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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 and from your community.
If you’re sick, poor, frail or live in an isolated region, both the provincial and federal governments don’t see the need to provide you with a safe, reliable and comfortable means of transportation in order to access health care, education, tourism opportunities, or to visit family and friends.
Since 2012, the Liberals and 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 and medical patients are provided with nothing more than reductions in service of the Ontario Northland’s motor coach division and 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 and business owners along the Algoma Central Railway (ACR). The operational funding for this train was eliminated twice by the federal government even though 85 per cent of this corridor is inaccessible by publicly maintained roads. As a result of CN’s and Transport Canada’s decision in 2015 to select a private operator without sufficient financial footing, people were left stranded.
Meanwhile, Queen’s Park and Parliament have injected billions of dollars to improve public transportation in the Greater Toronto area. On top of the $7.8 billion already allocated by the province, Toronto and Ottawa announced earlier this month an additional $13.5 and $1.9 billion, respectively, to GO Transit.
Funding comparison: Every man, woman and child in Ontario contributes $155.62 to GO Transit and $1.47 to the Polar Bear Express. The Northlander amounted to 86 cents per Ontarian ...
While Greater Toronto area commuters are entitled to safe, comfortable and reliable modes of transportation, northerners, who 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’s unfair to our seniors, students, patients and their families.
For the past four and 11 years, respectively, my colleagues at the Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network and Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, in collaboration with Transport Action Ontario and Transport Action Canada, have lobbied governments for improved public transportation. We’ve developed a proposal for integrated regional, rural and local transit, based on a long-distance rail connection to Toronto.
Concern for improved public transportation is broad and growing, as people realize that regional economic prosperity and their own personal mobility depends on it. Three-quarters of Muskoka and 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 and traveled 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 have 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 appreciated the opportunity to discuss the issue at Queen’s Park recently with the MPPs Vic Fedeli, Norm Miller, John Vanthof, Wayne Gates, Michael Harris and Northern Development and Mines Deputy Minister David de Launay. We also thank MPs Carol Hughes and Charlie Angus for addressing parliament regarding northern trains, as well as MP Anthony Rota for supporting the Town of Latchford’s reso-lution to restore train service in the north.
We hope to meet with MPPs Stephen Del Duca and Glenn Thibeault (of Sudbury) 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 and follow up emails.
Transportation connects our communities and 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 and Canada, not just those situated in big cities, or where there is political gain.
Éric Boutilier is a spokesperson with the Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network.
This article first appeared on www.thesudburystar.com
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