Mr. Ross Belsher (Fraser Valley East):
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak on the motion of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Forestry. In that this is my maiden speech, I want to say at the outset that I am most pleased and proud to represent the people of the Fraser Valley East constituency in the House. 1 would like to extend to them my sincere appreciation for their expression of faith and confidence in my candidacy. It is a great honour to be their Member of Parliament. I want to assure them that I will spare neither time, talent nor effort in representing them. I give to my constituents my solemn pledge that I will discharge my responsibilities with integrity, honesty and thoughtfulness. It is my intention to be an effective and demanding spokesman in defending their interests. At the same time, I want to assure Members on both sides of the House that I intend to accord to them the courtesy and dignity which befits a Member of Parliament and which the people of Canada rightfully expect.
Fraser Valley East was represented by the Reverend Alex Patterson for over 20 of the last 30 years, and we in the Valley are indebted to him. I am sure all Members of this House will join me in wishing him and his wife a rich and fulfilling retirement.
The riding of Fraser Valley East is large. It is situated between the Fraser River and the international boundary in what is known as the central and upper Fraser Valley. Included in its northern portion is the picturesque mountain region of the Fraser Canyon. The grandeur of the coast and Cascade Mountains, the spectacular canyon and the boiling waters of Hell's Gate, the beauties of the Harrison resort area, and the rich flood plains of the central Fraser Valley, make the riding one of breath-taking splendour. It is indeed a pleasant place in which to live.
Some 110,000 people make their homes in Fraser Valley East. While the largest group-some 50 per cent-are of British descent, we are enriched by the remaining 50 per cent which provide diverse ethnocultural communities. I am proud to represent all of the people. The spirit of fairness and equality, of consultation and consensus, as expressed by this Government, is appreciated by the people in my riding. It is clearly evident that this Government has listened and is listening to the people. We are in a time when the aspiration of the people and the commitment of Government are in harmony. This is the unity which the nation has needed, and that is why there is hope and optimism today.
In this regard, I want to make it known that this Government is not merely saying that it will listen; indeed it is doing so. In the few months since coming to power, the evidence of consultation, consensus-building, and finding solutions through co-operation has clearly been seen.
I want to commend the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Wise) for visiting my riding in November and consulting with the agricultural industry in the Fraser Valley. The visit of the Solicitor General (Mr. MacKay) to my riding in January to hold consultations and hear the concerns of the local officials was much appreciated. The local elected representatives of the people greatly appreciated that consultation.
The geography of Fraser Valley East almost compels a north-south mindset. It seems that California is more accessible than Alberta. Our union with the provinces of Central and Atlantic Canada, which was confirmed 100 years ago by the completion of Canada's first transcontinental railway, has endured the tensions of a century and has engendered in the people a genuine pride in being Canadian.
The transportation links with the other regions of Canada have always been the symbols of unity for the people of my riding. Highway 401 and the mainlines of the CNR and the CPR through the Fraser Canyon traverse my riding for over 150 kilometres. In addition, the Abbotsford Airport serves as an alternative to the Vancouver International Airport.
The people in my riding very clearly understand that transportation systems are the tangible evidence of a united country. Without them the various regions of Canada would soon experience isolation and would be compelled to develop trade patterns in a north-south direction for the sake of economic survival. In this regard, I would like to congratulate the Minister of Transport (Mr. Mazankowski) for the steps he has initiated in bringing back VIA Rail services.
Several bands of natives of the Stalo Nation reside in Fraser Valley East.
The motion which we are debating today came about in an unusual way and quite hastily. Indeed, the motion which was initiated in committee by the Hon. Member for Comox-Powell River (Mr. Skelly), and subsequently amended by the Hon. Member for Davenport (Mr. Caccia), was adopted by the committee after hearing only one group of witnesses representing native bands in the Fraser-Thompson Canyons of British Columbia, who presented their collective and individual concerns about the CN twin-tracking program to the committee on February 7. Although the motion was unanimously adopted, there was mention by some members that other groups, such as Canadian National Railways, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada, should be offered the opportunity to present evidence for the committee's consideration in formulating its position and reporting to the House on the matter in question.
The members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Forestry were obviously moved by the presentations of the native representatives, and in particular by the impending start of CN rail work on a twin-tracking project on the CN Rail Ashcroft subdivision between miles 60 and 69, or thereabouts. This railway work is to start on or about March 1 and will involve placing rock into the wetted perimeter of the riverbank to build up a subgrade on which the second track will be built. Undoubtedly, this early project start date was a principal factor in the committee's consideration in adopting the motion
February 27, 1985
and in the decision to report the matter to the House at the earliest possible date, which was February 12. That was the same day that Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and CN Rail officials appeared to give their testimony to the committee.
To the extent that the motion is now being debated in the House, it serves as evidence that the Government is concerned about the possible environmental, Fishery, social and economic impacts related to the CN twin-tracking work in British Columbia. But the Government has been cognizant of these potential impacts for some time and has set in place various processes to ensure that environmental and other impacts from CN twin-tracking projects would be either eliminated or minimized to the maximum extent possible.
In this regard, I refer to the federal-provincial task force, the technical working group, the steering committee and the federal Government's Environmental Assessment Review Panel, which are all involved with the CN Rail mainline capacity expansion program in British Columbia. Furthermore, and most recently, a joint CN Rail-Indian committee was established to deal with specific native concerns about fishing spots along the Thompson and Fraser riverbanks, access trails to those fishing spots and the heritage sites which might be destroyed or affected by CN construction work.
The point which I am making is that the concerns raised by the native groups were not just recently brought to the attention of the Government by way of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Forestry report and the motion to the House that no processes and mechanisms are in place to deal with the over-all and specific environmental and socio-economic impacts from CN twin-tracking projects. Groups have been in place as far back as 1980, when the CN rail twin-tracking project was introduced.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has the federal responsibility to ensure that the salmon resource is not affected detrimentally by any works, and furthermore, that the salmon habitat and growth of the fishery resource can be enhanced. Testimony received from fisheries officials on February 12 clearly indicated that the expert and scientific expertise that has been and is being brought to bear on CN's project is extensive and that no approvals will be given to CN's project if the risk to the salmon resource is unacceptable.
Many professional fishery and environmental people have been involved. Numerous studies and research activities have been completed and study programs are in place. A lot of dialogue, consultations and deliberations have taken place, many changes have been made to CN designs and much more can be expected along these lines of consultation in the future.
The motion before the House may give an impression that CN twin-tracking work has gone ahead and was being implemented in an irresponsible way as regards environmental and fishery protection and safeguards or that there was a lack of response to the concerns raised by native groups. I hope that
Fisheries and Forestry
my remarks thus far will provide a clarification of the real situation that exists.
I would now like to address the elements of the motion as reported by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Forestry. In doing so, I will be referring to pertinent testimony, in my opinion, which was presented by the witnesses that appeared before the committee on February 12. My purpose, Mr. Speaker, is to cause Hon. Members to recognize the need to reflect further on the motion, on its wording and on what may be implied if indeed CN Rail and others involved were to abide by the several elements contained in the motion.
The first element of the motion calls for a one-year postponement of CN twin-tracking while the social and environmental impacts on the 36 Indian bands most directly impacted by this project are assessed. The first point I wish to make concerning this element of the motion is that it appears to be somewhat vague in terms of application and that it makes no implied or explicit reference to the fact that social and environmental impacts, not only on the native groups but on all persons and interests, have been and will continue to be evaluated by responsible agencies. These evaluations would be done either by the federal Environmental Assessment Review Panel, by the federal-provincial environmental and fishery agencies forming the technical working group, or by the joint CN-Indian committee recently established. These committees, Mr. Speaker, will also concern themselves with all of the CN twin-tracking projects planned in the Thompson-Fraser Canyons over the balance of this century and beyond.
The ambiguity of the element contained in the motion relates to whether the one-year postponement is intended to relate to the specific Ashcroft subdivision work which is scheduled to begin March 1, or to any and all remaining CN Rail twin-tracking projects in the future. The ambiguity arises because the Ashcroft project is along a segment of main line on which only two and not 36 Indian bands have reserves adjacent to the CN right-of-way. These bands are the Oregon Jack Creek Band, whose reserve is located at the northernmost end of the CN Ashcroft project, and the Cook Ferry Band at the southernmost end of the Ashcroft project.
Furthermore, as came out in the evidence presented by Fisheries and Oceans officials, as well as by CN officials, a one-year postponement if intended to apply to the Ashcroft project is effectively a postponement of two years to the winter of 1987. This is due to the fact that CN must commence its Ashcroft project work March 1 when water levels are at seasonal lows and, importantly, due to timing restrictions designed to respect the migratory cycle of pink salmon; that is, there is no salmon activity or life expected in the river encroachment sites this winter to May, 1985. CN will not be permitted by Department of Fisheries officials to do any of the encroachment work next year in the winter of 1986. If the one-year postponement refers to all CN projects, then necessary expansion work already started last year and currently under way to completion at Blue River, for example, will be halted.
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In effect, Mr. Speaker, the one-year postponement of CN twin-tracking is, in reality, a two-year postponement. This delay would affect CN Rail's capacity expansion needs and thereby present risks to the company and the nation that an adequate, efficient and safe rail transportation capability might not be available for shippers and the transport of growing volumes of bulk and other traffic in support of Canada's export business. Furthermore, foreign buyers of Canada's bulk resources, such as coal, grain, potash, sulphur and so on, may take this one or two-year postponement as a signal and reactivate their earlier concerns about Canada's determination and will to demonstrate that our reliability as a supplier of export commodities will be ensured by the railway capacity expansion program and supported by the Government.
Another element of the motion requires that an economic justification for the CN Rail twin-tracking program be made available to the Alliance of Tribal Councils. Hon. Members may recall, and if not, I would like to make them aware, that in the late 1970s the Japanese, the South Koreans and other Pacific Rim countries had been expressing concern that the Canadian railways could not be looked upon as reliable and efficient carriers of various bulk commodities which these offshore countries required and which Canada and its resource industries were most willing to produce and supply. Simply put, these Pacific Rim concerns were justified in that CN and CP railway capacity was being stressed and expansion programs were needed.
The Coal Association of Canada and many other Canadian industries formed a task force on the crisis of western Canadian railway transportation. It was clear at the time that unless the railways undertook a major expansion or a sufficient expansion of their railway capacity, Canada would lose a lot of export business to other competing supplier countries because foreign clients were not interested in buying from Canada if we, collectively, could not assure reliable delivery of coal, sulphur and grains, to name a few important export commodities. Lack of capacity would also affect the operating efficiency of the over-all distribution system, including the ports and railway components. This would be reflected in higher transport costs and Canadian commodity prices.
The question of economic justification of twin-tracking on a project-by-project basis is also a very complex matter which involves not just construction costs but railway system operating and maintenance needs and other factors. The CN testimony indicated that the economics of any particular twin-tracking project is but one consideration in the over-all decision to first choose the location of the particular expansion work and then to decide the best option to build the new capacity, be it encroachment into a river or by tunnelling.
These decision elements, as pointed out by CN in its testimony, have not been unilateral decisions by the corporation. Preliminary conclusions on project location are fully analysed and thence the preliminary construction approach is extensively reviewed and adjusted by the various technical experts in the Government's environmental, fishery and other agencies
through the aforementioned committee. That is, although the economics of any one project are important, the environmental impacts and the fishery impacts are equally important factors considered in finalizing a twin-tracking project location and design.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, one can accept the motion before the House as a means for bringing forward a valid concern of the members of the Fisheries and Forestry Standing Committee. However, as the motion was drafted and adopted by the Committee after hearing only one interest group as witnesses, the motion does not reflect, in my view, the equally valid and considerable testimony to the Committee from witnesses appearing after the motion was reported to the House. While it may be that there could have been some breakdown or some inadequacy in specific consultations between the native peoples and CN and other agencies, I suggest that measures are now being taken to remedy the situation. We have reasonable assurances from the Environment Canada witness that the environmental assessment and review report, expected in March, has identified the consultation level question as an issue and will address this and the related recommendations in its report. I can say to the House that our Minister of Transport (Mr. Mazankowski) will ensure that CN will make the greatest efforts possible to resolve the issue of inadequate consultation with native groups in the conduct of its twintracking program.
Moreover, Mr. Speaker, earlier this afternoon we heard that the Minister of Transport will be meeting, along with other Ministers, with the native people, bringing to a successful conclusion their concern, yet addressing the issues which they are bringing to our minds.
Subtopic: FISHERIES AND FORESTRY