This country was created by the railroad. In the 19th century,
the dream of
a "Canada" was realised by the building of a national railroad. And
"national" meant St.John's to Victoria -- not Quebec City to Windsor.
Today, a dismal future is in store for this country; and the loss of
passenger rail service in the Canadian hinterland is only a small sympton of
the larger problem. Too much of our population and economic activity is
concentrated into the Quebec City - Windsor "Corridor", and too little in
hinterland areas, such as the Maritimes, the Canadian Shield, the Prairies,
BC, and the Territories.
Yet it is upon the back of the hinterland that the wealth of Central
the "Corridor" was built. 170 years of import tarriffs protecting an
artificially-located secondary manufacturing industry in Southern Ontario
and Southern Quebec, coupled with preferential freight rates making it
artificially cheaper to ship manufactured goods from Southern Ontario and
Southern Quebec to the hinterland, and cheaper to ship raw materials in the
opposite direction, a central banking system, overt government procurement
practises to purchase hi-technology goods and services from Ottawa-based
Canadian suppliers -- all these myriad hidden subsidies have combined to
create the "good life" (and boost the population to 17 million) in the
Corridor, at the expense of the hinterland. Does anybody for one moment
think that the Corridor has anything to offer the world? The only resource
in the Corridor, in the early 1800s, was a few paltry patches of good
farmland. Instead, our United Empire Loyalist forebears used their savvy to
begin the process of exploitation of a vast Canadian wilderness that
appeared to be of no use to the Americans.
When President Johnson agreed in the 1960s to the Auto-Pact, what the
do you think was in it for the US? High quality Canadian workmanship? I
think not. It was continued access to our natural resources, fossil fuels
in particular, but minerals, lumber and pulp&paper as well, that brought him
and the US auto companies to Lester Pearson's table to (reluctantly) agree
to it. And this is just one of many examples -- the Corridor has for a long
time enjoyed its own hidden subsidies (talk about a hypocrite region -- the
most vocal opponents of federal subsidies to Atlantic Canada today are in
Toronto and Montreal, yet those 2 cities have enjoyed nearly 2 centuries of
subsidies, in higher prices resulting from import tarriffs, paid by
Maritimers, amongst others, for shoddily-made manufactured goods from
Toronto and Montreal manufacturing plants! Ah, but I digress...)
In 1776, the same thing was happening to our southern neighbours.
was the equivalent of today's Quebec City - Windsor Corridor, the US was the
equivalent to our heartland. And you know what happened.
(Ironically, the same British sympathisers who fled the American Revolution
northward, the United Empire Loyalists, who undoubtedly supported this
"hinterland-heartland" exploitation principle in the US on the part of their
beloved English king, became the instigators of protectionist policies in
Canada. What Britain could no longer do to the United States, they found a
way to do to the Canadian hinterland).
I won't go on about the dire future that awaits Canada, should we allow
170-year-old exploitation of Canada's sparsely populated areas by the
densely populated, priviledged (and, I might add, resource poor) heartland
to continue. I will say, though, that VIA Rail's ignoring of Canada's
hinterland is symptomatic of this problem, which I consider to be the most
serious in Canada, and the root of all our difficulties. Economy, health,
education, the so-called "brain-drain", safety, environment, social
stresses -- all point back to having too many Canadians living between
Quebec City and Windsor, not enough Canadians living in the rest of the
country. If the United States had allowed itself to grow in the same
manner, 170 million people would be living between Boston and Washington
(instead of the 40 million who do live there; and that's crowded enough) --
can you imagine?!
Let me address your comments below (not all your email is quoted, only
which I address, though your original email is attached for your reference.
your statements begin with ">", that's how you can differentiate my
> Armstrong. When VIA reduced the frequency of its transcontinental
> in 1990, it decided to retain a thrice-weekly service over the CN line to
> continue to serve remote communities in northern Ontario, which have no
> alternative means of transportation or who are faced with a very limited
> number of transportation options.
---if that's so, how can you justify better and more
frequent VIA Rail
service in the Corridor? With the nation's most advanced freeway system
(never mind the extensive network of other roads), coupled with regular bus
service, and the densest schedule of airline service, the Corridor hardly is
in the same league as the "remote communities in northern Ontario". Yet VIA
Rail has improved its Corridor service far more than it has its Northern
Ontario service. Don't get me wrong; I completely agree with your concern
about remote communities. It is the other side of the coin that I disagree
with -- greater service in the Corridor. Your argument, that VIA Rail
service is needed when there are limited alternative transportation options,
does not justify greater expenditures by VIA Rail in the Corridor.
There is no doubt that this costs money -- even at higher revenue/cost
ratios, rail service in the Corridor still must be subsidised, meaning that
taxpayers (including those in the hinterland) are picking up the tab so that
the priviledged of Central Canada, already enjoying the best transportation
in the country, get more. (I like to picture a family sitting around a
table, 5 of the kids skinny as a rake, their plates nearly empty, while the
sixth child is fat to the point of obesity, whose plate is overflowing with
food, and demands even more, while his 5 siblings look on forlornly -- guess
which kid represents Southern Ontario & Southern Quebec.)
Since it DOES cost money to provide better VIA Rail passenger service
Corridor, the Corridor is not in that different a league from the rest of
the country -- they all need subsidy. Thus, if subsidies are spent in the
Corridor, they can be spent in the hinterland. This goes for places like
Calgary, as well as Sioux Lookout. Using your theory, servicing communities
with limited options, can be said for ANY part of Canada in the hinterland,
because NO part of the hinterland is as well served as the Corridor.
> it was a leader in passenger transportation. VIA Rail reduced
> funding requirement by $271 million to its current level of $170 million,
> while operating most of the same routes as in 1990,
-- "most" is not "all". Where, then, were the
routes dropped? You and
I both know -- definitely NOT in the Corridor. Throughout the Canadian
hinterland, even major urban centres, such as Thunder Bay and Calgary, lost
their regularly scheduled passenger rail service.
> running more trains,
> carrying more passengers and maintaining a high level of service.
-- yes, in the Corridor. You'd be hard-pressed
to say the same of the
hinterland. Just ask the former Mayor of Saint John New Brunswick.
> The Minister has also asked VIA to provide him with a list of possible
> changes to the national network that would include previously abandoned
> services or that would enhance the performance of the corporation. Such
> changes could only be contemplated once other financial pressures have
> addressed and it can be demonstrated that the new services could be
> accommodated within the confines of the existing operating subsidy.
-- unfortunately, while this seems to pay lip-service
"possiblity" of enhancing and reinstating regular passenger rail service in
the hinterland, your final qualifying statement brings us back to the
Corridor - hinterland issue : the Corridor is the most "profitable" part of
VIA Rail's operation (deliberate quotes -- it still loses money; indeed,
passenger rail service, like urban public transportation, is likely to
always need subsidies, in practically all industrialised countries); if a
hinterland route is scored by comparing it to a Corridor route, it will
always lose. Thus this is a thinly-veiled way of ensuring that the Corridor
Self-fulfilling prophecies : enhance Corridor rail service / this
more attractiveness, among other things, to business investment in the
Corridor / this leads to more jobs in the Corridor, leading to more
population growth in the Corridor, leading to higher densities and, thus,
greater passenger load per rail-kilometre / leading to greater profitability
on Corridor passenger rail routes.
The United States is quite different from us. While we continue
burdened by our United Empire Loyalist legacy of accruing the "civilised"
life to a small densely populated heartland, at the expense of the
hinterland (throwing a few "bones" to Quebec over the decades, of course, to
keep them in Confederation, knowing that the alternative would devastate
Southern Ontario), the Americans do the opposite. While we have spent 170
years on hidden subsidies benifitting the Corridor, such as import tarriffs,
Americans have embraced their hinterland. While our already over-populated
Corridor is now the fastest growing part of Canada, Americans have been
leaving their most densely populated regions, such as the Eastern Seaboard,
and moving out in droves into their sparsely populated hinterlands, such as
Premier Mike Harris, some months ago, waxed proudly that Ontario no
needs the rest of Canada. That the province's North-South linkages are now
more important than its East-West linkages (nothwithstanding that for the
170 years prior to his inane comments, Ontario enjoyed the East-West
priviledges resulting from of exploitation Canada's natural resources -- he
conveniently declined to remind people of that). Fine; if he wants to make
his bed, he has to lie in it -- he should not be surprised, then, if
Canada's hinterland regions begin to strengthen their own North-South
alliances. Indeed, had Mike Harris' principle been in force a hundred years
ago, there would likely have been NO secondary manufacturing in Southern
Ontario -- federal enforced import tarrifffs allowed Ontario to convince
American manufacturers that Southern Ontario was a "branch territory" ...
even though the parent plants were less than 200 miles away, so close you
could see them across Lake Erie on a good day! Had Mike Harris' principle
been in effect, the real branch territories would have been North-South
linking the Maritimes with New England, linking our Prairies with their
Great Plains -- and the secondary manufacturing plants would have been built
in Maine and New Brunswick, or Saskatchewan and North Dakota, not Kitchener
and Oshawa. But all this ignores another unfair fact about the Corridor's
exploitation of Canada's hinterland -- that the majority of Members of
Parliament (always at least 50.5%; controlling corporate interest?) have all
been located between Quebec City and Windsor. When it comes to the
back-room politics of protecting your home-town, and making sure your
children don't have to leave "civilisation", party colours (and language
differences) are always dropped; those MPs will do what they have to, make
the strange bed-fellows if need be, to keep the good jobs in the Corridor,
and continue to enjoy the wealth of the hinterland's resources. Had we had
an elected Senate, giving power to our sparsely populated regions as the
Americans do, perhaps indeed Mike Harris' current boast would have been
realised 100 years ago. But if he wants it today, he better be prepared for
the FULL consequences.
In the case of Thunder Bay, I would hope to see those "consequences"
realised through more and more interaction between Northwestern Ontario and
Minnesota. If VIA Rail has no interest any longer in maintaing a "Canada"
by improving East-West linkages (forget the "information highway" -- we
still live in our physical geography), perhaps Thunder Bay will find its
connection to the "outside world" through the United States -- to hell with
"Canada". And if it means, some day, greater political linkages with
Minnesota (and, perhaps, an invoice sent to Queen's Park for the $-billions
in resource wealth taken from the North, with paltry returns), then Mike
Harris and his ilk -- including VIA Rail -- have only themselves to blame.
-Allan Krisciunas, Ottawa