Saving the Line

The Kelowna to Vernon rail services ceased operating in July when Kelowna Pacific Railway (KPR) went into receivership.   KPR was leasing the rail line from the Canadian National Railway Company (CN).

The cessation of rail services has had a serious impact on Ashland Canada’s Kelowna plant and other Okanagan businesses.  

For the past few months, I have been working with Kelly Brown, Ashland's Manager and various community leaders and stakeholders in exploring various options of re-starting the rail service.

Ashland is working with their lawyers and trying to get CN, via the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), to re-open the rail line.   The CTA is an independent, administrative tribunal of the Government of Canada that makes decisions relating to federally-regulated modes of transportation (air, rail and marine).  

On October 3rd, CN started the discontinuance of service process which has 60 days to unfold before the rail line is then offered for sale.

Ashland needs a favorable ruling by the CTA.  However, in the event that does not come to pass, a solid Plan B needs to be in place so it can be presented to CN before the Dec 3rd deadline.

Determining the viability of a new short haul operator, for instance, is being considered. 

Kelly and his team are still pulling together a coalition of shippers and allies and we remain confident and hopeful that enough interest can be generated.

Just a few days ago, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association (CME) announced they would like to commit resources to their cause.   According to Kelly, someone from CME is hoping to meet with BC Transportation Minister Todd Stone to discuss the issue further. 

Rail lines are an important transportation option for moving goods and services in the Okanagan in a cost effective way.  Without the rail option, more and more transportation gets pushed on to our already well-used highways. Tolko now has no choice but to haul loads of lumber along the Coquihalla.  Increasing truck traffic is hard on our road infrastructure and greater congestion poses higher safety and environmental risks.

I am also very concerned about the loss of good paying jobs which could disappear with the demise of the rail line.  As well, any potential employers considering setting up business might be less inclined if they cannot reply on alternative modes of transportation to get their products moving. 

The good news is that all the relevant people who need to be on top of the issue are talking and we remain optimistic that there is still a chance the Kelowna to Vernon rail corridor can be preserved.

Residents have also contacted me and presented a few alternatives should the rail line be abandoned: some see a commuter transportation system operating between the two cities with stops at UBCO and other locales; others see the creation of a spectacular Okanagan recreational corridor and opportunities for local tourism and healthy living.

The perfect scenario would be a multi-modal pedestrian/cycling- friendly corridor as well as an active rail line.  For that to happen, the community will need to “buy in” to the proposal, much like the “buy a metre” campaign that was run by the Mission Creek Greenway community, where citizens and local businesses could “buy a tie” of the rail line. 

It would be an opportunity for everyone from Kelowna to Vernon to get involved in a meaningful way. 

Our long and romantic history with the railroad and the rail lines that connect us still sparks people’s passions.  The Kelowna-Vernon line served us well for nearly 80 years and we have an opportunity to make sure it continues to do so. 

It will take a concerted effort by municipalities, business, citizens, the Region, the Province and your Members of Parliament to see it to a satisfactory end.

The Honourable Ron Cannan is the Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country and welcomes your feedback at [email protected].  Information on local announcements and federal government programs can be found at www.cannan.ca.

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About the Author

The Honourable Ron Cannan was first elected as Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country in January, 2006. He was subsequently elected in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections. He is a member of the Conservative Caucus.

On September 13th, 2012 Ron was summoned to be a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and will provide advice to the Government as a member of the Priorities and Planning Sub-Committee on Government Administration.

Ron successfully uses his experience and knowledge as a long-time Kelowna City Councillor and regional government representative to be an effective and enthusiastic champion for his riding and his constituents.

His greatest satisfaction comes from helping local organizations and citizens obtain the support they require from Ottawa. 

He is also dedicated to doing what it takes to ensure that the growing and vibrant communities in his riding continue to thrive and prosper.

He is proud of the partnership and cooperation between federal, provincial and municipal governments which have resulted in significant infrastructure projects including upgrades to Highway 97, expansion of the Kelowna International Airport, a new horticulture strategy for fruit growers, obtaining a full service passport office for Kelowna and addressing critical economic issues such as labour skills shortages.

He works closely with the local Chambers of Commerce and once a year arranges meetings for the Chamber with Cabinet Ministers and senior policy staff in Ottawa to move forward important local issues such as crime prevention and labour skills shortages.

He is also an ardent champion for important community initiatives including homelessness, mental health, women’s resources, and support of arts and culture.

On Parliament Hill, Ron has been a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade since 2006 supporting initiatives which will broaden the economic opportunities for local businesses and businesses Canada-wide.

In previous parliamentary sessions Ron has been a member of the Standing Committee for Government Operations and Estimates, Veteran’s Affairs, Human Resources and Social Development, the Scrutiny of Regulations Committee, and the Standing Committee for Fisheries and Oceans.

Ron is also involved in a variety of inter-parliamentary organizations: he is Vice Chair of the Canada-US Inter-Parliamentary Group, and a member of the Canada-Taiwan Friendship group.

As Chair of the Conservative Wine Caucus, Ron works with his colleagues across the country to promote the wine regions of Canada.  Ron tabled Motion 218(formerly Motion 601) which supports direct to consumer purchasing of Canadian wine. His motion became Bill C-311, sponsored by MP Dan Albas, seconded by Ron, which was passed into law on June 28th, 2012.

Prior to entering politics, Ron developed a diverse business background as a small business owner and had several years experience in marketing and sales management working with corporations including Coca-Cola, Costco and Corus Entertainment.

Very active in his community, Ron has been a Director for both the Central Okanagan Regional District and the Central Okanagan Hospital Board. Ron also served on the Okanagan University College Access to Training Advisory Board, the Glenmore Elementary School Parents Advisory Council, and the Kelowna Christian School Fund Raising Committee. He was co-founder of the Okanagan Volunteer Festival. Currently Ron is a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club of Kelowna and, along with his wife Cindy, was the honorary Chair of the 2012 Canadian Cancer Society Daffodil Ball.

Ron lives a family-oriented and active lifestyle with his wife Cindy. He is the proud father of three daughters and grandfather to three grandsons. His hobbies include music and sports.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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