Opposition politicians are calling upon both the federal and provincial governments to step in and ensure that transportation services are available to Canadians outside of major urban centres now that Greyhound is planning to stop running buses in Western Canada come Halloween.
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau July 11, asking his government to develop a funding plan to stop the cancellation of crucial bus routes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.
“This federal funding plan must ensure there is no interruption or reduction in bus service, so no community is left stranded,” wrote Singh. “I urge you to immediately partner with the premiers of affected provinces and leaders of affected municipalities to discuss that plan, starting by making this a priority item at the upcoming meeting of the Council of the Federation in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.”
Singh said in having bus service in remote areas was a safety matter and said that a statement given to the media by Transport Canada, which said “there are no federal government funding programs that would provide an operational subsidy for private intercity bus carriers,” was an instance of the federal government abdicating its responsibility for interprovincial transportation.
In Manitoba, the Liberals and the Green Party followed in the footsteps of the NDP in criticizing the Progressive Conservative government’s response to the impending shutdown, which was similarly dismissive of the possibility of subsidizing bus companies, something the previous NDP provincial government did for a few years after Greyhound said in 2009 that it would be ceasing service in Manitoba in 30 days, a move that didn’t actually take place.
“The federal and provincial governments provide public support for transit inside the perimeter,” said Liberal leader Dougald Lamont in a July 12 press release. “As a matter of fairness and equality, we must be willing to invest so Manitobans outside the perimeter can afford to travel as well.”
Keewatinook Liberal MLA Judy Klassen said there were entrepreneurs ready to provide the service if there were supports to help them do so profitably.
“I’ve heard from a local northern bus operator who is willing to take over some of the cancelled routes, but if a large company like Greyhound can’t afford to service the routes, how would smaller operators survive?” said Klassen. “That’s why we need support from both levels of government. The government has a role to play.”
Manitoba Green Party leader James Beddome wrote a letter to Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler saying that merely hoping for private companies to step in to fill the gap was not an adequate response.
“We do not rely on the private sector to build, maintain, and develop our road network and likewise some public co-ordination and public investment in intercity transportation is likely required,” Beddome wrote. “Merely hoping that someone in the private sector will step up to the plate is not the kind of leadership Manitobans need. “
Flin Flon NDP MLA Tom Lindsey said July 10 that because many health care services are not available in rural and Northern Manitoba, access to transportation was an essential service.
“The province needs to show leadership and make sure our rural and northern communities have access to transportation in the near and short term – we can’t leave our communities cut off,” Lindsey said.
Although Ontario-based bus company Kasper Transportation has said it will step in to take over some of Greyhound’s routes in Manitoba, including the one from Winnipeg to Thompson, an organization opposed to provincial government cuts in Saskatchewan warns that relying on other companies to step in when one bows out is not reliable, pointing to the example of what happened when the Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation, a Crown corporation, was shut down in 2017.
“Encouraged by the SaskParty government’s rhetoric about the capacity of the market to provide necessary services once the publicly subsidized Crown corporation was out of the way, 10 companies vied for the former STC routes,” said a media release from the Saskatchewan-based Stop the Cuts. “One year later, only two of those companies remain and most of the routes have no common carrier passenger service.”
“If the federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada want to truly develop a model to replace Greyhound maybe it’s time for a national, subsidized transportation system that unites the country” said Stop The Cuts.