Trudeau could sig­nal Via re­newal

Simcoe Reformer - - OPINION - GREG GORMICK

Who is killing Canada’s pas­sen­ger trains? It can’t be our prime min­is­ter.

Since he was a babe in his mother’s arms, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has been ex­posed to the virtues of train travel. That’s thanks to his fa­ther, Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau, who had a gen­uine af­fec­tion and re­spect for pas­sen­ger trains. He trav­elled on and cam­paigned from them fre­quently, and his gov­ern­ment cre­ated Via Rail Canada in 1977.

When the fu­ture prime min­is­ter Trudeau was six months old, his par­ents took him to visit his grand­par­ents in Van­cou­ver on the aptly named Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way flag­ship, The Cana­dian.

He later trav­elled to the Mar­itimes with his fa­ther and their close friends, fu­ture Gov. Gen. Romeo LeBlanc (a rail­roader’s son) and his son Dominic, who is now MP for Beauséjour. They rode aboard CN’s Ocean Lim­ited over the rail­way built as a manda­tory re­quire­ment of Con­fed­er­a­tion in 1867.

And when he took his fa­ther home to his fi­nal rest­ing place in Mon­treal, it was on a fla­gadorned ver­sion of The Cana­dian, op­er­ated by the Crown rail pas­sen­ger cor­po­ra­tion his fa­ther helped cre­ate in 1977.

Trudeau has had train ex­po­sure of late, too, in­clud­ing ap­pear­ances at GO Tran­sit’s Toronto shops and Mon­treal’s Cen­tral Sta­tion to an­nounce fund­ing of ur­ban rail projects.

On July 30, the prime min­is­ter took his daugh­ter Ella- Grace from Revel­stoke to Cal­gary aboard the CPR’s Canada 150 Train.

But what of Canada’s pas­sen­ger trains to­day? They are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing rapidly and dras­tic ac­tion is re­quired, es­pe­cially on Via’s on­ce­great and al­ways-late Cana­dian. On Fri­day af­ter­noon, Via re­ported one west­bound Cana­dian was more than six hours late out on the prairies and the train that de­parted Toronto the night be­fore was al­ready three hours late in North­ern On­tario. The east­bound sis­ter train was more than nine hours late as it crossed the Man­i­toba- On­tario bor­der. This is ac­tu­ally good per­for­mance by to­day’s stan­dards.

Mean­while, Via head­quar­ters staff in their plush Place Ville Marie of­fices churn out multi­bil­lion-dol­lar dreams un­likely to ever ma­te­ri­al­ize and feel-good press re­leases to pa­per over the mess.

Pub­lic money is re­quired to mod­ern­ize our rail pas­sen­ger sys­tem, but just throw­ing more bucks into Via’s mink-lined sink­hole isn’t the an­swer. The gov­ern­ment must se­ri­ously re-think this hob­bled iron horse’s role and craft a re­hab plan that out­lasts any four-year elec­tion cy­cle. Our elected pub­lic ser­vants must be re­minded they have only tem­po­rary cus­tody of Via on be­half of its true own­ers -- the pub­lic.

The prob­lem here isn’t nec­es­sar­ily Trudeau, it’s his ad­vis­ers. They don’t un­der­stand that a re­vi­tal­iza­tion of our pas­sen­ger trains would cou­ple with their end­lessly stated de­vo­tion to eco­nomic stim­u­lus, na­tional unity, re­gional in­clu­sive­ness, tourism de­vel­op­ment and a na­tional cli­mate change strat­egy.

Trudeau needs to gather his back­room power bro­kers for a chat about his very per­sonal rail con­nec­tions. Ad­vis­ers such as Gerald Butts and Katie Telford might then grasp what a rail renaissance would do for their leader, their gov­ern­ment and their ca­reers.

To fix our rail pas­sen­ger sys­tem, Trudeau need only act on a view he ex­pressed aboard the CPR’s sesqui­cen­ten­nial train: rid­ing trains re­minds us of their role in na­tion build­ing.

He can re­set his gov­ern­ment’s sig­nals to make our pas­sen­ger trains na­tion builders and uni­fiers again. For rea­sons both per­sonal and prac­ti­cal, he should do it.

Greg Gormick is a rail an­a­lyst and pol­icy ad­viser whose clients have in­cluded Via, CP, CN and elected of­fi­cials of all po­lit­i­cal stripes. He cur­rently serves as trans­porta­tion ad­viser to Ox­ford County.

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