The "Save VIA" Campaign began as a grassroots response to the VIA Rail cuts that the federal government announced in 2012; but with a huge amount of public support it has grown into a nationwide appeal to restore passenger rail service. Mr. Harper's government needs to listen to the Canadians who are clearly saying that we need to retain and improve Canada's rail services.
Canadians from all walks of life are dependent upon these services and as Seniors Critic I am particularly worried for the seniors in my community who rely upon VIA rail for both medical-related trips and family visits. Many seniors who responded to the VIA campaign, stated that they prefer not to drive and are fearful of the time when they cannot drive.
Canada's rail network is the backbone of our national transportation system. But sadly the federal government is turning its back on passenger rail at a time when our G8 peers are investing in high-speed rail. Make no mistake about this: the service reductions, cancelled connections, shuttered train stations and staff cuts are the direct result of the Conservatives slashing of VIA's funding.
Towns and cities are deprived of vital connections when commuters lose their public transit and elderly and disabled passengers struggle to buy tickets and board trains. All the while crucial service personnel are being laid off.
An improved rail service is imperative for alleviating traffic congestion on Canada's highways and roads. My constituents feel particularly disenfranchised because of the service reduction. It is obvious that action must be taken and we must reinvest in VIA. We should be looking at all kinds of opportunities for mass transportations. If there was an improvement in the service to make it more efficient, there would be more people who would be able to use the trains.
We must erase any notion that VIA trips are a luxury. Over four million VIA trips occur across Canada each year, and for many they are a necessity. The route from Windsor to Quebec City is indispensable for students, seniors, tourists and those using it for business and employment purposes. The cuts to VIA rail will only exacerbate the issue of congestion in major cities and on major roadways.
I am calling upon the Conservative government to support the existing schedule so the many who rely upon the service can continue to use VIA. I also call upon the government to reverse the budget cuts to VIA Rail. The government needs to put in place stable, long-term funding to secure the future of passenger rail in Canada and legislation that defines VIA Rail's role and mandate. Currently the crown corporation is at the whim of the federal government funding and prone to government interference. To end this limbo, New Democrats are demanding a legal framework to strengthen VIA Rail.
Canadians deserve fast and environmentally friendly rail connections between our cities and towns. Let's continue to work together to stop the dangerous cuts and make VIA Rail fit for the 21st century.