June 29, 2017 — Ottawa’s VIA Rail board appointments: Same old circus with new performers

ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – By letting patronage rule in its selection of a new slate of VIA Rail Canada directors, the Trudeau government has passed up a major opportunity to revive and renew the publicly-owned passenger railway.

“We’re not surprised, but we are disappointed,” says Chris West of the All Aboard St. Marys citizens’ committee. “This is a clear indication that VIA isn’t a priority for this government, just a place to plant some of the party faithful. It’s more proof that our rail passenger service is broken and headed for serious trouble in the near future.”

The government’s June 27, 2017, announcement of the VIA board appointments is available at

https://www.canada.ca/en/transport- canada/news/2017/06/minister_garneauannouncesappointmentsandreappointmentsinthetrans.html

The appointment of the new chairperson was previously announced on April 19, 2017.

https://www.canada.ca/en/transport- canada/news/2017/04/appointment_of_francoisebertrandtoviarailcanada.html

VIA’s new board makes for an unflattering contrast with the one guiding its U.S. equivalent, Amtrak. While politics is invariably involved in such appointments, the U.S. has been more even handed in selecting directors who put Amtrak ahead of partisan interests. The nine- member Amtrak board is composed of members identified with both political parties and includes five directors with relevant rail or public transportation experience.

Says West, “Planting a failed Liberal candidate from Montreal on the board speaks volumes about the federal government’s lack of real concern about VIA’s future compared with the U.S. approach. There is not a soul on the new VIA board with anything close to the rail passenger experience, knowledge or enthusiasm that guides Amtrak. This has largely been the case through the 40 years since VIA was created by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government to allegedly revive and modernize our rail passenger service.”

Most troubling is the absence of any of the highly-skilled, non-partisan candidates available to fill the VIA board positions. The prime one is former Amtrak president David Gunn, who is now a resident of Nova Scotia. The knowledge and insights he gained through his 41-year career in the rail and public transit industries would be invaluable to VIA at a time when it needs such expertise the most.

“As Mr. Gunn has said on many occasions – and VIA’s corporate plan confirms – this railway is headed for collapse,” says West. “VIA has received no funding for new equipment, which the corporate plan says is vital if it is to keep running its current services beyond 2020. It also makes clear that the first pieces of this desperately-needed new fleet – even if the government suddenly authorized its purchase today – couldn’t be on the rails until at least 2021.”

At the same time, the provincial government has made a pre-election promise to build its own high-speed rail passenger system between Toronto, London and Windsor, with completion optimistically pegged at 2031. At a cost of more than $30 billion, the provincially-funded system would duplicate and likely decimate the federally-funded VIA services. Communities such as St. Marys, Stratford, Brantford and Woodstock, which aren’t on the proposed high- speed line, would be left with no rail service.

Says West, “Between VIA’s longstanding woes, these partisan board appointments and the province’s overblown promises, we see nothing that resembles a logical plan to improve mobility in Southwestern Ontario. We need the type of fast and affordable rail passenger improvements now being delivered in regions all over the U.S. This is going to undermine Southwestern Ontario’s competitiveness and its desirability as a place to live, visit and invest.”

All Aboard St. Marys has long advocated incremental improvement of the two existing VIA routesbetweenTorontoandLondon,andthenwestwardtobothWindsorandSarnia. The group’s view is that the high-performance rail improvements now being successfully and quickly implemented on comparable U.S. corridors offer realistic and cost-effective blueprints for Southwestern Ontario.

“We fail to see how a trainload of political appointees with no discernible rail experience is going to deliver what we require,” says West. “The message to us is clear: All Aboard St. Marys must escalate its advocacy efforts in the face of the government’s failure to give VIA the right team and the resources to halt the continuing deterioration of our rail service.”

For more information, please contact:

Chris West
All Aboard St. Marys
Tel: 519 284-3310
Fax: 519 284-3160
Toll free: 1-866-862-5632 Ext. 238