own sovereignty, separatist agenda. Last week one or two witnesses had already spoken and then we heard from a group of representatives of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities representing municipalities across the country, including in Quebec.

Toward the end of the intervenors' presentation the hon. member joined the committee for a brief period of time. As questions to the delegation opened he immediately tore into them, in a very vicious and embarrassing manner, because the brief was not presented in French as well as in English. Had he been there at the beginning he would have heard the explanation and apology for the fact that it was not available in French, that it would be available the following day, that the delegates had only completed the brief that morning, that they would have normally done this, that they always do but on this occasion they did not have the time to do it. It was

quite an embarrassing outburst from someone who claims to be a member of the national official opposition. It may be official by name, but it is certainly not national.

The hon. member stayed for the next presentation, which happened to be by a delegation from the province of Quebec, and then left before any further presentations were made.

I do not know what his real bottom line is. If his real bottom line is to have the amendments made that have been outlined in his motion, they are contained in Bill C-101. He can come to the committee and aid us in completing that bill. I am sure amendments will be offered. I shudder to think what will come from his party, but I am sure amendments will be proposed. I can guarantee that there will be amendments proposed by the Reform Party. Amendments have been proposed by the Liberal Party. The bill is there to be examined. The committee will hear presentations and will react to the needs of the Canadian people.

If the hon. member comes to the committee for the purpose of aiding it and seeing the bill completed, then he will get the very things he asked for this morning. However, if he comes to the committee to delay and extend the proceedings, after having not been to any of them, then he is fighting not against Bill C-101, not against the Liberal government, but against his own motion. That will be a very interesting aspect for him to take up.

I would close by pointing out one item for clarification. From time to time, prior to the referendum and since the referendum, the Reform Party has raised the question of who rightly should be the official opposition in the House. By past precedent it falls to the Bloc Quebecois because it has a superior number of one. Some people, both those sitting opposite and some misinformed people in the media, have claimed that the Reform Party has done this by way of opportunism. It was not opportunism; it was our duty to the Canadian people and our obligation as members of the House to represent all of Canada on all bills, including national transportation bills, rather than the narrow views of one separatist group within one province.

If the hon. member co-operates he will get his wish.

Railway Companies
Private Members Business

11:30 a.m.

Kenora—Rainy River


Bob Nault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to Motion No. 494 this morning. The motion is somewhat redundant, but at the same time it is important to speak to an issue that is fundamentally important to all Canadians; that is, the national transportation system and in particular what takes place when rail rationalization occurs in a country that continues to change, as it normally would in a federation. The needs of the public and the regions of the country are changing as well, so it is important to understand that transportation needs change.

Under Bill C-101 there are a number of clauses that deal with rail abandonment. In particular, the bill deals with the ability to transfer rail. This is a unique change in direction by the Government of Canada. It is a welcome change.

For those of us who have followed the transportation system and the abandonment of lines, under the NTA of 1987 the process that had to be followed for certain lines to be abandoned was that they first had to go to the NTA to prove that the particular line did not have commercial viability. Can you imagine how easy that would be to do if you first of all demarketed the line, which is what they did to start off with.

Most railway companies would not admit this, but when I had the opportunity to chair a special committee that went across the country to look at CN privatization we ran into some documentation that proved that in certain cases high ranking officials in CN sent out memos to their regional management, dictating and explaining to them how to demarket a particular branch line so they could go to the NTA and have them signify that it was not commercially viable and allow them to abandon it.

Bill C-101, and the motion presented by the member this morning suggest a different way of doing business. That is, to acknowledge that transportation companies are no different from any other business in Canada and that you cannot force them to deal with what governments are dealing with every day, and that is the public interest, when in fact transportation companies are more interested in the bottom line. If you force them to try to maintain a particular line without compensating them in a manner that would help the company to be successful, they will go about it in one fashion or another to make sure those lines do get abandoned.

Public policy and public interest are a very important portion of this bill. The critics who look at it are continuing to say that the government is getting out of the public interest business in transportation, but we are putting it where it belongs. Public interest is being taken out of the hands of every day companies in the transportation sector and put back in the hands of the politicians, to make decisions whether they want to subsidize certain lines in this country and whether for regional purposes they want to maintain certain branch lines. Those particular public interest initiatives and policies will have to be put back in the hands of cabinet and parliamentarians if we are going to have a private sector transportation system that works.

In the member's presentation to the House this morning he talked about time frames. It is important to talk about time frames because there is a perception left by the member that the government is not serious about short line railways becoming a new phenomenon in Canada, that it is just lip service and more than

likely most of these lines will be abandoned because of the time frame.

I totally disagree with the member, as is unfortunately usually the case. The time frame for sale of a line starts with the unique process in the bill of forcing the railways, through clause 141, to put forward a three-year plan that is available to anyone, including ourselves as members of Parliament. Can you believe that? They are going to let us see something for a change. In that three-year plan they will signify whether they want to continue a particular line or whether they are interested in selling it or if they cannot sell it whether they will eventually abandon it.

That three-year plan, which the governments have asked the railways to table on a regular basis and to revamp whenever necessary, will give members of Parliament and the public an opportunity to review just what lines are not in the best interest of a private corporation's business plan.

The next process is the intent of any individual municipality, any regional government, whoever is interested in owning a particular line that the other railways do not want to own. They will have 60 days to signify interest in that particular line. Within 60 days all they have to do is write a letter to CP or CN or any other corporation that owns a railway and say they would like to look at purchasing that particular piece of track. Then the 60 days will be allowed to elapse. When that elapses, they have five months after the 60 days to sit down and negotiate the sale of that line to that individual, that municipality, that provincial government.

As can be seen, 60 days is two months and after that is the five-month negotiation process, which gives seven months minimum. Of course if the negotiation is a serious one and both parties are moving along in their negotiations, I am quite sure the railways would be interested in an extension, because it is not in a railways' interest to abandon a line if they do not have to. If they can get an agreement with an individual to run a line to bring a particular shipment of goods from a particular corporation at the end of the line, which is the reason the railway is there, and get it down to the other end, certainly they would do so.

I want to emphasize this. In clauses 141 and then 143 to 145 it lays out very specifically how these rail lines would be transferred from one corporation to the next. In the final analysis, if nobody is interested, be it the Quebec government, a municipality in Quebec, or a private sector individual, why would you want to force a corporation like CP or CN to run a line that absolutely nobody else would like to run? Quite frankly, I think it would have a right to abandon that line.

I want to emphasize that the real issue is not whether a piece of track is torn up, it is what is done with the right of way. That is the real issue in the long term. One of the problems the U.S. is having with the Staggers Act and the changes in policy it made for line abandonment is that when it abandons a line it does not look after the right of way but sells it to the private sector. Depending on where that land is, it is chopped up for residential lots and things like that. That land cannot be re-acquired 20 years from now without expropriation.

One of the main issues that is going to face us as we rationalize our railway system is what do we do with that right of way when we tear the track up and pull it out there. That is all salvage value, which is fine, but if we keep that particular right of way we can always put the track back at some future date. Most people do not see the significance of that right of way.

In southern Ontario, for example, that is a major issue, because most of that land is privately owned outside of that right of way. Once the private sector gets hold of it we are never going to get it back. Governments, in particular provincial and municipal, have a very important role to play on that issue. It is not a federal government jurisdiction. I think it is a provincial jurisdiction. That is where the member should be focusing his attention. That is the mistake that was made in the Staggers Act. Some companies in the U.S. wish they had not sold the right of way but kept it for future use and land banked it.

Powers in this place rest in a number of ways and in a number of fashions. The Minister of Transport in this bill still has the power to subsidize branch lines. He still has the power to subsidize certain rail lines. I will use just one rail line as an example, which is close to my home.

There is a line that runs all the way up to Churchill. It is a very important line to northern Manitoba for regional development. The line could be abandoned tomorrow if it were dealt with in dollars and cents, because it does not make a profit. However, that line is important in the long term to the viability of northern Manitoba. I would suggest that if the people of northern Manitoba, the municipalities that exist there and the shippers on that line were really interested in regional development and if the federal government would enter into a co-operative arrangement with them, someone else who is interested in it could run that line. Maybe they can make it closer to being profitable than it is now. At the same time, it is very transparent that we are subsidizing a line that does not make money because of regional development needs.

That is where the public interest should lie, in a transparent fashion. Whether we want to subsidize a losing operation is a different story. However, forcing railways to carry losing lines is not the way to go about the business of running a corporation, whether it be private or public. I differ with many people on that argument.

I hope the member who has brought this motion forward, as has been mentioned by the Reform Party, spends less time trying to break up Canada and more time in the committee. He will realize there are some very good parts to this bill. At the same time if he supports it he will find there are some good entrepreneurs in Quebec who would love to run a railway and who could run it a lot better than CN or CP ever did.

Railway Companies
Private Members Business

11:45 a.m.


Paul Mercier Blainville—Deux-Montagnes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague from Kootenay West-Revelstoke express his views on the official opposition. He believes it would be much more interesting if the Reform Party formed the official opposition in this debate about railways. I can assure that I, for one, will stick to the matter under consideration.

The matter at issue is that the National Transport Agency has authorized CP and CN to abandon a number of sections on some important rail lines, in particular the Lachute, Chapais and central Quebec lines.

These abandonments will certainly have a major, serious impact on regional development. For example, I will only talk about the Lachute line because my colleague from Argenteuil and myself tabled a brief asking that this line not be abandoned. The matter at issue is the abandonment of part of this line-that is, the central part and not the start or the end. Talk about a rational decision: they leave the start and end of the line but remove the middle.

To show you just how lightly the agency gave this authorization, I will mention the fact that, in concluding that the line was not profitable, the commissioners simply relied on the argument that the railway had not made enough money over the past three years, when everyone knows that we were in a recession and that these three years therefore did not reflect the railway's real earning potential.

During these hearings, it was conclusively proven that CP had made no effort to develop or even keep its clients. On the contrary, it seemed to try to drive them away.

It got to the point that the Quebec Ministry of Transportation, using its urbanization powers, had to issue an order to at least prevent the dismantling of the Lachute line. The ministry cannot oppose the end of operations, but it can prevent the line from being dismantled.

This brings me to the topic of Bill C-101, on which we will vote very soon and to which my colleague from Beauport-Montmorency-Orléans and myself will propose amendments.

True, Bill C-101 will require CP and CN to sell the branch lines they abandon. However, it is clear that the government has a new rail policy in that, first, there will no longer be any public hearings and, second, the National Transportation Agency, whose name and role will change, will no longer have any authorization to give.

In other words, the government has just about set aside the notion of public service in favour of a strictly for-profit mentality. I think that this is another example of the government's general tendency to disregard the public interest and think like an accountant rather than an entrepreneur. One would have expected a responsible government to encourage railway companies to contribute to regional development, thus spurring their own development and bringing in tax revenues for the government, instead of helping them sell off the branch lines they are not interested in.

In conclusion, as my colleague pointed out, I think that only Quebec sovereignty will result in making the public interest a priority in government decisions.

Railway Companies
Private Members Business

11:50 a.m.


Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Beauport-Montmorency-Orléans wants the government to require the railway companies to put lines that have been ordered abandoned up for sale.

I contend the lines have already been advertised as available for sale. The fact they have been subjected to the long abandonment process which is now in place should be seen as a clear indication the railways do not want them.

Currently there are only five line segments that fall into the category defined by the member's motion. The CP Cornwall subdivision from Soulanges, Quebec to Cornwall, Ontario was approved by the National Transportation Agency for abandonment on December 27 of this year.

The CP Chalk River subdivision from Smiths Falls to Pembroke is scheduled for abandonment on November 19 next, as are the CP Chalk River and North Bay subdivisions from Petawawa to Mattawa, Ontario. A segment of the CN Chatham subdivision between Bloomfield and Tucumseh, Ontario is to be abandoned on July 14, 1996. Finally, the agency has ordered CN to abandon the segment of the Newmarket subdivision between Barry and Longford, Ontario on September 21 next year.

It should be noted that VIA has already expressed interest in acquiring the Chatham subdivision from CN, and the Ontario government has held and is holding discussions with CN regarding the Newmarket subdivision.

As is clear even from the wording of the motion, Parliament has delegated the responsibility for regulating rail line abandonments and conveyance to the National Transportation Agency in accordance with the provisions of the National Transportation Act, 1987. Briefly, the agency's powers under the act extend to the receiving and processing of abandonment applications. The criteria for reaching an abandonment decision are set out in the act. Any line abandonment application results in an abandonment order if there is no opposition to that abandonment.

However, if there is opposition expressed by anyone, the agency must publish the actual losses incurred from the operation of the line. Based on traffic and financial information provided by the railways and evidence submitted by intervenors in writing or at public hearings, it must make a determination as to whether operation of the line is economic or uneconomic.

If the agency finds the line is economic, the application is dismissed. Where the agency finds the line is uneconomic it is then required to make a further determination as to whether there is any reasonable probability that it could become economic in the foreseeable future. If not, the agency must order abandonment. If yes, the agency must order continuation of operations over the line if it is in the public interest.

For lines ordered continued in the public interest, the agency is required to reconsider the abandonment application at least once every three years. The agency is given some discretion in fixing abandonment dates to not less that 30 days or not more than one year after the date of an abandonment order. If VIA operates over the line the abandonment date is fixed at one year after the date of the order.

The governor in council has powers under the abandonment provisions to postpone the date of abandonment if certain criteria can be satisfied. This is in addition to powers accorded under section 64, whereby the governor in council can rescind or vary any agency order, decision, rule or regulation.

As members may have noticed neither the agency, the minister nor the governor in council has power to issue orders to the railways with respect to what properties they should put up for sale and when they should do so. It has always been possible for other governments, as my colleague from Rainy River said, to take an active role in promoting the sale of a line, or even to purchase the line itself.

No other business sector or mode of transportation is subject to such strict regulation of exit as has been imposed on the railway industry. With the enactment of the Canada Transportation Act, the government hopes to place the responsibility for rail rationalization where it belongs, with the railway companies.

The decision to withdraw from a certain segment of business is a commercial decision and does not justify government intervention. For example, if a trucking firm decides it no longer wants to serve a particular city because it is losing money, it simply stops going there. Why should a railway company not have the same freedom? If a grocery chain decides it wants to close a store at a particular location and possibly open one at a more profitable location, the government does not interfere. Why should that same government prevent a railway company from doing the same thing? This government does not exist to tell competing businesses such as transportation companies how to conduct their business.

It is clear there is no overriding reason why the government cannot comply with the member's Motion 494. The member will find that the advanced publicity regarding railway rationalization plans required under the Canada Transportation Act fulfils the general intent of his motion.

I appreciate the member's interest in this important topic. We are at a stage where we are moving from one railway regime to another. There are difficulties inevitably involved with that transition.

The decisions made are very important indeed. To that extent I greatly appreciate the member's interest. However, I argue that his concerns are well met under the existing legislation.

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Private Members Business

11:55 a.m.

The Speaker

Dear colleagues, as no other hon. member wishes to speak, I recognize the hon. member for Beauport-Montmorency-Orléans on debate. There are two or three minutes remaining.

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Private Members Business

11:55 a.m.


Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to use the time remaining in the debate on this motion, pursuant to our Standing Orders.

I would like to correct something my hon. colleague from Kootenay West-Revelstoke, who sits with me on the Standing Committee on Transport, said in his remarks.

He indicated earlier, in summarizing the motion to some extent, that the usefulness of such a motion is unclear, since Bill C-101 will do what the hon. member is asking for. I think he should have read the motion and listened to what was being said. He would have realized that the motion in question is to ensure-not in a distant future; Bill C-101 has not yet been passed-that railways lines recently slated for abandonment will be covered by the provisions contained in Bill C-101, once passed. Again, my colleague from Kootenay misconstrued my meaning.

Also, the hon. member of the Reform Party complained again about his party not having become the official opposition yet. I would like to inform the Reformers, through you, that if the Bloc Quebecois is the official opposition, it is neither to please the Liberal Party, nor to annoy the Reform Party. British parliamentary tradition has it that the largest minority group in the House of Commons forms the official opposition. We never asked to be the official opposition. It is just the way it is and shall continue to be, since we have decided to continue sitting in this Parliament to unmask the Liberals.

A common thread goes through the whole federal transportation reform: the government intends to shift infrastructure costs onto municipalities, RCMs or the Quebec government, while at the same time maintaining control and keeping corresponding revenues. In fact, these so-called improved management objectives hide a sucker's deal.

The defence of Quebec's interests is no longer tied exclusively to fruitless objections or demonstration too often ignored. It is now predicated on Quebecers taking the transportation issue into their own hands to ensure their future and the future of Quebec businesses and regions whose development depends on transportation.

Only by becoming sovereign will we be able to put in place an integrated transportation policy, in which our local and public sector partners will be the first to gain from a unified transportation role within Quebec, combined with a partnership with our Canadian neighbours and NAFTA allies.

We, members of the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, will keep on repeating this as long as it takes in this House.

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Private Members Business


The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 96(1), this item is dropped from the Order Paper.

The House resumed from November 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-95, an act to establish the Department of Health and to amend and repeal certain acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee; and of the amendment.

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November 6th, 1995 / noon


Brenda Chamberlain Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-95, legislation which will establish the Department of Health.

Two weeks ago I spoke on another piece of legislation. I reminded the House and particularly our friends from Quebec of the desire of my constituents for a united and strong Canada. With the end of the referendum that desire still continues. The people of Guelph-Wellington, all crusaders for Canada will always support Canada first. We have a strong attachment to this great country. We celebrate the privilege of being Canadian and we thank the people of Quebec for saying no to separation.

Over the past several weeks Canadians have heard much of the word change. We have before us a bill which changes the name of the Department of Health. That, as was said by the hon. Minister of Health, is the simplest part of this legislation. Within the bill there is a new focus. Bill C-95 contains a new vision of the future that promises to make improvements in what is already the best national health system in the world.

The people of Guelph-Wellington want to give a clear message to Parliament. We want our health system preserved. We reject those who want to dismantle what we have built in favour of a system that judges patients on how much money they have rather than how sick they are.

We recognize the need to respond to areas of concern, but we will not compromise the protection that is given to each of us by the Canada Health Act. This act declares that the health aspects of social well-being are the responsibility of the Department of Health.

We all know that we were elected to assist the well-being of our constituents and also of every single Canadian. It is the obligation of the government in every department and by every single member of the House to ensure the well-being of the people who have entrusted us with all of their confidence. The people of Guelph-Wellington have elected me to be a member of a government that is tempered with compassion, motivated by care and strengthened through its ability to make Canada a better place to live.

Our health care system is one of the values which makes Canada the best place in the world in which to live. Whether Canadians reside in Guelph, Ontario, Drummondville, Quebec, or St. John's, Newfoundland, they know they can depend on a federal government that is determined to protect the fabric of their health care system.

This legislation clearly acknowledges the responsibility of the Department of Health to care for the social well-being of my constituents and the people of every single region throughout Canada. Through this legislation we are acknowledging that there is more to health than health care. Health means the complete state of physical, mental and social well-being.

The people of Guelph-Wellington are fortunate to have quality health care providers who work for the benefit of our community. Organizations like the Victorian Order of Nurses, Homewood Health Centre, St. John Ambulance Association and the Welling-

ton-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit work together to provide assistance, plan health services, give information and support the people of my community.

While Guelph-Wellington welcomes change, our people do not want an end to the government's commitment to the long tradition of ensuring health protection for every single Canadian. Ten years ago the Canada Health Act was debated and passed without any member voting against it in this House. Those were the days when the opposition parties joined the government in support of every Canadian regardless of their income.

The Canada Health Act contains five principles: public administration; comprehensiveness; universality; portability; and accessibility. This act was the result of the efforts of strong ministers of health including Hon. Allan MacEachen; the father of the current Minister of Finance, Hon. Paul Martin Sr.; Hon. Marc Lalonde; and Hon. Monique Bégin. They were supported by Canadians in their quest for a health care system that offers care and protection. They were supported by opposition members who defended the rights of all Canadians, Canadians who deserve members of Parliament who wish to preserve our health care system rather than to destroy it.

I mentioned organizations that work in my community to preserve quality health care. These are joined by hundreds of individuals working alone or through various agencies in building a growing awareness of the importance of nutrition, stress management, physical fitness, safety in the workplace, and the environment.

We are fortunate in Guelph-Wellington because on top of quality care institutions like the Guelph General Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital and Home, there are people who care. These people deal not only with cures but with prevention. They realize that health prevention is the real health care revolution in this country.

My own family has been blessed with family doctors like Allan Simpson who was there when my children were born and has cared for them ever since. Anne Simpson, his wife, has also been a nurse and caregiver in our community. Without people such as them our health care system would not be the best in the world.

Our government is determined to save, sustain and improve Canada's health care system. We will continue to fight against those who fail to recognize that health care weaves the fabric of our very nation.

As part of the promises that we have kept since our election, the Prime Minister has initiated the National Forum on Health and has taken a real leadership role in finding solutions to the difficult questions facing all of us. The Prime Minister and Minister of Health are to be congratulated for this effort.

The National Forum on Health is asking: Are we getting the best results from our expenditures? Should we be spending more in some areas and less in other areas? Are we taking full advantage of new opportunities in the health field? How can we learn from experiences within Canada and from other countries?

These are important questions which deserve our time and our consideration. Canadians must dialogue about what our health system should look like over the longer term. We must develop a vision of the future. When I discussed priorities for federal spending with my constituents prior to the last federal budget, they told me that health care must remain a priority in Canada. In fact most of the people in Guelph-Wellington who responded to a questionnaire that I sent out clearly stated that health care should not be cut in any way. They are concerned about abuses. They are anxious to find solutions to what is wrong with our health care system but they absolutely reject the Reform Party's vision for health care in our community.

As in everything else we do, we want to work on a solution that will make our country better. We cannot accept the doom and gloom that is so often embraced by the third party in this House. We know there are challenges to making these improvements, but the people of Guelph-Wellington welcome these challenges because we want to make our health care system work for our children and our grandchildren.

I am pleased that one of the tasks of the national forum is to document case histories of health care approaches that have succeeded in improving the health of the population. I look forward to the policy recommendations that will be made in this area. The forum has taken the Guelph-Wellington approach to problems: build on successes, learn from mistakes and identify priorities.

Health is more than health care. There are many aspects of life and lifestyle that go toward making people healthy. As a government we must continue to rebuild our society to make it healthier. How can we do this? We can provide employment to those unemployed, give hope to Canadians who feel a sense of abandonment. We can provide a strong social support network for our Canadian family. We can build a better education system, find more agreeable working conditions for our workers, free the environment from pollutants and rid ourselves from unsafe products that contribute to an unhealthy environment. Health care means all facets of our society.

Each Canadian is also responsible for his or her own well-being. Personal health practices which include a positive outlook help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. I have encouraged my constituents to work with the many organizations in

Guelph and Wellington county that promote, educate, assist and support my constituents who suffer from epilepsy, cancer, the effects of a stroke, and cystic fibrosis to name but a few. In Guelph-Wellington we believe that by supporting each other we can build a better community and a better Canada.

The government continues to look at positive ways to improve the health care of our country. I wish to take a few seconds to speak about the prenatal nutrition program which was promised in the red book and implemented by Health Canada in July 1994.

We know that prenatal and childhood health experiences will affect us throughout our lives. Low weight at birth is a problem for the growing child and in some cases contributes to ill health in adults and sometimes premature death. There is also increasing evidence that the way children are cared for at an early age influences their coping skills and health for the rest of their lives. We also know that it is possible to reverse some of the ill effects and positively influence later health and well-being by intervening with supplementary and enrichment programs at critical stages in the development of children and youth.

The prenatal nutrition program is providing $66.4 million over four years to set up or expand prenatal nutrition programs for low income expectant mothers. This is an example of a positive contribution of government for the well-being of our future. As a mother of three, I know how precious children are. I worked with many children through my efforts at the Wellington County Board of Education. Preventive health, positive lifestyle promotion and health education are going to contribute to bettering the health of our children and saving valuable health care dollars in the future.

Our health care system is probably regarded as one of the finest in the world and this is no exaggeration. At a time when Canadians are reflecting on what makes us so great, we need only to look at our health care system as an example of a country that truly works.

True, there are ways that we can improve our health care system. It is not perfect, but it works and it works well. It ensures that the poorest of our citizens receive help when they are most in need. It ensures that our seniors need not sell their homes in the event of a lengthy illness. More important, it ensures that the people of Guelph-Wellington and those in all parts of Canada can concentrate on getting better when they are sick, free from the worry of who will pay for their health care. That is the kind of protection needed and wanted by a vast majority of Canadians.

Many Canadians deserve credit for our health care system. Those who in the past had a vision of caring led the way. Volunteers throughout communities such as Guelph-Wellington ensure that people are cared for and educated about prevention programs. Health care professionals have the responsibility for providing care which has become extremely complex and extremely demanding.

Advancements in health care have meant an explosion of medical knowledge and information involving all kinds of advances in equipment and procedures. The front line workers are there first to care for the sick and their families. They feed us, give us medicine and often are there to care for us when we die.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the dedicated physicians, surgeons, nurses, attendants, paramedics, researchers and administrators who, along with many associates, have built for Canadians a health care system which is the envy of the world.

I saw them care for my mother and I see them in their dedicated work when I visit hospitals and nursing homes throughout Guelph-Wellington. This past week they cared for my father-in-law who was struck down with a heart attack. They are wonderful people and we are lucky to have them.

We have a good health care system. We are facing new realities and we are confronted by old problems but I am confident that the foundations are sound. I know the people of Guelph-Wellington support legislation which promotes the well-being of every Canadian. I know they do not want a society in which the poor, the elderly and those less fortunate cannot get quality health care.

We in Guelph-Wellington are proud of Canada. We are proud of our health care system. There are those in the House who may wish to erode the principles of medicare, but in Guelph-Wellington we refuse to put a price on our health care system. To do so is to ignore our past and to let down our future. We accept the challenges ahead. We want to build on the principles of the Canada Health Act.

Later this month I will meet with members of the Wellington County Medical Society, as I meet with concerned constituents every week who have asked me to protect their health care system. I will tell the members of the society we stand with them and we will not abandon health care in Canada. This is why this legislation needs our support.

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12:15 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Wellington told us about the goodwill gestures made by her constituents towards Quebec. I hope that she and her constituents are sincere. However, the fact is that, according to a recent poll, only 30 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec agree that constitutional changes should be made, while two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of such changes. Today's reality is very different from the show of love witnessed before the referendum.

My question relates to the hon. member's comments to the effect that we must preserve Canada's health care system. How will we preserve that system, given that the federal government has been cutting for years in the transfers to the provinces, and that these cuts will likely be even greater following the next federal budget? How does the hon. member reconcile the preservation of Canada's health care system with the drastic cuts being made by the federal government?

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12:20 p.m.


Brenda Chamberlain Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will address the first comment by my colleague. When I spoke we did make eye contact. He asked if I was sincere about Quebec's staying in Canada. I have never been more sincere about anything in my life.

There are many Guelph-Wellington residents who want Quebec to stay in Canada. They joined in the rally. They signed a petition last year stating that fact. They care. They know that united we stand and divided we do fall. We truly do want Quebec as a part of Canada. We will work with Quebec and all provinces to make everything we do stronger and better.

This brings me to the health care issue we were talking about earlier. The question my hon. colleague put to me is about maintenance if transfer payments decrease. As we know, in this time of fiscal restraint all money is tight. We all have deficits, including provinces like Quebec which has a huge deficit. We all know that. We know we have to be protectors of health care. I believe Bloc members are protectors of health care. I also believe they know that in order to protect it, being a part of Canada will give them a much better opportunity. It will be preserved and it will be much stronger.

When we talk about preserving health care, we have to look at new methods. We have to look at other countries. They do some things well. We also know, as the Prime Minister has stated many times, our health care is the envy of the world.

Last week I met with Ralph Nader from the United States. He told us horrific stories about what is going on there with the health care system. He warned us to be very careful and ever vigilant not to move to the right, not to move with the Reform and look at a two tiered system. He warned us that would be the end of our health care system.

I call on all members in the House to stand with us and with the health care professionals who have done a wonderful job in our communities to preserve our health care.

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12:20 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I ask the hon. member to look at the medicare system or the health insurance program and one of the five principles, accessibility.

Accessibility tends to conjure a cost factor, that everyone is equal from a cost point of view. However, I would like to bring up two or three other points. The first is transportation, those in the north getting to the services. If anyone breaks a leg in the city, he or she calls an ambulance and goes to the hospital. However, the same kind of accessibility is not that readily available in the north. That is one aspect of accessibility.

The second is waiting lists. We are looking at health from a preventive point of view, a stitch in time saves nine kind of thing, but we have horrendous waiting lists. It deters accessibility if one has to wait to have a lump examined or whatever, something along that line.

The third point is accessibility of services. Should we provide all services to all people in all areas? We can get into hospital debates of whether there should be heart surgery in every hospital, every community hospital, or kidney machines, these kinds of things which are not economically feasible.

Therefore from the accessibility point of view, which everyone tends to zero in on, cost and the availability of the individual's economic position for accessibility, could you address the other three or four points?

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12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sure the member meant to say "would the member address the issues".