Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me today to continue with a debate that is of great concern to the people in my riding: the loss of VIA Rail service.
In just a few weeks, we are likely to lose all VIA Rail service in eastern Canada, from Quebec City to Halifax and up to the Gaspé. This is a matter of real concern. The service has existed for 100 years now, but because of the government’s lack of interest, there is a real danger we will lose it forever.
I would like to come back to what the minister said in this House. Today, in response to a question from my colleague from Halifax, she suggested that we could perhaps take a look at a map in order to understand the region’s geography. I can guarantee her that we are very knowledgeable about the geography of the region. I would like to encourage her to study the map with the help of opposition members so that she understands the problems that will be created if the federal government does not invest in the 70 km of rail that is at risk between Miramichi and Bathurst.
If the investment is not made in the next five months, we may lose VIA Rail service forever in eastern Canada. If the federal government does not invest in the railway in the Gaspé region in the next few weeks, the railway line may be shut down forever in my region by the end of March.
The amounts required are not enormous. For the 70 km railway section in New Brunswick, we are talking about an investment of $10 million over 15 years, in partnership with CN, which could save our railway. We could save VIA Rail service throughout eastern Canada. For the Gaspé, in partnership with the province and the region, the federal government could invest a few million dollars to save the railway and restore VIA rail service.
I would like to point out that VIA Rail service in eastern Canada involves two VIA routes that are twinned along two-thirds of the route. There is one train that divides in Matapédia, at the Quebec-New Brunswick border. The train separates and continues either to the Gaspé or to Halifax. If we lose the train to Halifax, we will lose the train to the Gaspé, because it is the same train.
The government says over and over that there is nothing it can do. It says that CN is unfortunately a private company and that the railway is an independent Crown corporation. It says that it is too complicated for the federal government to invest in a Crown corporation. The board members for this Crown corporation are appointed by the government. The Crown corporation is a division of the government. There is good reason why VIA Rail is a Crown corporation, and it is precisely because in the past it was felt that it was a priority to ensure that people in the regions had access to an adequate transportation network. Now we have a government that believes that people no longer need this transportation network.
I would like to state that the opposite is true. The people in my region depend on VIA Rail to get to the major centres. VIA Rail seems to be saying that the people in the region will have to make other arrangements, for instance, taking the bus. I would like to point out that soon the bus service in my region will probably be eliminated. In New Brunswick, Acadian Lines suspended service for several months and people had no other public transportation or public transit to travel to other regions. VIA Rail service is essential to ensure that people in the area can continue to participate in and fully contribute to the Canadian economy. This is part of the economy. VIA Rail is part of the wealth and well-being of our beautiful country; it must be present and provide adequate services.
I would like to know what the parliamentary secretary plans on doing to help the people in my region.