Barrett calls on government to keep rail alive in Norfolk

Dec. 10, 2013
QUEEN’S PARK – MPP Toby Barrett is fighting to keep the last rail line servicing Norfolk County alive.

On Friday, Trillium Railway announced it would be ceasing operations on Dec. 20 due to the cost of upgrading bridges that are a part of the line. Due to the nature of the Norfolk Sand Plain, both Big Creek and the Big Otter have carved deep gullies trains must pass over. In most cases, these trestle bridges are a century, or more, older.

“The rail lines are a vital artery to bring the raw materials into Norfolk County,” the Haldimand-Norfolk MPP said. “Rail is not like public roadways. These private companies must pay taxes on their right-of-way and maintain their own bridges. The removal of the rail line will put hundreds of trucks on the road, causing more wear and tear. Taxpayers will pay the bill for more road repairs.”

In Norfolk County, Trillium Railway services Cargill AgHorizons in Courtland and the Growmark fertilizer plant in Delhi. Rail cars bring in the majority of the raw material for manufacturing fertilizer. Moving the transportation of these goods to roads will add to the cost of fertilizer, which in turn will be passed on to farmers.

“Farmers, like any small business, don’t need an increase in input costs. We are competing in a global marketplace and farmers don’t always have the flexibility to increase their sale price, which means it will come off their bottom line,” Barrett said.

Barrett rose in the House twice yesterday to raise awareness of the issue.

“Given the urgency of this matter, I do ask this government, I ask the Minister of Transportation to pick up the phone and talk to the federal level of government,” Barrett said during debate. “See what you can do to not only maintain this rail line, but we wish that we could see an
enhancement of the main line to bring it up to the 285,000 pounds required by many of these businesses—285,000 pounds, the weight that could be carried. A lot of these cars are running on a lower weight.”

Barrett sees the Trillium announcement as another nail in the coffin for Ontario and the riding employment scene.

“Despite prolonged unemployment, the loss of companies—even with that—this province uncannily, oddly, faces a skilled-labour shortage, and some of these ineffective economic development programs we hear so much about are not helping any of these industries,” he said in the Legislature. “They’re certainly not going to help those industries that found out this weekend that they have lost their railway.”

Just days after the Trillium announcement, Kellogg’s announced the closure of its London plant.“When will the government wake up and realize its policies are driving industry out of Ontario,” Barrett said. “The exodus must end. Restoring Ontario as Canada’s manufacturing heartland is not an overnight process, but the work must begin.”

For more information
Contact MPP Toby Barrett at 519-428-0446

Monday, December 9, 2013

I found this hour by our finance critic captivating, explaining how Bill 105 removes the tax exemption for family business. I realize that Bill 105 does nothing for some very bad news that we have received today in Norfolk and Elgin. Trillium Railway will cease to exist December 20. Their clients include Cargill AgHorizons, Norfolk FS in Courtland, the Growmark fertilizer plant in Delhi, the ethanol plant in Aylmer and Tillsonburg businesses, including Johnson Controls, Wellmaster Pipe and Supply, Kissner Group, International Beams and Future Transfer Company.

This is very bad news for our area. This was a short-line railway. Short-line railways were fostered and breathed new life about 20 years ago. We’re debating Bill 105. It will do nothing for these companies, especially those companies that are losing the exemption. Given the urgency of this matter, I do ask this government, I ask the Minister of Transportation to pick up the phone and talk to the federal level of government. See what you can do to not only maintain this rail line, but we wish that we could see an enhancement of the main line to bring it up to the 285,000 required by many of these businesses to raise the—285,000 pounds, the weight that could be carried. A lot of these cars are running on a lower weight.So very bad news today, Speaker, and it falls hard on the heels of our area just recently losing Georgia-Pacific about a week ago and the Bick’s Smucker’s operation in both Dunnville and Delhi.

Mr. Toby Barrett: One problem we see with Bill 105 is that this government seems unwilling to take this far enough. They’re unwilling to really take any decisive action with respect to tax relief, not only for Ontario businesses but for customers of those businesses and communities that those businesses operate in.

What we see in this legislation, if anything, is a bit of tinkering with tax rates and exemptions, but it’s not going far enough to solve what I consider not only an economic crisis but also a jobs crisis and the attendant deficit and debt crises. Ontario’s economy is in trouble and this government’s budget is in trouble. We’ve got well over 600,000 people unemployed. We’ve heard this time and time again in this Legislature. So many others have given up looking for work, and so many others are presently on the Ontario Works program. So it’s going to take some very bold action to get people back to work because we’re losing so many businesses in the province of Ontario.

The bad news continues. This is an issue that affects not only my riding but the member for Oxford and the member for Elgin–Middlesex–London. This is news that came out in the media today. Trillium Railway, which is also known as the St. Thomas and Eastern Railway, will cease operations December 20. This hits our local area very hard. It reverts back to CN Rail. Trillium clients—and again, there’s quite a list of industry and businesses here. I mentioned this earlier in this House. Clients of the railway include Cargill AgHorizons and Norfolk FS. They’re both located in Courtland. The Growmark fertilizer plant of Delhi is also in my riding. The ethanol plant in Aylmer—this is of concern, obviously, for our member from Elgin–Middlesex–London. Integrated Grain Processors Co-operative’s ethanol plant set up not that long ago actually, Speaker, and again, an industry dependent on this rail line.

The member for Oxford has been informed about what’s happened in his town of Tillsonburg. I’m the former MPP for Tillsonburg and certainly maintain an interest in that particular town. Tillsonburg businesses affected: no more rail service for Johnson Controls, Wellmaster Pipe and Supply, Kissner Group, International Beams and Future Transfer Company.

Again, my question to this government, to this Minister of Transportation, most specifically—we need advice. We are asking for any options that are available, most particularly, any action taken by this government to maintain this short-line railway. It reverts back, as I mentioned, to the CN Rail line now. It runs from St. Thomas to Delhi. It’s known as Trillium Railway; that’s the St. Thomas and Eastern Railway. There are problems with the railway trestles.

We hear so much about government grants from the other side. No money is forthcoming that I’m aware of. In fact, the owner of the short-line railway had requested assistance to actually raise the capacity of the main line to 283,000 pounds, again, to allow expansion for those industries, that list of businesses that I just walked through.

Agriculture and agribusiness, as represented by the ethanol plant and these fertilizer plants down our way, is key to our local economy. It was an economy actually once anchored by tobacco. Regrettably, Dalton McGuinty destroyed our tobacco economy. We have seen the destruction of our cucumber economy and everything that goes with that. The farm labour, the fellows who come up from Jamaica and from Mexico, as well as the German Mexican Mennonites: They’re now out of jobs with the demise of the Smucker’s Bick’s plants located in Dunnville, and also the Delhi tank farm, the brine farm.

We’re not growing pears or peaches anymore in Norfolk; we’ve lost CanGro down in Niagara. Just a week ago, the announcement that Georgia Pacific—this is the gypsum mine in Caledonia. Not many people realize that mines exist in southern Ontario. Both Caledonia and Hagersville are mining towns. At Georgia Pacific, 67 employees have been idled. We don’t know if and when that company is going to come back.

We have a situation, Speaker: Despite prolonged unemployment, the loss of companies—even with that—this province uncannily, oddly, faces a skilled-labour shortage, and some of these ineffective economic development programs we hear so much about are not helping any of these industries. They’re certainly not going to help those industries that found out this weekend that they have lost their railway. You really don’t see any concrete evidence from these economic development programs. You really don’t see any results. You get the odd announcement from the other side.

We’ve also got to take a look at non-productive corporate welfare as well.
It doesn’t end there, Speaker. More troubling trends over the past decade: Ontario has experienced a net loss of leading global companies. I mentioned Smucker’s; I mentioned Georgia Pacific, just in my riding alone. I think, obviously, of GM Diesel in London, the electromotive plant. That’s the one that went to Muncie, Indiana.

Yes, Indiana is a right-to-work state. The question out there now is, how many other companies are moving to states like Indiana or to Michigan, also a right-to-work state? Very clearly, Ontario is in trouble. The economy is in trouble. Their budget is in trouble.

It took over 60 years for Detroit to lose 270,000 manufacturing jobs. Ontario has just lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years. As with the devastation in the bankrupt city of Detroit, those lost factory jobs aren’t coming back. We’ve got to work very hard—we have to go beyond Bill 105—to create 300,000 new jobs to replace those that are lost in the factories. What has this government done? They’ve put 300,000 extra people on the provincial government payroll.

So closed plants, lost jobs, families struggling to survive—it’s an inevitable outcome of a number of factors not addressed by Bill 105—runaway power costs, out-of-touch labour legislation, over-regulation and a failure of government to understand what entrepreneurs need to succeed. In the last few years, Ontario has truly lost its way. We’ve become a province of smaller dreams, bigger government—obviously; our economy is limping along, and government spending is racing ahead.

It’s been 10 years. We’re experiencing what I consider an extraordinary economic decline. The facts speak for themselves: 600,000 people are out of work, rapidly escalating energy costs, historic deficits, a doubling of the provincial debt. I know down my way, Mr. McGuinty is known as Dalton the Debt-Doubler, and he comes by that reputation honestly. You double a provincial debt, it stifles job creation, puts a burden on future generations and it subtracts money away from investing in infrastructure, whether it be subways or roads or bridges or railway trestles. You subtract that money from infrastructure, and, again, it raises some other questions that I have for this government.

We have a situation in Caledonia. It really doesn’t matter which way you go from my riding—to get to Toronto, for example—you’ve got to cross the Grand River. In the vicinity of Caledonia, in Haldimand county, there’s a big question mark out there. We have one bypass bridge used by trucks; it’s not used by townspeople. We have a very old, very beautiful, beautiful bridge. It’s really the trademark of Caledonia. It has been neglected for the last 10 years. There’s a call for another bridge downstream. We have to find out from this government what the status of bridge maintenance is, of perhaps future bridge construction in Caledonia. Hagersville, just down the highway on number 6, is a trucking town. It’s in Haldimand county. All the trucks go through the centre of town; they go down the main street. Again, the question remains, the outstanding question: Does this government have a plan to build a bypass around Hagersville? Do they have any money left? This is the concern.

It has been 74 consecutive months now that this province has had a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Again, I’m not sure if Bill 105 is going to help in this regard. Our credit rating has been downgraded. Will legislation that takes away that tax exemption from family-owned businesses help with our credit rating? Once-mighty Ontario is now considered a have-not province; it receives equalization payments from the federal government, as we all know. Again, we’re experiencing a net loss of not only small business, not only the medium-sized family business; we’re losing leading global companies. I mention Georgia-Pacific, right in my riding, right in the mining town of Caledonia; John Deere, one of the largest farm equipment companies in the world; the Heinz corporation; Hershey’s; Siemens; Caterpillar—global companies—once with plants in Ontario and, in recent years, they’ve gone overseas or more particularly, gone to states like Indiana and Ohio, and, I expect in the future, on the way to Michigan.

We can’t afford that. We can’t afford a future where the money that’s desperately needed to invest in infrastructure, productivity and in job creation is being directed to pay for electricity bills, to pay for high energy bills.

A lot of good jobs are going unfilled. We still have these outdated apprenticeship rules, in contrast to other provinces across the Dominion of Canada.

The current tax system, again, which we’re debating this afternoon in Bill 105, is complex. It consists of arbitrary rules, and it seems designed—certainly with respect to the business taxes we’re talking about today—to discourage any effort towards enhancing productivity. There’s really no encouragement to invest in a higher rate of productivity. We’re obviously losing that battle, in particular with the United States. Manufacturing is coming back in the United States.It’s not only tax policy, as we discussed this afternoon. There are a number of broad areas to address. It’s not only business taxes. We have to address income taxes. We have to address consumption taxes, the HST. We have to deal with outdated labour legislation. We have to deal with the rising cost of energy. We have to deal with the plethora of rules and regulations and forms to fill out, the bureaucratic red tape that not only suffocates business; it takes the fun out of doing business. It takes the fun out of running a farm.

Government regulations have become the growth industry now, and it’s one that almost seems designed to create jobs for bureaucrats—300,000 new government jobs, 300,000 people added to the government payroll. At the same time, we witnessed the loss of 300,000 well-paying, by and large unionized, factory jobs, jobs where you make the big money and you’re not doing it on the taxpayer’s dime.

Why do we see 300,000 new government jobs if we don’t see the private sector jobs? There’s a serious problem here. Not everybody can work for the government. In fact, 80% of the people in Ontario don’t; eight out of 10 jobs are found within the private sector. Granted, unionized or non-unionized, they make considerably less money than a government job when you look at total compensation. In fact, if you look at wages, salaries, pensions, perks, gym memberships, early retirement and levels of absenteeism, it’s a much better run if you’ve got a government job, by about 30%. I think we need something in this Legislature to deal with this unfairness. We hear other parties talk about pay equity. Where’s the pay equity between private sector jobs and public sector jobs?

Better roads, better rail, rapid transit: They’re all required in the GTA, Hamilton and across the province of Ontario. As I mentioned, we’re losing a railway in Norfolk and Elgin and Oxford. Hagersville is a trucking town; all the trucks have to go down the main street of town for lack of a bypass.

There are actually barriers to trade that continue within this province. We stand out as far as looking at the rest of the country. Every province, for example, seems to have their own rules and regulations for trucking. I know that the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example, are harmonizing these rules and streamlining them. It’s something we have to take a look at as well.We really shouldn’t have to be debating—it’s almost like we’re debating whether we’re going to have a manufacturing sector or not, whether we’re going to have agribusiness, whether we’re going to have mining or forestry. We must have this primary industry. We need petrochemical. We cannot lose our steel industry.

We’ve lost our coal-generated electricity generating industry. That’s primary industry. I’m very proud of the fact that for the last 40 years, the Nanticoke generating station, the largest coal-fired generating station in North America, operated in my riding. Our government cleaned it up. We put in the selective catalytic reduction units. We used low-sulphur coal. Lambton put on the scrubbers to take out the scrubber, and also put SCRs on their units.

This government came in. In 10 years, not one move—not an inch—towards cleaning up the coal plants that were providing very inexpensive electricity in the province of Ontario. When this government was elected, the price of electricity for the consumer was 4.3 cents a kilowatt hour. Coal was producing it for about two or three cents a kilowatt hour.

We need jobs; we need real jobs. Granted, we know about the 300,000 government jobs. We have to create that demand for additional real jobs.

This legislation is a bit of a baby step, a bit of tinkering around a tax exemption for small business. If you’re running a small business with that kind of tax exemption, there’s a temptation to remain as a small business, because if you go to a payroll of over $5 million, you lose that exemption. This is an unintended consequence of a piece of legislation like Bill 105 that clearly hasn’t been thought out.

Under Bill 105, very simply, it means that Ontario businesses, the family-owned businesses that our finance critic was talking about recently, those with $5 million or more in payroll, will no longer—Mr. Phil McNeely: A point of order.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): A point of order: The member for Ottawa–Orléans.

Mr. Phil McNeely: Mr. Speaker, I think we should be following the discussion on what we’re supposed to be on, this bill. The coal discussion didn’t seem to me to be pertinent, that they want to bring back coal.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): To be relevant, the debate has to be respectful to the bill that we’re debating. We are debating Bill 105 and I heard the member for Haldimand–Norfolk mention Bill 105 just before he was interrupted.

I return to the member for Haldimand–Norfolk.

Mr. Toby Barrett: Yes, I’ll just finish that sentence: Bill 105 means that Ontario businesses with $5 million or more in payroll—it was about here that I got interrupted. There was a bit of a time delay there; we see this on satellite images coming from other countries. But anyway, Bill 105 means that Ontario businesses with $5 million or more in payroll will no longer be able to claim a tax exemption on the first $400,000 of their payroll, thus increasing taxes on family-owned businesses.

We have to get manufacturing back on its feet, Speaker. We’ve got to bring back mining; we’ve got to bring back forestry. We’re heading in the right direction here, but to tinker around with something that is relatively insignificant as far as the big picture I just find kind of regrettable, Speaker.