FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MAY 4, 2016
Save VIA agrees with Auditor General’s report: VIA has ‘deficiencies’ and lacks direction
ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – The Save VIA citizens’ committee applauds the findings of a special examination of VIA Rail by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), which has identified several flaws in the way our Crown rail passenger service is managed and delivered by both the railway and the government.
“It was high time for an independent and thorough VIA audit like this,” says Save VIA’s Chris West. “What the Auditor General has found is proof that our new government had better get beyond its words of praise for the concept of improved rail passenger service and aggressively tackle a series of problems that threaten to destroy it. Action – not sunny phrases – is what all Canadian rail passengers require now, as this report proves.”
The special examination by the OAG is especially critical of how the federal government oversees and ultimately controls VIA, making it nearly impossible to engage in any long-range planning. Furthermore, VIA’s own handling of the projects funded under a $1-billion capital investment program that began in 2007 – which still isn’t complete and has run millions of dollars over budget – also received a negative review by the OAG.
Says West, “These are all things that Save VIA, other advocacy groups and rail experts have been saying for years. We have always said that our rail passenger service won’t improve until basics such as governance, VIA’s managerial competency and the relationship with the freight railways are tackled.”
As the OAG has pointed out, the result of all these deficiencies is that VIA’s revenue has only gone up by about $5 million over the last five years, while its expenses rose by about $60 million and its ridership fell by about eight per cent.
West says these deficiencies at VIA and within the government’s own mishandling of the rail passenger program are of extreme concern to Save VIA at a time when the Crown corporation is asking Ottawa to approve a $4-billion proposal to build what it calls a dedicated-track, high- frequency service between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
“As rail consultant and government policy adviser Greg Gormick pointed out in a recent report on the future of VIA’s Quebec-Windsor Corridor for Transport Action Ontario, this scheme is filled with serious question marks, shifting details and dubious promises,” says West. “The OAG report gives us no faith in VIA’s ability to deliver this ‘silver bullet’ project on what amounts to a fantasy budget and schedule.
Furthermore, it looks all too similar to other dream schemes that VIA produced and Ottawa approved in the past. All of them ultimately amounted to nothing and diverted both parties from the real job of delivering a practical, sustainable and affordable rail passenger service to the taxpayers who fund it.”
In response to the OAG report, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said he is taking its findings seriously and will address the “weaknesses” that have been identified.
Says West, “We can only hope that’s true. But actions speak louder than words, so we’ll wait to see some of the former before Save VIA issues any endorsements of the course this new government is steering when it comes to dealing with a major public program that has a huge economic, social and environmental impact clear across Canada.”
The Auditor General of Canada’s Special Examination Report on VIA Rail may be viewed at:
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