Via Rail cuts services, puts 200 people out of work.
Ottawa (13 July 2012) - The Harper government's budget cuts will make it more costly and inconvenient for Canadians to travel by rail in the future, and some say opens the door for wider privatization.
On June 27, Via Rail announced it will be reducing the frequency of its service to the east and west coasts as well as to cities throughout southern Ontario, Ottawa and Quebec.
Dan Mathieson, Mayor of Stratford, Ontario, about 150 kms from Toronto, voiced the concerns of many when he expressed his disappointment and told the Stratford Examiner, "in a time of environmental stewardship and other challenges, public rail service should be improved, not reduced."
“It limits the opportunity for people to live in smaller urban centres like Stratford and still commute into Toronto for business purposes,” Mathieson said, estimating between 10 and 20 people commute on the early train on a regular basis.
Stratford is losing two trains per day.
As a crown corporation, Via Rail operates the country's national public train service but has a long history of cuts by both Liberal and Conservative governments. The Harper government's recent budget reduced subsidies to the passenger rail service by $6.5 million this year, $15.1 million in 2013-14 and $19.6 million in 2014-15.
As a result of the corporate cuts, 200 workers, members of the Canadian Auto Workers union, are also losing their jobs. CAW representatives were shocked at the announcement. As frontline workers, they can attest to the fact that the demand for travel has been on the rise, up by 7.8 per cent since last year and by nearly 25 per cent in the peak season.
In April 2012, rumours swirled about the Harper government privatizing the longest and most scenic parts of the lines, in particular the Toronto-Vancouver route.
A recent article published in the Globe and Mail openly speculated that the current cuts are leading the way for privatization of the rail service. Ken Rubin, who obtained documents through an access to information request, revealed cost-cutting options Transport Canada officials are considering, including the potiential to get out of the tourism industry entirely.
A briefing note prepared for Transport Minister Denis Lebel indicated that the department was considering several options, including “significant reductions in service and schedule frequencies,” as well as “privatization and public sector partnerships in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor.”
It seems that more may be behind the federal government's desire to cut back on its national train service though. A story by the Globe and Mail reveals that Via Rail was looking at expanding services in specific areas such as the Jasper-Vancouver run with luxury trains which would compete directly with the current private service provider Rocky Mountaineer (RMR). It also appears that the owners of RMR have been lobbying the Conservative government over the last several years regarding expanding its services and actually have ties to the Conservative Party. RMR board members include former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning and previously included former Conservative MP Jim Gouk, who served as the opposition critic for VIA Rail from 2001 to 2006.
RMR has also been in the news recently after locking out its onboard attendents, members of the Teamsters union, on June 22. 2011. The workers have been locked out for over a year.
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