House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.

Topics

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to continue with a debate that is of great concern to the people in my riding: the loss of VIA Rail service.

In just a few weeks, we are likely to lose all VIA Rail service in eastern Canada, from Quebec City to Halifax and up to the Gaspé. This is a matter of real concern. The service has existed for 100 years now, but because of the government’s lack of interest, there is a real danger we will lose it forever.

I would like to come back to what the minister said in this House. Today, in response to a question from my colleague from Halifax, she suggested that we could perhaps take a look at a map in order to understand the region’s geography. I can guarantee her that we are very knowledgeable about the geography of the region. I would like to encourage her to study the map with the help of opposition members so that she understands the problems that will be created if the federal government does not invest in the 70 km of rail that is at risk between Miramichi and Bathurst.

If the investment is not made in the next five months, we may lose VIA Rail service forever in eastern Canada. If the federal government does not invest in the railway in the Gaspé region in the next few weeks, the railway line may be shut down forever in my region by the end of March.

The amounts required are not enormous. For the 70 km railway section in New Brunswick, we are talking about an investment of $10 million over 15 years, in partnership with CN, which could save our railway. We could save VIA Rail service throughout eastern Canada. For the Gaspé, in partnership with the province and the region, the federal government could invest a few million dollars to save the railway and restore VIA rail service.

I would like to point out that VIA Rail service in eastern Canada involves two VIA routes that are twinned along two-thirds of the route. There is one train that divides in Matapédia, at the Quebec-New Brunswick border. The train separates and continues either to the Gaspé or to Halifax. If we lose the train to Halifax, we will lose the train to the Gaspé, because it is the same train.

The government says over and over that there is nothing it can do. It says that CN is unfortunately a private company and that the railway is an independent Crown corporation. It says that it is too complicated for the federal government to invest in a Crown corporation. The board members for this Crown corporation are appointed by the government. The Crown corporation is a division of the government. There is good reason why VIA Rail is a Crown corporation, and it is precisely because in the past it was felt that it was a priority to ensure that people in the regions had access to an adequate transportation network. Now we have a government that believes that people no longer need this transportation network.

I would like to state that the opposite is true. The people in my region depend on VIA Rail to get to the major centres. VIA Rail seems to be saying that the people in the region will have to make other arrangements, for instance, taking the bus. I would like to point out that soon the bus service in my region will probably be eliminated. In New Brunswick, Acadian Lines suspended service for several months and people had no other public transportation or public transit to travel to other regions. VIA Rail service is essential to ensure that people in the area can continue to participate in and fully contribute to the Canadian economy. This is part of the economy. VIA Rail is part of the wealth and well-being of our beautiful country; it must be present and provide adequate services.

I would like to know what the parliamentary secretary plans on doing to help the people in my region.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Essex Ontario

Conservative

Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention by the New Democrat member.

Let me start by saying that our government has a strong record of investing in VIA Rail. We have made investments of $1 billion since 2007.

I shared some of this with the member for Acadie—Bathurst. Since 2007, we have made strong capital investments for the refurbishment of some of the stock at VIA Rail. I reminded the member, of course, that he voted against all of that support. The support for the VIA Rail network last year, across the network, was $275 million.

I have to remind the member that VIA Rail is in fact a crown corporation. It is not a branch of government. It is not a department of the government. The minister does not sit down every day and figure out where the trains go and what routes are done with what.

There is a board and there is a CEO. They make decisions, commercial decisions about how to run the business in the best way that they can. Their primary objective, of course, is that they provide safe and efficient passenger rail service. They also try to do it in the most cost-efficient manner as possible.

CN, as a private company, has entered into a discontinuance process. That process is set out in regulations, and it is following that. It is following the regulations that are place. In the meantime, it is responsible for things like track safety.

However, I believe I heard the minister today, in question period, on this issue. She said that our government has taken no decision in this matter.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, no decision is not sufficient. We actually need a decision. We need to know that there is going to be support. We need to know the rail is going to be there so we can ensure there is service in our region.

We need to know the government is going to be there to help the people in New Brunswick, the Gaspé, in all of eastern Canada past Quebec City. We need to know there is sufficient investment so that there will be continuous service.

Today the minister suggested that maybe there is going to be an alternate route. Well, the alternate route is through Edmundston and Plaster Rock. That route, unfortunately, is largely forested. There is very little base for passenger service in that area. There is certainly no recent history of passenger service.

I am in favour if VIA Rail wants to expand service in other areas. Please, go ahead and do so. However, let us go where it has been tried, where it is true, where there is guaranteed use of that service, and that is in northern New Brunswick and the Gaspé region.

The inadequate response from the government is that it has not taken a decision yet. The time is ticking. The national dream of Sir John A. Macdonald is going to disappear right before our eyes.

Rail TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I reject the hyperbole of the member, if he is suggesting that somehow there is no rail service from Halifax to other parts of the country, for example.

I know his hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst tried to make the same assertion, that somehow we would not have rail from coast to coast. I think the Ocean line still runs from Halifax to points westward.

Having said that, as I said before, CN has taken a decision, a private business decision, as it is certainly entitled to do. It is following the regulations of a discontinuance process. It is responsible for track safety.

As I said earlier, the government has not made a decision on that.

Library and Archives CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

February 13th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to pursue a question that I first asked in the House of Commons a few weeks ago, dealing with the legality of the current administration's decision to shut down libraries and dispense with materials.

The stories in the media were deeply disturbing. We heard about the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, for example. These were Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries in particular that attracted a certain amount of media attention, and certainly public outrage and scientists expressing concern.

The shutting down of these libraries was explained on government websites as having to do with the digitalization of material so that we could enter a modern age and not have to rely on papers and books and documents and so on, but could instead go online and look things up. That did not excite a lot of protest.

It was not until the actual physical dismantling of these libraries occurred that the libraries of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were shrunk across Canada and, essentially, according to eyewitness reports, materials from collections were taken to dumpsters and people who had books out on loan were not asked to return them but just held onto them. People who were concerned with the loss of Department of Fisheries and Oceans materials showed up at, say, the Freshwater Institute and helped themselves either to salvage the materials or to benefit from the fact these were available for free.

Someone I know quite well who works with a Manitoba NGO called Manitoba Wildlands saw a private contractor, who does a lot of work for Manitoba Hydro, help himself to large volumes of material that had been put together on behalf of the people of Canada, paid for by the taxpayers of Canada, and then taken into private hands as the libraries were essentially looted before being dismantled.

Those stories prompted my interest. I had certainly been concerned. I knew that the libraries for the Canadian Forest Service had been dismantled. I knew from a retired forester at the time who was concerned that books were disappearing from a library in Victoria. People were very worried about this.

It occurred to me, as I heard of these accumulated stories of libraries being dismantled that this could not be legal. This was material put together for the people of Canada and paid for by the people of Canada.

So I did some research, and the question I asked in the House dealt with the fact that under the Library and Archives of Canada Act there is a specific set of procedures that must be followed. If the materials count as public records, which could certainly have applied to the material in DFO libraries, for instance raw data and things that are not published in multiple copies, those cannot be destroyed without the written consent of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Regarding documents that are called “publications”, with multiple copies, the act is very clear: even if the material is surplus to need, the Library and Archivist must take care and control of that material and dispense with it carefully.

As a matter of fact, the more I looked into it I saw that not only was the Library and Archives Act of Canada being violated in the way these materials were being dealt with, so was the Surplus Crown Assets Act.

I called the current acting Librarian and Archivist of Canada and he let me know by phone that he had not provided a single written consent to the destruction of records. So if there were any records destroyed, that was illegal. And in terms of the care and control of materials, the eyewitness reports suggest that the care and control of materials was simply ignored on the assumption that the government of the day had the power to do away with the documentary heritage of this country. That is what the act calls it, “the documentary heritage”.

I maintain it is illegal. I would like a straight answer from the government.

Library and Archives CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be here this evening. It has been a little while since I have been here for a late show.

I want to be very clear. What the member opposite has stated is absolutely false. It is concerning to me because, to the credit of public servants across the country, they take great care of all the documents that are made available not only to those of us in the House of Commons but also to the Canadian public.

The original materials have been and will be preserved, to answer one of the questions the member opposite had.

As for duplicate materials, some may be made available to the public; others have been disposed of in an environmentally conscious manner, as has been outlined previously in this place.

Information that was available in a library continues to be available online. This is a digital age. We are delighted that the archives and the libraries across the country have been able to digitize many materials so that we have those available to Canadians. And these are actually more accessible to Canadians.

Having grown up in northern Canada, coming to a national archive or to a library in a large central location was something that was unheard of to me. In Fort McMurray, Alberta, there are now these great things called “computers”, and I can look up anything online anywhere in the country, which is fabulous.

So I am delighted that we now have more Canadians and more individuals who have access to this information and in a responsible way, while ensuring that we are taking care of taxpayer dollars.

Library and Archives CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy as well to see my friend the hon. minister back at the late show. Unfortunately, I am not satisfied with the answer received yet again tonight.

Let me just, for the edification of the chamber, read section 16 of the Library and Archives of Canada Act which states:

Despite the Surplus Crown Assets Act, all publications that have become surplus to the requirements of any government institution shall—

It is not “may” but “shall”; it is mandatory.

—be placed in the care or control of the Librarian and Archivist.

There is no evidence based on the eyewitness accounts of the destruction of these libraries that there was any inventory properly taken. Now many of the materials, by the way, coincidentally, have been shipped to the Institute for Ocean Sciences, which is in my riding on West Saanich Road, but they are not yet available. They are still sort of in sarcophagi.

We do not know what was destroyed. There is a mandatory duty on every government to protect the documentary heritage of Canadians. In this case it was not done.

Library and Archives CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, the accusations are false. Original documents have and will be preserved.

Library and Archives CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:17 p.m.)