Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/4/2012 (3382 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
FLIN FLON -- Manitobans are justifiably tired of seeing their have-not province constantly compared to booming Saskatchewan. But at the moment, northern Manitobans are crossing their fingers that the NDP will heed at least one lesson from our right-leaning neighbours to the west.
Greyhound has announced that effective July 1, it will scrap a dozen highway routes and scale back five others across Manitoba.
The reductions will not affect the North alone, but will hit this region and rural areas the hardest by virtue of their remoteness.
Gone will be the Thompson-Snow Lake-Flin Flon, Thompson-Nelson House-Lynn Lake, Cross Lake-Norway House and Split Lake-Gillam routes. Additionally, the number of departures and arrivals between Flin Flon and Winnipeg and all points along that route will be cut in half to one per day.
Citing poor economics, Greyhound first threatened to abandon Manitoba altogether in 2009. Since then, however, the NDP has averted any reductions by doling out $8.4 million to the carrier.
Now the province is hitting the brakes on the funding, fashioning an uneasy future for those who rely on this economical means of transportation.
In a frustratingly vague attempt to ensure continued service, the NDP is amending the rules to offer greater flexibility for bus carriers.
Transportation Minister Steve Ashton says the proposed changes would allow inter-community bus companies to respond to market demands, provide new operators easier access to the market and help give providers, such as handi-vans, more wiggle room in the type of service they provide.
But concerning -- and confusing -- is this line from a government news release: "The province will hold consultations with organizations representing northern, rural, First Nation and Métis communities to determine their interest in establishing inter-community transportation services on routes where private-sector services might not be available."
Save your consultations. Cash-strapped rural communities and reserves have absolutely no appetite for launching their own bus services or having to aid in such a venture. They are having enough trouble with inadequate and crumbling infrastructure.
No, their interest lies in having the province continue to provide them and their people with a vital service they need and deserve.
Which brings us back to Saskatchewan. Since 1946, that province has operated a successful and respected Crown busing corporation known as the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.
The STC receives $9 million in operating subsidies a year from the Saskatchewan government. In exchange for this $8.43 per person, Saskatchewanians enjoy a reliable, equitable bus service with regular stops in virtually every nook and cranny of the province.
The subsidy is an absolute must in Saskatchewan. According to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the only STC routes not operating at a loss are those between Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.
So rather than some convoluted scheme that the NDP admits could leave some people without access to busing, how about a Manitoba transportation company?
It's a concept that has already been publicly mentioned by both Flin Flon MLA Clarence Pettersen and Flin Flon Mayor George Fontaine. And it's one that would satisfy the natural NDP instinct to expand the function of government.
Of course, the province could simply have continued to bail out Greyhound and no one, except perhaps the most staunch of fiscal conservatives to whom the NDP already is anathema, would have raised a stink.
Besides, it's not as though doling out tax dollars to wealthy corporations with a northern presence is beyond the pale for the NDP.
The government regularly hands over exploration cash to miner Hudbay in Flin Flon, a company that has cash and cash equivalents of $899.1 million. And in 2010, the NDP dropped off an electronic mining simulator, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, in Thompson at nickel giant Vale, which has total assets of $128.7 billion.
We can all agree that Hudbay can afford its own diamond drilling and Vale its own training equipment. Greyhound and its partially filled buses on the highways of the North? That's another story.
Now, unwilling to extend Greyhound's subsidy any further, the province appears to be leaving the future of transportation parity to chance.
That's bad news for the ill and elderly who require medical appointments in Winnipeg. It's bad news for university students travelling between home and school. And it's bad news for low-income individuals who can't afford a car.
For them -- for the North -- the NDP's handling of busing just isn't good enough.
Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.