Mr. Speaker, on October 13 VIA Rail announced that it was cutting a further 478 jobs, half of them in Montreal, and that it would be doing this without any cut in service to the public.
On October 18 I asked the Minister of Transport how VIA Rail could cut 478 jobs without reducing service to the public and why VIA was still pursuing a downsizing policy introduced by the Conservative government in 1993.
In answer to my question, the Minister of Transport said that the cuts were necessary because there had to be a cut in the subsidies to VIA Rail. He said it could not continue with the subsidies at the same level. He went on to say again that there would be no cut in service. By that he meant there would be no cut in trains or no cut in VIA Rail routes.
I guess it all comes down to what you mean by service to the public. Some of these cuts involve cuts in the maintenance staff for VIA Rail. Some of them involve cuts in the sales staff for VIA Rail. Let me state some things that have happened to me on VIA Rail trains. If there is no proper maintenance and the train is breaking down halfway through the trip, as it has done on several occasions, and arrival at your destination is delayed by half an hour or an hour and if the heating system breaks down in the winter and you freeze in the coach, that all has to do with service to the public.
It is also service to the public when you try to get a sales representative on the phone and all you get is a run-around with push one, push two and push three. It is very difficult to get the type of service you need to buy a ticket for VIA Rail.
In fact, these are cuts in service that will affect the public. Sooner or later because of the poor service in sales promotion or the purchase of tickets or in maintenance, people will stop using the train. When they stop using the train because of the poor service in these aspects, then VIA Rail will say: "Nobody is using the route to London or to Quebec City or Sherbrooke. Let's close it down". Of course the reason people are not using it starts at the beginning with the cuts that were made in maintenance, sales, public relations, research and so on.
I maintain that these cuts will lead to a cut in service. I see these cuts by VIA Rail as a lack of long range commitment to passenger rail service in this country.
In Canada we have always had subsidies for our transportation system. We have it for buses, trucks and airlines. The airlines are being subsidized indirectly by the airports, the air traffic control. The highways are subsdized by the fact that they are built for the public by the provinces and the buses and trucks are using them to a great extent. All this is happening in this country while in Europe they are building high speed, very efficient trains. The chunnel train service from Paris to London began just the other day. You can go from Paris to London I think in about three to four hours. It is very efficient and very fast. Here we are in Canada ripping up the rails.
It is very difficult to understand why in our country, when we had a great railway system and a great seaway system, we are letting these things go down the drain. When one drives down Highway 401 to Toronto there are so many trucks and buses on the road one takes his or her life in danger. A lot of that freight traffic should be on trains and on shipping. I just do not understand what VIA is doing or what the government is doing.
Furthermore, the minister says he is reducing the subsidies by $100 million a year in accordance with the 1993 budget. The 1993 budget was a Conservative Tory budget. We are a new Liberal government. Why are we continuing to allow VIA Rail to operate on a budget that was introduced by a Tory government that we helped to defeat last September?
Once again I will put my question to the government. Where is the commitment to good passenger service in this country? Why was the money saved by these cuts not redirected into better rail service? What assurance do we have that these cuts will not lead to a further deterioration in service and to more cuts in routes for our trains in this country?