Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak again about the importance of rail infrastructure, and specifically, passenger rail.
Just like shipping on the Great Lakes, rail helped build this country and is celebrated for the central role it played in our history. In northern Ontario, the discovery of silver and cobalt was made by men building what would become the Ontario Northland Railway. That discovery eventually built a thriving town. However, the success story of rail is not limited to any one place. Significant economic activity followed wherever the lines went, and rail is still the cornerstone of many communities to this day.
In recent years, passenger rail has fallen on tough times, not because it is not cost-effective, convenient or environmentally beneficial but because governments in Canada have continually downgraded their commitment to this particular form of transportation. If members will recall, when I raised this issue in October, the Ontario government was in the process of ending passenger services offered by Ontario Northland. This move came on the heels of significant reductions in the frequency of passenger routes for VIA Rail and amounted to a one-two punch for people in northern Ontario.
These decisions are short-sighted and, when compared with significant government investments in highways, show that both governments are clearly choosing to subsidize one form of transportation at the expense of another. This is a scenario where governments are picking winners and losers, and abandoning our history, endangering our present and limiting our future options in the process. In this case, the losers are rail, the people who depend upon it and the communities it serves.
I am not here to argue against investing in our highways, our network of roads. I am here to argue that passenger rail is integral to our economy in Canada, especially in northern Ontario. For many people, rail has been their preferred or only available form of public transportation. Rail adds value to the region and helps anchor local economies.
By way of an example, we can look at the numbers associated with the Ontario Northland Railway. The ONR contributes a full 1% to the GDP of the province. Every dollar spent on salaries, operational inputs and capital programs creates an additional $1.25 in value-added activity for northeastern Ontario. For every dollar in wages, it is estimated that $1.47 of value-added economic activity is created in the region.
Put more simply, for every job created by the railway, there is an additional job created in the region. Communities that are serviced by the railway tend to have higher average incomes than most in the other regions.
The intermodal nature of rail and the ONR's connectivity with east-west routes amount to a competitive advantage for the region. With the promise of significant development in the Ring of Fire, it makes little sense for Ontario to abandon its commitment to passenger rail. Employees will have to get to their workplaces, and with every job that is created in this region, there is another potential passenger who will now be finding other ways to get to the job site.
The current government has a hand in reducing options for northerners, as well. VIA's cuts to all routes are being felt in northern and remote communities especially hard. Many of these places have already seen bus service dry up, despite significant cash investments in the roads that they travel on. Also feeling the pinch are businesses that grew out of the demand created by passenger rail. Less frequent trains means fewer customers. What may seem like a small decision for people with the options of those living in larger centres is earth-shattering for towns such as Hornepayne.
Will the government look at the evidence that supports a strong passenger rail option in Canada and protect the services already in place, while finding ways to encourage more options, especially in rural and northern Canada?