Mr. Douglas Fisher (Mississauga North):
Mr. Speaker, I like the idea behind this bill and I congratulate the hon. member for Chateauguay (Mr. Watson) for introducing it and for bringing to our attention once again the need to provide protection when a railroad line is abandoned and new uses for the land have to be found.
I come from Mississauga. Since last November, naturally everyone from Mississauga takes considerable interest in railroads and their behaviour, not just in the potential for dangerous accidents but also in the much broader question of good neighbourliness between these large corporations and the local municipality.
As a representative from a large eastern urban riding I particularly enjoyed the examples which the member from Chateauguay presented. I would like to read his explanatory note and put it on the record again. It states:
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. Too often in the past sections of abandoned railways have been sold and buildings erected on the abandoned portion with the result that potential future uses such as urban transit or bicycle, pedestrian or snowmobile trails have been effectively blocked. The proposed bill would safeguard the long-term public
Abandoned Rights of Way
interest for both rapid transit and recreational uses of abandoned rail lines and railway rights of way.
As I mentioned, I like the idea of this bill. It proposes that we set up an authority which would advise the governor in council on the disposition of abandoned railway lines. Surprisingly, there is now no official advisory body on this question despite the wide range of regulatory and advisory bodies now in existence, not to mention government departments themselves. Despite all of this, the governor in council does not have some official source of advice on the disposition of abandoned railway property.
Not that the Railway Act is silent on the question of railway lands, or for that matter on the question of abandonment. The Railway Act offers literally dozens of pages dealing with the ways in which the railways may acquire and use lands.
The act contains extensive provisions dealing with applications by railways to the Canadian Transport Commission to abandon a branch line on the grounds that it is uneconomic, and the subsequent procedure, which is long, sensitive and complicated.
What happens when a line is abandoned? To be precise, section 106 of the act refers, not to the abandonment of the line itself, but to the abandonment of operations on a line. The railway must be granted permission to abandon operations on a line, but once that is granted, the jurisdiction of the CTC and of the federal government ceases, even though the track remains. From then on, the railway is empowered to, and 1 quote section 102(1):
-alienate, sell or dispose of, any lands or property of the company that for any reason have become not necessary for the purposes of the railway.
This power of disposal applies even to lands given by the Crown, with the exception of Crown lands entrusted to CN under section 19 of the CNR Act. In this special case, the land reverts to the Federal Land Management Committee for a recommendation on disposition. I note that Bill C-221 does not make mention of this special situation.
When federal jurisdiction ceases, it would seem that municipal jurisdiction is left to fill the gap with respect to land use. Although I admire the need for sensitivity as expressed by the hon. member for Chateauguay, I also feel we should continue to leave in the hands of the municipalities the final decisions on land use.
Abandoned rights of way are, unfortunately, not easy things to dispose of. In agricultural areas, farmers are often not eager to take the land as it consists largely of gravel and ballast. New roads are sometimes laid across the right of way leaving short, narrow sections of land too small for commercial development or unattractive for recreational use. In the absence of maintenance by the railway, drainage becomes a problem, and more often than not the right of way becomes an overgrown, neglected loss.
I am sympathetic with the need for sensitivity in our disposal of these lands, but it seems that a municipality and a local authority are best able to deal with these concrete problems.
October 24, 1980
Abandoned Rights of Way
The municipality has the authority and the expertise to handle land use planning within its boundaries. In most cases, the disposition of title to the land is up to the railways, which may sell to the province or private interests as well as to the municipality.
The next step, the use of the land, is the proper decision of the municipality. At the moment, as this bill states, the governor in council does not receive any official advice on the disposition of railway lines. The authority proposed in this bill would perform that function.
There are certain technical aspects to this bill and I would like to comment on some of these specific provisions. I am interested in the rationale for the membership of the proposed authority. First, an employee of the Canadian Transport Commission provides valuable knowledge of the history of the rail line up to abandonment. However, the role of the commission as a regulatory agency is quite strictly circumscribed by law. Participation of one of its employees on a separate statutory body such as the authority could cause problems. Speaking without the benefit of legal advice, I wonder if this participation might require amendment to either the Railway Act or the National Transportation Act.
Second, an employee of the Department of Transport, while raising less of a legal problem, might not be in a position to contribute a great deal in individual cases of abandoned lines. The federal government does have a program of urban transportation assistance, but the determination of priorities with respect to individual operations is left to the provinces and the municipalities. Therefore, the reference here to use for rapid transit would have to come within that context. Third, while the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is included, appropriate representation might also come from Parks Canada, which now reports through the Department of the Environment.
Under the bill, the authority is established to advise the governor in council on, among other things, "the acquisition of title to any abandoned railway line or railway right of way determined by the Canadian Transport Commission to be either abandoned or unlikely to be used for railway purposes in the future".
This responsibility creates difficulties in connection with the CTC's mandate. As described above, the CTC simply makes a decision as to the abandonment of the operation of a railway line. Despite the implication of this section, the CTC makes no judgment on the future of the land itself. The reference to acquisition of title raises yet another problem, repeated later in the bill, of funding. While not explicitly stated, there is a hint that the authority might recommend purchase of some abandoned rights of way by the federal government. This, of course, is a matter that could be clarified.
On the question of the CTC being requested for particulars of abandoned lines, I am advised by the commission that no further records are maintained once operations on a line are approved for abandonment.
Finally, the requirement for a one year's notice of abandonment could work both ways. At present the absolute minimum is three months, and six months, and six months is quite normal, so there is a certain amount of notice under the existing system. There might, however, be situations where quick abandonment would be desirable, in which case the requirement contained in the bill would then become a handicap and not an aid.
I see merit in this bill. The bill makes it clear that careful thinking should be done on the future of abandoned rights of way. However, the question remains, how can this best be done? Each part of the country has unique problems and unique opportunities. In September when the Standing Committee on Transport, of which I am a member, travelled through the maritimes, we heard submissions about the use of abandoned land. In my constituency of Mississauga North our city has a well-developed planning department which undoubtedly prefers to become involved when new land use opportunities are opened up.
It seems to me that the most productive approach to this question would be a reliance on local level decisions. That should not, of course, preclude provincial or federal participation on an advisory basis. The consultative process between levels of government and orders of government is now a fact of life. The key question is whether we need to formalize or enshrine in legislation a special body to deal into this question. In an area like this I am convinced that specific problems can be solved locally with good will, co-operation and imaginative thinking between all three levels of government.
It seems to me that the author of this bill, the hon. member for Chateauguay, has raised an important topic. We need to find ways to make railroads and municipalities better neighbours; we in my area know that well.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to comment on this bill. I would like also to congratulate its author for an important start on this interesting question.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: ABANDONED RAILWAY LINES ACT