It’s the Great Train Robbery – Liberal edition. A year-and-a-half since the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger train last ran and the federal government continues to shortchange the economy and safe transportation in the region. Each day that the historic ACR train does not run between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst is one more lost for tourist businesses, First Nations peoples, travelers, and communities along the line.
The Algoma train provides many of the things the Liberals love to say they represent, and yet still no wheels move. Local economic stimulation? A 2015 BDO Canada study stated the train generates between $28 and $38 million in annual economic activity. Environmental responsibility? Trains are 17% more efficient than planes and 34% more than cars. Relationships with First Nations? The ACR line allows local First Nations peoples to access traditional territories. Safe travel in Canada? The ACR train, especially in Winter, is the best way to reach remote localities along the line.
For lack of previously-promised start-up monies, $5.3 million over 3 years, the Justin Trudeau government thru incompetence or willful choice, has had a serious negative economic and social impact on the region. The Prime Minister’s lofty words remain just that, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau is tone-deaf to the topographic reality of the North, and Minister of Small Business & Tourism Bardish Chagger is nowhere to be seen.
Liberal MP Terry Sheehan of Sault Ste. Marie, seeking to save face, has trumpeted $200K recently awarded to Missinabie Cree FN, the proposed new passenger train operator, to assist with a business plan. While that money can augment an already-existing plan and finalize terms with line-owner CN Rail, that is not the same as a public Liberal commitment to restart the train or recognition that the ACR line geographically qualifies for the remote funding revoked by Garneau in July 2016.
Perhaps one of two things could finally get Liberal support for the ACR train. Trudeau, Garneau, Chagger, and Sheehan could drive together in a car from the Soo to Hearst in February. Or, a Liberal fundraising event could be held on the train and money would certainly flow in then.
Iron Bridge, ON