Mr. Chairman, other than a brief sortie into the question period last Friday this also is the first time I have attempted to inflict any words of wisdom on the members of the House of Commons.
As is traditional, I am very tempted to take this opportunity to tell in detail of the many attractions of my riding of Port Arthur and of northwestern Ontario. I am also tempted to try to enlist support for the solution of all the problems of that area, and these are many.
However, I will resist that temptation to cover so much ground until some later date, and will attempt to concentrate on one major field related to the subject under discussion. It seems to me appropriate that, on debate of the Department of Transport estimates, the member for Port Arthur should air his views on a matter of importance, concern and quite extreme emergency to his constituents. I make no apology for the fact that much of what I have to say will be repetitious, some of it already having been mentioned during the course of this debate, but it is sufficiently serious and urgent that I think it bears repetition.
I am referring to the recent alarming developments in one of the most significant fields of transport, the serious dissipation of the
railway passenger services of this country. I feel sure I will be supported in my remarks, at least in principle, by members in all parts of the chamber, and especially by my colleagues from neighbouring constituencies, the hon. member for Fort William and the hon. member for Kenora-Rainy River.
All present here, and many throughout the country, are aware of the existence of a fairly comprehensive survey of the railway transportation system of Canada. Like others,
I have had the opportunity to study and review in fair detail the report of the Royal Commission on Transportation. This published survey, known also as the MacPherson report, in volume 1, beginning on page 43, makes very special mention of the problem of passenger services. Essentially the royal commission report appears to contain these observations, to reach these conclusions, and to make certain recommendations.
The key observations are:
"First passenger services are clearly one aspect of rail operation which is uneconomic, taken as a whole."
The second is that the railways have a-
-"continuing need of revenues to cover deficits incurred because of the apparent inability of railway management to slough off the historical, traditional and institutional obligation to provide passenger services."
The third key observation is that the revenue to cover such deficits is-
"a burden which at present must be borne by the users of rail freight services."
The key conclusions of the MacPherson report with regard to passenger services are, first:
Railways must eventually withdraw all uneconomic rail passenger services subject to similar time limitations imposed in connection with the abandonment of uneconomic plant.
Immediate and abrupt withdrawal of rail passenger services where they are unprofitable would cause dislocations far outweighing the advantages to be gained.
The key recommendations are that elimination of uneconomic passenger services be proceeded with over a period of five years, and that since those five years could be long enough to have serious consequences for those freight shippers already burdened with high freight rates and the possibility of further increases in freight rates-
-the government of Canada should, in the interests of the nation as a whole, absorb in declining measures-for a period of five years-this most substantial of all obligations now incumbent upon railway management.
To the extent that there remain after this five year period rail passenger services operating at a loss, but essential because of a lack of alternate surface transportation, it shall be the responsibility of the nation to bear the burden of that loss.
Mr. Chairman, this railway administration, railway efficiency problem, is one of the more complicated and difficult facing the nation internally today.
One cannot argue too much with the validity of the statement that passenger service is uneconomic as a direct return on direct railway investment.
One cannot argue at all about the disadvantages to the economy, and to shippers of freight, inherent in the railways' apparent practice of spreading the passenger service loss over freight rates. Most certainly this is iniquitous to the shippers, and to customers and end-consumers and users of shipped goods.
One cannot really argue with the desire of railway management to operate profitably and, in their eyes, efficiently.
[DOT] (7:30 p.m.)
Perhaps in the long term, at some distant future date, the recommended withdrawal from uneconomic passenger service may be the right answer; but even assuming the logic of the eventual withdrawal of such services, which is more than I would care to assume at this stage, there are many considerations of timing, degree and method that must first be resolved before irrevocable action can be taken. There are many interlocking and related problems of both a social and economic nature that must be carefully analysed before even the beginning of this drastic policy of mass abandonment should be condoned or permitted.
In terms of timing, there are areas and regions in this country, which are so sparsely settled with so many isolated communities, where adequate alternative passenger transportation is simply not available and does not yet exist. Let us make no mistake about this that the lack of transportation, including specifically the movement of people, is still a very major economic and social barrier to the development of Canada toward its potential. As is characteristic of so many other aspects, there are vast differences in the transportation needs of the many regions and sub regions of our nation.
A policy such as the elimination of the "Dominion" passenger train by the C.P.R.
might not be so drastic in the highly developed areas such as the "golden horseshoe" around Toronto or Montreal, but it could be and is most dangerous when applied to areas like northwestern Ontario and western Canada. In these underdeveloped and underpopulated sections our crying need is for more access transportation, not less, and the elimination of passenger train service is not progress to us, but regression. It could cause our regional economy to go backwards, not forward, and for us at the very best this action is very much premature. So timing and degree in a matter like this is vital.
As to method, surely the MacPherson report or the authors thereof did not anticipate or condone even the beginning of implementation of the withdrawal of passenger train services on a national scale before all the related problems could reasonably be analysed and answers worked out; but with the abandonment of the "Dominion", in particular, that withdrawal is being proceeded with at a rapid pace.
In fact, Mr. Chairman, at the pace of abandonment of railway passenger train service by the C.P.R., the discussion or study of railway policy at some future date by this house or by its transportation committee may be academic. The C.P.R. has already eliminated half of its transcontinental train operation, and certainly all the signs point to the dumping of the "Canadian" at the earliest opportunity. If the C.P.R. is permitted to proceed as it is now proceeding, this house and its transportation committee will soon be facing an already accomplished fact, particularly when it attempts to deal with the royal commission on transportation.
To make sure of all this the C.P.R. appears to be embarking on a deliberate policy of not replacing its passenger train capital equipment as it wears out, and in many ways is making its passenger service so expensive, so inconvenient and so unattractive that people will get the message which simply is: Stay away; don't ride with us we don't want you.
The stories of increased fares, of peculiar space reservation tactics, of deteriorating equipment, of frequent delays and so on are being heard on every side, and several of these have been related to some degree in this house by members of all parties. No, there cannot be much doubt that the C.P.R. is jumping the gun and is not waiting for the total study that is so necessary in regard to-this most serious and major matter.
By instinct, by training and by experience I lean toward the premise that the government should be very cautious about undue interference with business and private enterprise. By the same token, although the C.P.R. is ostensibly a private enterprise company, it is dealing in a national service and has had very considerable national assistance. Its actions gravely influence the national economy. It is by nature a utility, and this has already been recognized in principle by the Railway Act and by the creation and jurisdiction of the Board of Transport Commissioners. So, more than any other private corporation, it is answerable to the public and to this house.
I suggest that we are entitled to interfere when the national interest is threatened, and it is my opinion, as a result of recent action on the part of the C.P.R., that the national interest is being threatened. Most certainly there is sufficient evidence of public concern to justify our demanding a great deal more information and answers than we have had so far in respect of this railway problem. We have heard no real details from the C.P.R. about its program for the protection of C.P.R. employees who are being or are about to be transferred or displaced, ultimately and potentially by the hundreds. We have heard no suggestions from any source as to what happens to the smaller railway towns and communities such as Schreiber, White River, Kenora and others. What will happen to the small storekeepers, hotel owners and the dozens of other small businessmen who are locked into investments so dependent upon the trade of railway employees who may not be there much longer in many of these towns? Surely this is public business.
We have now experienced in my constituency of Port Arthur, and indeed throughout northwestern Ontario, the fear, the insecurity and the anxiety of so many people who do not know what lies ahead, but who, perhaps with real reason, anticipate the worst. This is not only public business, I consider it to be my very personal business. All these considerations and many more are pertinent to what appears to railway executives to be only a straightforward matter of railway corporate profits or losses.
The performance, profit-wise, of the C.P.R. and C.P.I. and its subsidiaries and associated companies in connection with its responsibility to its shareholders, has not been bad.
The continuation of passenger service will not in the immediate future threaten the C.P.R.'s corporate existence, particularly if a
reasonable compromise solution is worked out in the near future in terms of the nation absorbing some of the passenger losses so that freight services do not subsidize passenger service. Surely the C.P.R. can be reasonably expected to be patient. This is not so simple a problem that it can be dealt with as just one of immediate corporate profits or losses. This requires study, and the time to study it thoroughly.
The appeal of the ruling of the Board of Transport Commissioners, allowing the C.P.R. abandonment of the "Dominion", will be heard by the cabinet soon. Incidentally it seems peculiar, to say the least that in spite of the knowledge of this pending appeal the transport board the day before yesterday proceeded to let the C.P.R. eliminate even the summer run of the "Dominion".
It has also been suggested that the transportation committee of this house should sit down with C.P.R. management to get a clear-cut picture of their forward plans regarding passenger train service.
[DOT] (7:40 p.m.)
Surely until this has been done and until the MacPherson report has been fully aired and dealt with, together with all the related problems, and until a consensus of this nation has been formally reached and identified, it is reasonable to ask that the C.P.R. should itself delay any further dissipation of its passenger service and indeed even reverse its decision regarding the "Dominion".
In the absence of this voluntary action by the C.P.R., which I realize we might be extremely naive to expect, I can assure the government that a decision by it, if necessary through this house, to disallow the Board of Transport Commissioners ruling regarding the "Dominion" would be extremely well received in the Port Arthur riding and, I suggest, throughout all of western Canada.
With this type of moratorium it would then be possible to deal rationally and objectively with the whole railway program and its interlocking relationship with all segments of our nation and its people, through the house transportation committee and then the house itself, in full consultation with railway management and the railway unions. Failing that, Mr. Chairman, I anticipate-if I judge the mood of the people correctly-that the C.P.R. will face the toughest and most militant union resistance in its long history during the next contract negotiations.
I further anticipate that the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transportation will, when they are dealt with, find many of the members of this house from all parties and the people of Canada in a pretty ugly mood, beamed particularly toward the Canadian Pacific Railway.
After all, the people of this country through huge grants of land and money gave this company its start and provided it with many assets that have always been highly profitable.
The C.P.R. has an obligation to this nation, and through the medium of this house and its attendant publicity I call upon this company to recognize and honour that debt by showing a great deal more patience and national responsibility, or alternatively perhaps this debt should be paid by returning to the people in full current measure those original grants.
Topic: DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT