Wednesday, October 19, 2011


P. Nettleton: I rise in support of this ... private member's bill intended to stop the sale of B.C. Rail.


"I oppose the sale of B.C. Rail."
Monday November 17, 2003 - Morning Sitting
Hansard Volume 18, Number 6

Second Reading of Bills


P. Nettleton: I rise in support of this bill, which is a private member's bill intended to stop the sale of B.C. Rail.

My perspective is a little different, I think, from the members of the opposition, in that my first encounter with folks in Prince George who had strong feelings with respect to B.C. Rail dates back to 1996 during the election campaign, when I was going door to door with my wife. I hadn't lived in that part of the country terribly long at the time, so for me it was an introduction of myself, and it was also an opportunity to listen and learn from folks in terms of what was important to them.

One of the things that was brought to my attention during that campaign — as I say, it was the campaign of 1996 — was that B.C. Rail was an issue that ran very deep in terms of people's emotional attachment. During the course of that campaign, I also ran into a number of men — I don't know that I ran into any women, but certainly a number of men — who supported their families working for B.C. Rail. I recall some of them telling me, in fact: "You know, you seem like a decent enough guy, and the B.C. Liberal Party is a party that has a lot of appeal. But B.C. Rail is, for us, a big issue, and that's an issue on which we're going to cast our vote." This meant, in fact, that the vote would be cast not for the B.C. Liberals but rather for the NDP.

That was my first introduction to B.C. Rail and, as I say, the strong sentiment not only in Prince George but beyond with respect to the issue of B.C. Rail and the sale of B.C. Rail. The election of 1996 — for those of us that were there, and I know there are a few members here who were there in 1996 and were fortunate enough to be elected in 1996 — certainly didn't have the result that I had expected, in that I was the only member elected as a B.C. Liberal in the north. Certainly, B.C. Rail was part of that outcome, I expect.

Following the election — the election which saw a majority NDP government and a very strong but nevertheless unsuccessful B.C. Liberal opposition — one of the things that happened was the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now Premier, met with us. I recall him meeting with me in Prince George and assigning roles to members of the then opposition, now government, to take on critic portfolios. I remember meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, and he assigned to me the role as critic of B.C. Rail. So I gladly took that task on.

For those of us here that recall what it was like to be a critic, I think there were a lot of benefits in terms of really digging deep into a given ministry, or a subset of a ministry in this case. B.C. Rail, of course, fell within the ministry for which the then minister, Dan Miller, was responsible, which involved northern interests, energy and mines, and so forth. I gladly took on that role. Again, as I say, it had been brought to my attention during the course of the election. I knew that the then Leader of the Opposition had committed to the province as a whole that he would sell B.C. Rail, and there was some sense in which that was problematic, particularly for those candidates of the north that were defeated.

Being a critic involved doing a number of things beyond just asking questions during the estimates process. It involved the opportunity to travel to North Vancouver and meet with the then head and CEO of CN and head of B.C. Rail, Paul McElligott, and his board. Paul McElligott, who is now the CEO of TimberWest, was really a free enterprise kind of guy. Under his watch, B.C. Rail was really run in very much a free enterprise type of setting, as much as one can achieve that within the context of a Crown corporation. It was highly diversified; it involved much more than just the railbeds. It involved BCR Ventures, which involved joint ventures in mining and so forth throughout the north. It had a real estate arm, it had a telecommunications arm, and it had Vancouver Wharves. In any event it was highly diversified, highly successful, and paid large dividends to the provincial government at the time — millions of dollars every year. Well, not every year, but certainly it generated millions of dollars, and on occasion it was tapped for those moneys.

It was interesting to meet with Mr. McElligott to get some sense of the challenges with respect to B.C. Rail. One of the things we did as critics, of course, was report out to the other opposition members with respect to our findings as to the direction, in this instance, of B.C. Rail.

My position personally hasn't changed with respect to B.C. Rail. I understand, I think, something of the emotional attachment with respect to B.C. Rail from men and women who have in many cases worked their lives on B.C. Rail and have seen the north opened up to development and opportunity and growth, and so forth, as government has shown a commitment to the north by way of B.C. Rail over the years. My position certainly hasn't changed, but the Premier, the then Leader of the Opposition, following the election of 1996 publicly made an apology with respect to B.C. Rail. Our position — that is, the B.C. Liberals' position on B.C. Rail — firmly committed that we had learned our lesson. In fact, we would not sell B.C. Rail should we be successful in 2001.

Now, the B.C. Liberals talk about new-era commitments. I took that to be a commitment. I took the Premier, the man who's now the Premier, at his word — that when he said we would not sell B.C. Rail, he was as good as his word. That, we now know, is not the case. Shortly after the election of 2001, we see a government that has moved very quickly. There's been speculation as to why that might be, why there's been this flip-flop, this breaking of the commitment on B.C. Rail. I think the opposition has laid out rather carefully and in a way that people can understand some of the reasons why, perhaps, government is now moving as it is to sell B.C. Rail.

One of the things I will say quickly in closing, because I know I'm running out of time, is that the public sentiment with respect to B.C. Rail — the same sentiment that I encountered in 1996 going door to door in Prince George talking to people — hasn't changed. People are for the most part, along the line and certainly in Prince George and beyond, opposed to the sale of B.C. Rail — what's left of B.C. Rail, given that B.C. Rail now really is just the freight service. Everything else has been sold off, so B.C. Rail is not what it used to be.

That public sentiment hasn't changed, and I'm delighted to be able to stand here today in support of this bill which has been introduced by the opposition. Thank God there's something of an opposition here. I shudder to think what in fact would happen if there wasn't. I'm delighted to stand here for my constituents and say that I support this bill, and I oppose the sale of B.C. Rail.

These notes from the Hansard record of debate are re-posted here, as an ongoing Thank You to that heroic figure, Paul Nettleton, who stood up for British Columbians at a time when he was alone as an Independent M.L.A. for the northern riding of Prince George - Omineca. This is a a debt to remember. - BC Mary.


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