March 16, 1979

PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS

ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT


The House resumed consideration of the motion of Mr. Watson that Bill C-221 respecting the establishement of an authority to conserve abandoned railway lines in Canada be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications.


LIB

Ian Watson

Liberal

Mr. Ian Watson (Laprairie):

Mr. Speaker, I was in the

process of giving some reasons why, in the event-

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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?

Some hon. Members:

Can we call it five o'clock?

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

James Alexander Jerome (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Order, please. When we were summoned to the Senate we were in private members' hour. The hon. member for Laprairie (Mr. Watson) had the floor. Private members' hour is scheduled to continue until five o'clock, so the hon. member for Laprairie should continue.

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

Ian Watson

Liberal

Mr. Watson:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When we were interrupted I was in the process of indicating that if this bill which I have proposed today and which deals with abandoned railway lines is not going to be passed by the House, there is nevertheless a necessity for the government to act now and I want to take this opportunity to urge certain action upon the government.

CNR is the only one of the two national railways that takes a reasonable attitude toward railway lines. They at least offer these abandoned railway lines to the provinces; the CPR does not even bother to do that, but I should point out the CNR's position. This is a position they indicated was their policy two or three years ago. It reads:

Once abandonment of a line has been approved by the Canadian Transport Commission, salvageable materials are removed, such as bridges, tracks and ties, and steps taken to dispose of the land and remaining improvements. Attempts are made to dispose of the property en bloc to government bodies or agencies, such as provincial or local municipal governments and provincial hydro commissions. In the absence of interest on their part and on the part of public utilities, such as Bell Telephone, steps are then taken to dispose of the land to adjoining owners. In every case we endeavour to get market value for the lands involved.

Experience has shown that even the one year notice the authority would receive from the railway before the railway would be able to divest itself of any section of an abandoned railway, which my proposed bill suggests, is not adequate. Upon reflection, we will need a period of up to about five year before a railway should be allowed to dispose of such an abandoned right of way. This is not an excessive period when one considers the length of time we take to iron out conflicts between different levels of government. If one is caught in a situation where the land is offered to a province and one provincial department cannot make up its mind and the matter is referred back to some federal department, and so it goes to a

March 16, 1979

Railways

second federal department, two or three years can be used up very quickly.

If we cannot pass a bill like this quickly what should be done in the interval is for the government to initiate a new procedure for dealing with abandonment of railway lines or rights of way with the railway committee of the Canadian Transport Commission.

Without being totally specific with my recommendation as to what they should do, the principle would be that they make sure no section is alienated or sold, or in any way disposed of without allowing for an exhaustive examination of alternative public uses. I have already gone over these alternative uses. Whether it is rapid transit or various forms of imaginative recreational uses, and more and more of them are being suggested all the time, we should give the public-whether it is through the provincial government, through the federal government, through the municipal governments or through local societies or clubs-plenty of time to decide what they can do with this land usefully and inexpensively.

1 would hope that if we cannot come to any conclusion on this bill today, at the very least the member of parliament who will be responding on behalf of the Minister of Transport (Mr. Lang) will be able to indicate in a positive way that the government will give consideration to making such a suggestion to the railway committee of the Canadian Transport Commission.

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

Marcel Ostiguy

Liberal

Mr. Marcel Ostiguy (Saint-Hyacinthe):

Mr. Speaker, I should like also to contribute a few remarks concerning Bill C-221, an Act to provide for the establishment of an authority to conserve abandoned railway lines in Canada. This bill suggests a number of objectives which are indeed commendable and worthwhile, but I am not sure that the means it proposes to reach them are the most effective.

In a number of cases, I am sure that the rights-of-way of railway lines which will be abandoned have great potential as rapid transit or recreational areas. I am sure also that other railway lines would not be appropriate at all. In my opinion, many different groups should look into alternative uses for the rights-of-way of railway lines which will be abandoned. Mr. Speaker, I feel any organization would have difficulty dealing with all the groups which would like to buy these tracts of land made available through the suspension of railway service.

Think about who should have priority on the choice, who should get that land? Should it go to recreational agencies in rural municipalities, to service clubs? For example, one could think that an optimist club might want to acquire land, one could think about any organization except municipalities which would want to acquire land. I think it would be very difficult for the Authority, as is being suggested in this bill, to make a decision on applications that would be made. Its seems, Mr. Speaker, the advisory authority set up under this bill

would be dealing with this problem but with no indication as to how it should weigh the various interests. Nothing provides for the participation of the provinces or municipalities in the decision-making process. Nor is there any list of criteria to assess the proposed uses. The bill does not even recognize that it might be necessary to treat railway lines differently whether they are located in town or in the country.

I wonder whether, instead of dealing in this bill with abandoned railway lines, it would not be more desirable or more useful to think about further improving the commuter train system even if for some reason railway companies should abandon certain routes. I think that in a bill like this we should rather be urging the railways to maintain the services they are now providing in terms of commuter trains. And I might also point out that many projects have been considered on the south shore of Montreal as well as in the area of Deux-Montagnes and the area of Valleyfield with respect to providing fast commuter trains. Among those projects, one went from the city of St. Hyacinthe, the riding I have the honour to represent in the House of Commons, and one which called upon the government to pay some $62 million, of course, under agreements with the government of the province of Quebec.

I quote a resolution from the city council of Mont-Saint-Hilaire asking the government of Quebec whether it intends to join the commuter trains with the public transit system of the Montreal area, second, asking for an immediate meeting between the provincial and federal departments concerned by that problem to discuss and solve as rapidly as possible the jurisdictional problem facing them; and third, asking the railway company to maintain commuter trains and to suspend or to defer the 50 per cent increase in its rates until such a meeting has taken place between the various levels of government.

Mr. Speaker, I shall deal a moment with the problems faced by towns and municipalities on the south shore in the suburbs of Montreal. Of course, there are dormitory towns such as Mont Saint-Bruno, Beloeil, Mont Saint-Hilaire, Otterburn Park and I go as far as the town of Saint-Hyacinthe, with a population of close to 200,000, half of which must go to Montreal each morning and come back each evening, and where it has become almost unthinkable to go by normal ways, namely the road network, given the bridge system we have to cross over to Montreal island. I think it would be really time to establish a rapid transit system.

I listened recently to a report on the operations of the GO Transit train in the Toronto suburbs. In passing, the Quebec government and its transport minister should note that it would be a good idea for them to go and see what is going on in Toronto and the suburbs. It would be a good idea for them to send a team of experts to study the services available to those who want to travel to the Queen City. According to this report, the federal government does not subsidize the deficits of Toronto commuter trains. They are financed by the Ontario

March 16, 1979

government, and the system is so advanced that deficits have been virtually eliminated.

1 believe that if the Quebec government went to the trouble of studying the system available to Toronto suburbanites, and since the federal government is always prepared to grant $60 or $62 million for such services, it would have every advantage in trying to instal such a system on existing lines instead of abandoning them and perhaps transferring them, as suggested in Bill C-221, to the responsibility of the province, the municipalities or non-profit organizations.

Mr. Speaker, as stated in this bill, the advisory board is not empowered to apply any of the decisions that it makes. It is also not empowered to take possession of land or to hand it over. I can only advise the government about railway matters, and it seems to me that ordinary citizens have other means to express their opinion besides this bill which I find ineffective. The provinces have the powers required to take over, by expropriation if need be, any line that they want to use as a transportation corridor. Under the authority of the municipal affairs department of each province, the municipalities can also expropriate if required.

According to our experience of line abandonment in the prairie provinces, we believe that in most cases, the best alternative would be to offer the land to the owner of the adjacent property. The procedure used is therefore generally to make the first offer to such people. Elowever, to protect the public interest, provincial and municipal authorities hold priority if they have concrete projects for using railway rights-of-way. With regard to rights-of-way on Indian reserves, their priority interest is also considered. Maybe we will also have to decide to abandon railways lines but we must undertake studies before, as I said earlier, with a view to determining whether the province or railway companies with the support of the federal government could use those railways for rapid commuter trains.

In order to facilitate the transfer of land to the last landlords, the federal government has concluded an agreement with the railway companies for the transfer of most road beds which will be abandoned in the prairie provinces. So provincial committees have been set up to select the lines which local and provincial governments want and whose transfer they are prepared to facilitate. The federal government intends to transfer immediately the lands to the municipalities concerned or to the landowners of their choice. But on that point, Mr. Speaker, I strongly support the transfer to the Crown of all lands belonging to the federal government or to provincial governments. I believe that those lands should go back to the municipalities which are most able to use them and which best know the needs of their citizens and also the best ways to use those lands and those very old buildings. The proceeds of the sale of those lands will help compensate municipalities for any fiscal income they stand to lose.

Railways

Of course, municipalities have certainly lost tax revenues, and if we ever decided to use these buildings or railroads for other purposes, municipalities might then levy taxes on those buildings. The objects of that bill, Mr. Speaker, are perfectly in keeping with this approach to the issue. If a province considers that the site of a railroad might be used as a transportation corridor or for electric lines, it may submit a proposal to the special ad hoc provincial committee and be willing to pay a reasonable price for the land.

Likewise, groups interested to use abandoned road beds for recreative purposes can submit their proposal to the municipalities concerned. When two or more proposals are submitted for using the same road bed the municipality should have the last word. The residents directly concerned by the project will have a say in the decision through municipal representatives, rather than some remote organization in Ottawa. Mr. Speaker, we might also use organizations already in place like the union of municipalities and the union of district councils. Those organizations might certainly study the use of those railroads or lands abandoned as a result of technological developments.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, again I wish to congratulate the hon. member for having presented this bill. Of course, we share his concerns as regards the problems he has raised. However, we approach them in a different way, and the government considers that the provisions of this bill will not really meet its objectives. It recommends what it considers the most efficient and sensible approach, the one I just mentioned. Mr. Speaker, this is about all I had to say concerning this bill, my remarks were very short, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of the implementation of a railway system that would be really efficient and really beneficial to the residents of the Saint-Hyacinthe riding, and all south shore.

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

Joseph Gaston Isabelle

Liberal

Mr. Gaston Isabelle (Hull):

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak about Bill C-221 as I consider it an extremely interesting measure. I must thank its sponsor, the hon. member for Laprairie (Mr. Watson) as it deals to a certain extent with public transport. I fail to see why, in as modern a society as ours, which for years has been struggling with rapid transit problems, especially in densely and moderately populated cities, such means as are suggested in this bill cannot be used to improve the transit system. To my mind, that is extremely important. A few years ago, though I do not know much about transportation, 1 spent some time looking into the problem in urban areas. And in medicine, one often makes a rather quick diagnosis when a patient comes to the office.

I soon found out that transportation in our cities, whether it be Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal or even Ottawa-Hull, is really sick. So, I shall prescribe one means of rapid public transit, a sort of monorail. A monorail of about a mile and a half should have been built, on a trial basis, in this area since this is the national capital; the Department of Transport

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March 16, 1979

Railways

and the government are here; so money should have been available to those who wanted to carry out that project.

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

Roderick Blaker

Liberal

Mr. Blaker:

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order-I am incorrectly advised. I apologize.

[ Translation]

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
Permalink
LIB

Denis Éthier (Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ethier):

Order, please. The hon. member for Hull has the floor.

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

Joseph Gaston Isabelle

Liberal

Mr. Isabelle:

Mr. Speaker, this is a false alarm. As I said, the Canadian government, through its agencies, should have made money available to the promoters of rapid transit between downtown Hull and Ottawa. I remember at the time a number of experts, even international ones, came to the area to brief me on the development of such a system. The proposal was to use former CNR and CPR tracks, since they were already available, would entail no expropriation, but rather would allow experimenting on a new transit system. I am referring to the Safege system, the overhead monorail operating somewhat like an inverted Hovercraft. It is protected from the elements, very fast, very light and can move thousands of people every day for the cost of a single nickel or dime. But I cannot understand as I said that in an area like Canada's National Capital, the heart and soul of the whole Canadian nation, a few cents cannot be spent on experiments in public transit. Certainly, in Ottawa and Hull, the downtown areas in both cases are ideally suited for that type of transport. Indeed, mention was made of that possibility, back in 1968 I believe, but apparently no one in the Department of Transport did anything about it. I do not remember who was there at the time, all I know is that the suggestion was dropped. So I would like once more to commend the hon. member for Laprairie (Mr. Watson) for putting forward this bill to provide for the establishment of a commission to preserve abandoned railway lines in Canada. I feel they could be used in Canadian towns to

do what I just referred to, rapid transit for medium to high density urban centres.

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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LIB

Prosper Boulanger

Liberal

Mr. Prosper Boulanger (Mercier):

Mr. Speaker, I regret I have only a few minutes left to speak to such an important bill, namely Bill C-221 introduced by my distinguished and hon. colleague for Laprairie who, in the process of drafting this bill, must certainly have carried out very extensive research and studies in order to come up with such a well substantiated and well explained bill. This is what leads me to draw your attention to the explanatory note.

Mr. Speaker, it is said that there is an increasing awareness in Canada of the potential for rapid transit or recreational use of abandoned railway lines or unused railway rights-of-way. As a matter of fact, in Montreal a few weeks ago, Mr. Speaker, we attended a meeting of the mayors of the municipalities of the Montreal area and the president of that organization, Mayor Jean Corbeil of the city of Anjou, was referring to the serious problems of public transportation and in particular railway transportation on the north and south shore into and out of Montreal, and also between Mirabel and Montreal. At that time, I recall the Minister of Justice (Mr. Lalonde) said that we had over $60 million set aside for the Montreal island municipalities to be used for upgrading the public transportation system. So the issue is not then the removal of rails but rather the improvement of the service, of the cars and transportation in general so that the fares will be lower. We had agreed, that is to say the government in the person of the Minister of Justice, to contribute up to an amount of-

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
Permalink
LIB

Denis Éthier (Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ethier):

Order, please. The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. It being five o'clock, this House stands adjourned until Monday next, at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 2(1).

At 5 p.m. the House adjourned, without question put, pursuant to Standing Order.

Monday, March 19, 1979

Topic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Subtopic:   ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES CONSERVATION ADVISORY AUTHORITY ACT
Sub-subtopic:   MEASURE TO CONSERVE ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES
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March 16, 1979