Sunday, July 06, 2008

 

BCRail's 5-year sucker-punch clause

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Anonymous North Van's Grumps said...

Chorus:"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." -Act 4, Scene 1, MacBeth, William Shakespeare

Chorus of BC Liberals: "Lets hear Seventy-seven cheers for BC Rail sale to CN Rail.... for a dollar." - Kevin Falcon.

Backgrounder: By July 14, 2008 CN Rail will have been in possession of running their railcars over BC Rails [for 4 years]. And in many cases "over" has included off of the tracks.

Only now, as we approach the five year deadline, a sinister plot is finally emerging, one that was conceived to prepare the public to accept the fact that running a railway is a dangerous and expensive proposition, especially when environmental damage is done.

The penalty to CN Rail? They must purchase the environmentally damaged rail line for a Dollar!

Page 10559 of Hansard:

J. MacPhail: [Leader of the Opposition]

....[1540]


I want to ask about this $1 land sale and the first nations. We know, actually, that the view of northerners about the single greatest impediment to economic growth is it's the failure to settle land claims — the single greatest impediment — so the settlement of land claims is actually extremely important.

We know from the leaked parts of the deal that the government claims they can sell land for $1. The government claims to have been fulfilling their duty to consult with first nations. We know that is being challenged hugely by the first nations. The revitalization agreement has a clause that the first nations have seen — a clause that allows the government to give publicly owned B.C. Rail land to CN for $1.

The Liberals — and I heard the minister say it again today — have said that in this case, if CN contaminates any land with an environmental spill and the government is upset about that, they can force ownership of the polluted land on CN. Actually, before the government changes to the Waste Management Act, that responsibility would have rested with CN regardless. This government, of course, has weakened the environmental protection language. They are saying: "Oh, if that CN has a spill, we can force them to buy the land for a buck."

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Hon. K. Falcon: No, I'm just suggesting that it might be one avenue where the member can answer this.

What I will point out is that the province requested and specifically put in this provision because this provision allows the province, at our sole discretion — that is the legal language — an option to force CN to take ownership of abandoned rights-of-way if the railway operations are discontinued.

Let's talk about that for a minute. If that was going to happen…. We know, of course, that they can't discontinue it for the first five years of the agreement, because that's part of the agreement. After that, if they applied for discontinuance through the Canada Transportation Act, if no short-line operator stepped forward that was prepared to operate on that discontinued portion of the track and if the province has exhausted all the options available to it for land disposition…. Remember, we are the owner of the railbed and right-of-way. This is another one of the great advantages of why we wanted to maintain public ownership — because we have those options to work with first nations, to work with local government, to work with the private sector, looking at what options we have available.

One thing I would underscore to the member and one thing she's quite incorrect about is that we would always respect our constitutional obligations with respect to first nations prior to engaging in a transfer of any discontinued track lands. That would automatically trigger our obligations, and we would — as we have done and always will do — fulfill our constitutional obligations to first nations.

The reasons why the province might want CN to take ownership relate…. I used the environment as an example. The member is quite right. If there is an environmental spill, there are agencies of government that deal with the immediate impact of that spill.

[1545]

There are other issues where we want to make sure that future taxpayers and future governments are protected. If there is, over the course of the use of the train over a certain line, some significant remediation costs that were never considered at the time — who knows what those could be; who knows what they might be hauling in 30, 40, 50 years? — it does allow the province, at its sole discretion, to ensure that a discontinuance doesn't take place for the sole reason of trying to off-load

[ Page 10560 ]

that cost onto the public taxpayer. That, to me, is an example of a very smart evaluation team working hard to protect the public interest by adding that clause.

There are also safety issues that would be considered. For example, if part of the discontinued track included a tunnel, there could be significant safety and engineering issues associated with that tunnel. That may be something a future government wants to be very aware of before they find themselves locked into a position where they may have to consider absorbing enormous costs associated with upgrading or spending significant dollars on a tunnel."

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North Van's Grumps: compliments to you are flying about, I hope you hear a few of them. Your contributions are greatly appreciated. Many, many thanks. - BC Mary.

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