Mr. Speaker, I rise with petitions signed by people from the regions of Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie.
As the House knows, the issue of public transportation in northern Ontario is becoming increasingly critical with the shutdown of the Ontario Northland. Now we see the failure of the Conservative government to protect the interests of the people in the Sault Ste. Marie region with the Algoma Central Railway.
It plays an important role in development in our region. Many of our communities rely on it. For many of our businesses, it is an economic corridor as well.
The petitioners are calling on the Conservative government to stand with the people of northern Ontario and support public transportation by maintaining support for the Algoma Central Railway.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a petition, with hundreds of names, from people from Sault Ste. Marie who are very concerned about the federal government's abandonment of the Algoma Central Railway. The Algoma railway plays a very important role in northern Ontario, connecting communities that are unable to be connected in any other way. It is also an economic corridor for many of the outfitters in the small communities along the route.
The petitioners are frustrated with the lack of action by the federal government. The petitioners are asking parliamentarians and New Democrats to stand up to fight for the vision of sustainable rail transportation across Canada, and particularly on the Algoma Central Railway line.
Mr. Speaker, our passenger trains are dead or dying. Routes from Montreal to Saint John, Toronto to Cochrane, Barrie to Orillia are all dead; Toronto to Sarnia has been cut in half. The route from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst will die on April 30. The route from Toronto to Niagara is dead. The route from Montreal to Gaspé is suspended. Both the Ocean and Canadian trains are threatened.
Why are we the only country in the G20 that is not investing in passenger rail?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to table petitions on behalf of people from Sault Ste. Marie, Echo Bay, Prince Township, Searchmont, Garden River, Hilton Beach, and Thessalon.
The petition is about the closure of the ACR line passenger services. The petitioners are extremely concerned that there has been no consultation with the stakeholders. This is the sole point of access to businesses, homes and communities, and the impact on the economy, health and safety, accessibility, and tourism is quite troubling. The petitioners are calling on the government to reinstate the funding so that this passenger service can go forward.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of petitioners from Sault Ste. Marie, Thessalon, and Wawa, who are concerned that the government is cancelling the federal funding for the Algoma Central Railway.
This railway is the sole point of access for many businesses, homes, and communities along its route. Cancelling the funding for this railway would be damaging to the economy, health and safety, and accessibility of the area.
Mr. Speaker, the decision by CN to discontinue the passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst is a business decision made by a private company. The Government of Canada has no direct role in owning or operating railways, and the member knows that.
Railway companies are private entities that make their own decisions concerning their operations and what services and routes to offer to their customers.
Those are the facts.
Mr. Speaker, the federal government's role in the discontinuation process of rail lines is to provide a legislative framework that encourage stakeholders to seek commercial solutions to address this discontinuation.
The Canada Transportation Act outlines the process railways must follow if they want to stop providing service. The line transfer and discontinuation provisions in the Canada Transportation Act are aimed at encouraging retention of rail lines, where it makes sense to do so, by giving other railways or other interested parties the opportunity to continue railway operations.
The decision to cancel the Algoma Central Railway passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst was a business decision made by CN, the owner of the railway.
At one point in time, some communities along the Algoma Central Railway relied upon the rail line as their only means of access. However, other transportation options, including local highways, are now available on a year-round basis. As a result, the ridership on the service has declined by 37% in recent years, to less than 5,000 riders annually.
With regard to the situation in New Brunswick, CN will continue to be responsible for maintaining the rail line, to ensure that service is not disrupted while the discontinuation process is under way. If CN does not complete the discontinuation process for the portion of the track in New Brunswick, VIA Rail, an independent crown corporation, will be responsible for making decisions about its passenger rail services.
This government provides significant funding to support passenger rail services. In 2013-14 alone, the Government of Canada provided VIA Rail, a crown corporation that operates independently of the government, with $305 million to provide passenger rail services to Canadians. Since 2007, the government has also provided VIA Rail with nearly $1 billion in capital funding to support projects, such as station upgrades, railcar refurbishment, and track improvements.
The government will continue to monitor these two situations, but ultimately believes that railways are commercial enterprises and that its role is to encourage commercial solutions to address rail line discontinuance.
Mr. Speaker, on January 28, CN announced it will terminate passenger services on the Algoma Central Railway because the government changed the subsidy that offset the losses incurred by providing the service. The last run is set for the end of April. The timing of the announcement was especially bad for tourist businesses such as lodges and outfitters, many of whom were attending trade shows and drumming up clients for the summer.
Shortly after that, I asked the Minister of Transport why the government would abandon the businesses, property owners, and communities along the line and was told the government is not in the business of giving money to profitable companies like CN.
While that statement could be challenged vigorously, time constraints will spare the government an itemized list that would surely begin with $1.3 billion in subsidies for the profitable oil and gas sector.
What is missing from the hard line being taken is any recognition of the economic cascade this will create. This is not a clear-cut case of saving $2.2 million. Every dollar invested in passenger rail creates economic activity along the line and supports a variety of business ventures.
Although there is no formal impact assessment, some of that work has been undertaken by the stakeholder group of communities, businesses, first nations, fur managers, property owners, outdoor enthusiasts, and passenger rail supporters who are working to save passenger services. They prepared a basic level of assessment that estimates the current regional economic impact of ACR passenger service at $20 million a year. Put another way, every dollar invested by the government creates $9 of economic activity.
These findings are consistent with an independent study undertaken by Tourism Ontario in 2013 on the economic impact of sport fishing in Algoma.
The subsidy was lost when the government removed the rural component from the former rural and remote passenger rail subsidy. The rationale for classifying the ACR as rural rests in the government's opinion that the communities and businesses along the line can be accessed by road. This is flawed thinking.
The government is assuming the industrial roads are safe and reliable for public use, but most of these are secondary roads and many are not even open during the winter. Also, people using them at their own risk may fall into an insurance vacuum should something happen while travelling on them.
The community of Oba is a good example. People there will be effectively isolated without passenger service. Oba has no access by public road. The only option is an industrial road that people can be denied access to at any time, and there is no guarantee that the road will be maintained either.
For those reasons alone, the ACR should receive the remote line subsidy, and if the government had done a proper assessment, we would not be having this discussion.
One thing this experience has done is to further shatter the myth of a seat at the table ensuring a constituency's good fortune under any government. This has a huge effect on the community of Sault Ste. Marie, which is represented by a member of the governing party. Many people in that community are having a difficult time believing the member has been working diligently behind the scenes on their behalf when he appeared to have been caught off guard by CN's announcement. He followed up by claiming “We didn't know how CN was going to respond” and indicated it would be his preference that CN continue the service at its own expense.
That amounts to wilful ignorance and wishful thinking. CN has no obligation to subsidize passenger services. It is far more appropriate for the government to maintain the subsidy, which is in keeping with other public transportation investments it is making.
It is also wishful thinking to believe that industrial road access is a guaranteed option as well. Those roads are maintained for the benefit of companies and can be abandoned at any time.
With that in mind, and with so many businesses, jobs, communities, and property owners left twisting in the wind, would the government do the right thing and find the money to support passenger services on the Algoma Central Railway?
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition signed by many people in Northern Ontario who are trying to save the Algoma Central Railway. It is a very important part of Northern Ontario, particularly around Sault Ste. Marie. It is the sole point of access for many businesses, homes, and communities along the route. The petitioners are calling on the Government of Canada to reinstate the federal funding that allowed for the operation of the Algoma Central Railway.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of Canadian citizens from Sault Ste. Marie, Richards Landing, Echo Bay, Bruce Mines, Searchmont, Thessalon, and Wawa to present a petition. They are concerned that the train is about to leave their community and are asking the government to reinstate the federal funding that allowed for the operations of the Algoma Central Railway. They indicate how difficult this will be on their communities and homes, particularly on businesses, and especially the tourism business.
Before the train leaves the station, they would like the government to act on assisting with the funding for at least another year. They would greatly appreciate the support of the Conservative government as opposed to seeing job loss in the riding in northern Ontario.
The electoral district of Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) has a population of 89,028 with 69,272 registered voters and 191 polling divisions.
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