Mrs. Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, Tuesday of next week has everything it takes to be a black day in northern Ontario if the government continues to drag its feet on a proposal to save passenger services on the Algoma Central Railway. Despite a mountain of work that has been done by a working group trying to pull these trains from the ashes of the fire that was set by the government when it made a questionable change in the designation of what rural and remote passenger routes are, if no signal of intent is received before Tuesday, the last passenger cars for the ACR will pull into the terminal.
It will put a knife into a localized economy that averages $250 million in business a year, and it will threaten hundreds of jobs and businesses. It will even isolate the community of Oba, whose only option to get out will be a private road, which is not maintained for its use at all.
Despite no end of lead time and the diligent efforts of the working group to find a third party deemed acceptable by CN, the government will not even offer a signal of intent on the proposal to wean the service off the subsidy in only five years. All we are told is that Transport Canada is working on the file and that everybody has to wait.
That is not necessarily the case, though. There are workarounds that are not even being explored, and the lack of creativity from the government on this is disheartening for people waiting to see if they will be able to transport guests to their businesses, get to their camp, or even make their way from their small town to a larger one for something as simple as a doctor's appointment.
The first and most obvious solution that is not being explored is reclassifying the line as remote and recognizing the plight that residents of Oba will face if forced to rely on a sporadically maintained private road to travel from that community. It was clear from the get-go that Oba was being stranded by the reclassification of the ACR passenger line, but the government refused to budge. If the line were again considered remote, it would be eligible for the same subsidy that kept trains rolling for years, and CN could be asked to bridge the gap that is created while Railmark's paperwork is sorted out. For the purposes of safety clearance, which I understand is one of the items holding up Railmark's ability to take the line over on April 1, CN already has the green light.
The second solution would not require reclassification of the line, but only an answer to the proposal in the affirmative. This, again, would allow CN to consider bridging the gap, which it well may view as doable with the knowledge that it would not be an act of charity.
I have outlined just a couple of the scenarios that could be used to save passenger services on the ACR. I am sure the government will be able to find even more options if it chooses to. In any scenario that will keep the trains running, there is bound to be some back and forth, but that it is what is missing and that is why I am raising this tonight. There just has not been much in the way of dialogue, and the reason for this is the unfathomable lack of interest shown by the government in the process.
Time is of the essence. Will the government signal its intent on the proposal that has been made to protect this important piece of northern Ontario infrastructure? The people who rely on the trains deserve an immediate answer.
Subtopic: Rail Transportation