Letter – Governments lack courage to solve transportation challenges in Northern Ontario

Apr 11, 2017 @ 08:14

I’ve recently made an observation as a lifelong resident of Northern Ontario; if you don’t own or are unable to operate a vehicle, don’t expect the government to care or assist you with your need to travel to & from your community. If you’re sick, poor, frail, or live in an isolated region, both the provincial & federal governments don’t see the need to provide you with a safe, reliable & comfortable means of transportation in order to access healthcare, education, tourism opportunities, or to visit family & friends.

 

Since 2012, the Liberals & Conservatives have axed a number essential transportation routes without public consultation. The Grits cut the Northlander, the region’s only daily train, in favour of an “enhanced bus service”. As a result, seniors, students & medical patients are provided with nothing more than reductions in service of the Ontario Northland’s motor coach division & the closure of many public terminal facilities.

 

The Tories reduced the winter frequency of VIA Rail’s Canadian train from three to two days a week. A service that is far too unreliable due to its poor on-time performance, passengers are subject to regular delays exceeding 12 hours before the arrival of the train.

Both parties have also caused immense hardship to residents, First Nations & business owners along the Algoma Central Railway (ACR). The operational funding for this train was eliminated twice by the Federal Government. 85% of this corridor is inaccessible by publicly maintained roads. As a result of CN’s & Transport Canada’s decision in 2015 to select a private operator without sufficient financial footing, people were left stranded.

 

Meanwhile, Queen’s Park & Parliament have injected billions of dollars to improve public transportation in the GTHA. On top of the 7.8 billion already allocated by the province, Toronto & Ottawa announced last Friday an additional 13.5 & 1.9 billion, respectively, to GO Transit.

 

Funding comparison : Every man, woman & child in Ontario contributes $155.62 to GO Transit & $1.47 to the Polar Bear Express. The Northlander amounted to 86 cents per Ontarian…

 

While GTHA commuters are entitled to safe, comfortable & reliable modes of transportation, Northerners, whom are subjected to driving incredible distances, are forced to travel on routinely dangerous highways, or worse, wait for public transportation that may or may not show up when they need it. This is a blatant double standard, and it is unfair to our seniors, students, patients & their families.

 

For the past four & eleven years, respectively, my colleagues at the Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network & Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, in collaboration with Transport Action Ontario & Transport Action Canada, have lobbied governments for improved public transportation. We’ve developed a proposal for integrated regional, rural & local transit, based on a long-distance rail connection to Toronto.

 

Concern for improved public transportation is broad & growing, as people realize that regional economic prosperity and their own personal mobility depends on it. 75% of Muskoka & Northern municipalities, situated on or nearby the Northlander corridor, have passed resolutions in favour of reviving the train.

 

We’ve provided comments for public policy development, volunteered thousands of hours & travelled tens of thousands of kilometres, out of pocket, in order to improve the quality of life of those requiring better transportation options.

 

However, at the present time, none of the political parties has committed, in writing, to restore train services in our region. We challenge both levels of government to find the courage to correct this injustice on Northern Ontarians.

 

We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the issue at Queen’s Park recently with the MPP’s Vic Fedeli, Norm Miller, John Vanthof, Wayne Gates, Michael Harris & Northern Development & Mines Deputy Minister, David de Launay. We also thank MP’s Carol Hughes & Charlie Angus for addressing Parliament regarding Northern trains, as well as MP Anthony Rota for supporting the Town of Latchford’s resolution to restore train service in the North.

 

We hope to meet with MPP’s Stephen Del Duca & Glenn Thibeault to discuss some of the transportation challenges that exist in our region. Mr. Thibeault previously decried cuts to the ACR train and advocated immediate funds. However, neither of them have agreed to meet with our group on two separate occasions, despite numerous telephone calls & follow up emails.

Transportation connects our communities & doesn’t make any distinctions between political ridings, party colours or jurisdictions. Both levels of government have a responsibility to satisfy the transportation needs of all residents of Ontario/Canada, not just those situated in big cities, or where there is political gain.

 

Éric Boutilier

Spokesperson with the Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network

neornpassengertrains@gmail.com

www.neorn.ca

About Brenda Grundt