PRIVATIZATION AND VIABILITYOF B.C. RAIL
J. MacPhail: Let me put on record a letter from Ron East, a well-known Liberal activist in Prince George. I quote from him: "Mr. Premier, you promised you would not sell B.C. Rail, and we voted for you because we believed in you. No sooner were you elected than you started your campaign to deceive us into believing our rail company is a money-loser. Shame on you."Can the Minister of Transportation tell us why her party's own supporters are saying her government is deceiving them into believing B.C. Rail is a money-loser?
Hon. J. Reid: B.C. Rail is a vital transportation service for the north of this province. It's vital for the industries that are served by it. Transportation is one of their highest costs. We have industries from the north who take their product and put it on trucks and ship it into other provinces to put on rail. We have industries in the north of this province which have been saying that the service isn't sufficient for B.C. Rail because the cars aren't available. We have industries in the north of this province which have been complaining for many, many years that the operations of B.C. Rail are hindering their ability to be competitive.We've listened to that; we've listened to the communities that have concerns about the sustainability. We have looked at the public good that needs to be protected, which is the continued public ownership of the track, of the right-of-way and of the railbed, and we are looking for an operating partner for sustainability for long-term good for the communities and the industries of the north
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplementary question.
J. MacPhail: One has to listen very carefully to the new message box. It's true; the Minister of Transportation today didn't call it a money-loser. She's challenging their competitiveness, though.I guess the minister hasn't seen the new document. Let me just tell the minister about this. She can say anything her spin doctors tell her to, but what they're doing is privatizing a B.C. Rail company that not only is profitable but is highly competitive.The opposition today, just this morning, obtained brand-new…[snip]
J. MacPhail: …internal B.C. Rail documents…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. members. Let us hear the question.
J. MacPhail: …showing the year-to-date financial results for B.C. Rail. The new report says that the profit margins for regional carriers remain above Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and any other class of railways, with B.C. Rail being the highest in the industry for their quarter profits and their year-to-date profits.Again to the Minister of Transportation: why is she saying that B.C. Rail is not competitive and is not efficient when, indeed, they have the highest productivity rate amongst all rail lines and they are the first rail line to have an operating margin of below 70 percent — better than any other rail company in North America? Why is she not telling that aspect of a rail line?
Hon. J. Reid: I'm very pleased the member has been able to recognize that under this government's leadership, B.C. Rail has taken a very aggressive approach on the freight rail side. We have concentrated on that part of the operation to cut the bleeding that was taking place. That was very difficult. There are still opportunities.I was in Prince George on Friday this past week, and at that time the people were saying that this needs to be sustainable in the long term. They said: "You know, we've got double shifts on the mills here. This isn't going to last. We have to make sure, with the variable trends in the forest industry and without the coal production for B.C. Rail, that we have sustainability in the long term." For that reason we're looking at the long-term picture, and we're going to make sure there is an operator there who's going to be able to run that operation for the long term.
J. MacPhail: Well, isn't the bar shifting every single time this minister's confronted with a new report about how well B.C. Rail is doing. We now know it's profitable; we now know it's competitive. She stands up with this new information and says: "Oh, but we're worried we can't sustain it." What do they do? What does this government do? A profitable, competitive publicly owned railway — and she wants to sell it off.We know that's not in her message box. According to this report that we've obtained just this morning…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please
J. MacPhail: …B.C. Rail has the highest profit margin of all regional carriers. In this year's third quarter alone B.C. Rail made a $21 million profit, and that's in American funds. In fact, they've got the highest year-to-date profits of any rail line.If the minister pushes ahead with her plans to sell B.C. Rail, British Columbians are going to lose a company that is making big profits and that is completely and most competitive. Again to the minister: given all this good news about B.C. Rail, why is she breaking a promise and selling one of North America's best-performing rail companies? Why is she breaking the promise?
Hon. J. Reid: It is a fact that B.C. Rail has a debt of over $500 million. It is a fact that that is part of….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. J. Reid: If this member understood business, if this member understood how to read a balance sheet, if this member understood….Interjections.Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order, hon. members. Let us hear the answer.
Hon. J. Reid: If this member understood the necessity of being able to sustain and what that means, and what investment is required….
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Hon. J. Reid: If this member understood anything about the economy of the north and what's going on in the forest industry right now, this member would understand what sustainability means in the long term. Taking on an operating partner for B.C. Rail is the very best move to provide that sustainability, to make sure that cars are available, to change technologies to just-in-time delivery. Once again this member thinks that government is better at running businesses, but I would suggest the customers and communities will be better served by the operating partner.
At the end of Joy MacPhail's question in Question Period the minister said the following:
Hon. J. Reid: If this member understood anything about the economy of the north and what's going on in the forest industry right now, this member would understand what sustainability means in the long term. Taking on an operating partner for B.C. Rail is the very best move to provide that sustainability, to make sure
[ Page 7721 ] that cars are available, to change technologies to just-in-time delivery. Once again this member thinks that government is better at running businesses, but I would suggest the customers and communities will be better served by the operating partner.
So they give away our railway and then CN, I guess, institutes the just- in- time delivery technology. They increase the length of the trains on the BC Rail line and increase speed. There are some people that worked on this railway who should have either been listened to or consulted. They were not. The result of this ignoring long term employees who were in the know resulted in some disasterous and some not so disasterous derailments along this BC Rail line.
The most disasterous, I alledge, was the derailment in the Cheakamus River at the bridge which spilled thousands (best estimates were 43,000 litres)of gallons of toxic chemicals into the river causing the death of more than a half million salmon, Eagles that feed on them, and a host of other animals and birds in the watershed. Including 2 seals downstream at the Mamquam Channel, As well as the plantlife in the riverbed. That plantlife was wiped out 100%. The TSB (Transportation Safety Board) had the following to say about this disaster :
Although Canadian National (CN) had prepared a Safety Integration Plan and provided informal training in DP setup and operations. However, in the absence of a formal risk assessment, CN resumed long DP train operations without adequate consideration of the value of retaining and using local knowledge and experience in the operation of long DP trains. This resulted in a lack of training and proper supervision that contributed to this derailment.
The TSB Report can be found here
Case #49026 is scheduled for September 24 in North Vancouver Provincial Court.