Kenneth David ATKINSON

ATKINSON, Kenneth David, B.A., LL.B.

Parliamentary Career

November 21, 1988 - September 8, 1993
  St. Catharines (Ontario)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 7 of 17)

May 6, 1992

Mr. Ken Atkinson (St. Catharines):

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the debate that has gone on now.

I have an interest in this matter as my riding borders the seaway. It would be nice if there were enough grain flowing to the east that the seaway and the port of Churchill could be taken care of, but that is not the existing situation at this particular time.

We have to look at the entire transportation system in our part of the country, not consider just one aspect of it in isolation. As I say, it would be great if there were enough grain but there is not at the present time. The projections are that there will not be enough in the future. The seaway is crying out for more grain to go to the east as well. It would be terrific if it happened.

They have been dipping into their reserves for the last few years. They have experienced a downturn in the amount of grain that flows through the seaway. We have heard about the other things that have happened as a result, with portions of the fleet going out to sea and going into other service and whether there will be enough fleet capacity if the grain market should pick up. That is one question which has to be considered in this entire matter as well.

The indication was that the government has not even looked at this particular matter. That is not correct. In order to reassure the parties about this situation, on February 20, 1992 the Minister of Transport announced that the 1992 shipping season would commence on or

Private Members' Business

about July 24 in Churchill, depending of course on local ice and weather conditions.

In addition, the Minister of State for Transport is looking at the entire matter. She is in the process of collecting facts on the rail line, the port and the community. This is what is ongoing. This is what was requested by members of the opposition and the mover of the original motion. This exercise should provide a strong body of information with which future decisions about the facility can be made.

Throughout its modem history the port has essentially been a grain port and therefore in competition with the seaway. It used also to handle bulk imported cargo destined for the prairies until the seventies. The container revolution made this traffic uneconomical.

There are certain features about the port. The 140,000 tonne storage capacity grain elevator is the main feature. The harbour and loading berths can accommodate grain vessels loaded with up to 44,000 tonnes of grain. Open storage and shedded facilities are used for general cargo, and liquid bulk facilities are available for handling petroleum products. The port also has a secondary role in resupply operation to northern communities in the Keewatin district.

We had the opportunity in committee this afternoon to hear from a representative of CN Rail. We were looking at it in terms of moving grain, the seaway, and the general transportation system in eastern Canada. Questions were raised in that committee meeting specifically about the port of Churchill.

Some of the things that came out were interesting. The last speaker indicated that there was a study done and that it should be gone into in more depth. They looked at light rail cars and so on. In response to the questions that were asked, it was indicated that the rail line to Churchill is experiencing rapidly escalating maintenance costs. This is due primarily to dealing with the effects of the degradation of the permafrost on which the line is constructed. In addition to the permafrost portions, the southern portion of the line is in major need of rehabilitation.

One of the factors that the minister of state will take into account in assessing the situation is that the maintenance costs on this line are currently 70 per cent higher than the average cost on the grain branch lines. These permafrost conditions result in a sudden sinking of the track during the thaw in late summer and early fall which

May 6, 1992

Private Members' Business

unfortunately correspond to the grain shipping season. This is the time when the line should be used the most.

The reality is that the occurrence of these sink holes precludes the use of standard grain hopper cars on the route to Churchill due to the instability of these kinds of cars on the rough track. The individual from CN indicated in the committee that they are using older boxcars on this particular line. They are the type of car that is not used on any other line in the system. They are used on the route to Churchill for the short season each year.

One of the questions was: What happens to them the rest of the year? Do they just sit there and rust? That was the response that we got back this afternoon in regard to the port. That is going to have to be taken into account when we look at the entire transportation system of eastern Canada.

In 1990 the business revenue generated by the port's activities was approximately $14.45 million. It represents the revenue of firms and government agencies supplying cargo and vessel services, but excludes the value of cargo shipped through the ports. It is obviously an economic generator to the area and very important. The impact of the port amounted to just under $13.8 million, a half million dollars was direct income earned and approximately $9.3 million was re-spending by the employees. The total impact of the port is $4.7 million.

The port does have land for foreseeable industrial development and it can handle smaller-sized cruise vessels. However, the port facilities will need to be upgraded in order to provide better service for the tourists arriving by water when numbers justify the expenditure. By far the greater number of tourists arrive by rail and air.

The 1991 season was a pivotal year for the port of Churchill. Grain exports of 233,000 tonnes were only one-third the volume needed for break-even on operations. This was the fifth year in a row in which grain exports were insufficient to cover operating costs. Consequently, working capital reserves are now eroded to the point where further financial assistance is required if the facility is to stay open.

Commodities other than grain and re-supply cargo have been transported through Churchill from time to time. For example, some sulphur from Alberta was shipped through Churchill in the 1970s. As well, some exploration and drilling activities in and around Hudson Bay use Churchill as their supply base.

As I mentioned, interest has also been shown by some tour operators in Churchill as a port of call. A few vessels have called, but none in 1991. However, these activities contributed only marginally to the revenue base of Churchill.

The main focus of the port has been on grain. It is in direct competition with the seaway in that particular regard, and the seaway is also having its difficulties. In the past 10 years grain exports averaging 410,000 tonnes per year have contributed approximately 95 per cent of the port's revenue.

There was a substantial operating loss in 1984 and 1985, namely $2 million and $2.7 million respectively, resulting from low grain exports in those two years.

The Canada Ports Corporation approved a rationalization plan to reduce the potential loss in 1986. The rationalization program, coupled with a sharp increase in grain volume in 1986, resulted in an operating profit of $214,000 that year. However, in 1987 the tonnage was down and the port experienced a loss in that year of $342,000. In 1988 a record operating loss of $4.7 million resulting from the small volume of grain exports occurred.

Port working capital at the beginning of 1988 of $7.5 million dwindled by almost half leaving the port with only $4.5 million at the end of 1988. Since 1988 operating expenses have continued to be tightly controlled and the port has been able to reduce expenses by eliminating winter maintenance, laying off employees, and by general reduction.

The situation is that the port of Churchill needs approximately 600,000 tonnes of grain to achieve a break-even position. It would be great if that occurred. It would also be great if the rest of the grain could flow through the seaway and the seaway could show an operating profit. Both of these instances are self-sustaining, and they must continue to be self-sustaining.

May 6, 1992

I welcome the minister of state's examination of the port of Churchill. I am sure she will take into account the seaway and the entire transportation system of eastern Canada, and be fair in her assessment. I know the minister of state, I know that she will be fair and I am sure that the member will get the independent review that he is looking for in the context of the transportation of grain and other commodities in eastern Canada.

Subtopic:   CHURCHILL
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May 4, 1992

Mr. Ken Atkinson (St. Catharines):

Mr. Speaker, the worst fears of our city and region were confirmed on Friday with the news of the death of Kristen Dawn French.

Kristen was a bright outgoing student at Holy Cross High in St. Catharines whose death has brought a very

dark cloud over the entire region. Feelings ranging from sorrow and fear to outrage have enveloped the area. Young women are angered and frightened because they feel they cannot walk anywhere by themselves for fear they could be the next victim.

Kristen's death has brought into focus yet again that all our energies must continue to be directed toward ensuring a safe society for our citizens.

Violence and particularly violence against women cannot continue. We must deal with the causes and effects of this violence.

I join with the other members of the House, Mr. Speaker, in sending our sympathy and that of my family to the French family at this most difficult time.

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March 19, 1992

Mr. Ken Atkinson (St. Catharines):

Mr. Speaker, the recent announcement by General Motors of job cuts was a severe blow to the people of St. Catharines.

The immediate reaction to the news was naturally one of anger, resentment and anxiety about the future of the city as well as a temptation to place blame for the situation. While understandable, these emotions are not going to help our community.

Within days of the announcement there was a meeting of business people, labour leaders and individuals from all levels of government representing the three main political parties. The tone of the meeting was one of commitment to co-operate in trying to find solutions to our economic situation.

It is unfortunate that it took a problem of this magnitude to get everyone to work together, but clearly that is how we will succeed.

St. Catharines has many significant assets, but easily the best is its people. I am confident the citizens of the garden city will prosper in the face of this setback. I know we will all continue to work together to ensure our future success.

Subtopic:   ST. CATHARINES
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March 11, 1992

Mr. Ken Atkinson (St. Catharines):

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, I have the honour to present the second report of the Standing Committee on Transport which deals with the issue of high-speed rail.

We are pleased that we have a unanimous report on this important transportation issue and we appreciate the co-operation and support of all members of the committee.

I believe that the committee's findings and recommendations will make a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the feasibility of high-speed rail service in Canada.

Subtopic:   TRANSPORT
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February 14, 1992

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Atkinson):

I would like to

express to the hon. member for York South-Weston that it was agreed that there would be two speakers from the Liberal side, 10-minute debate and a five-minute question and answer period. The five-minute question and answer period following this member's speech has expired.

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