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Garneau in driver's seat on Greyhound issue

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/7/2018 (752 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It doesn’t amount to much in terms of genuine hope or concrete action, but at least it’s something.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated Tuesday that he has directed federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau to "find solutions" in the wake of Greyhound Canada’s announcement last week that it will cease bus service this fall on its western Canadian routes.

<p>Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated he has directed federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, above, to “find solutions” in the wake of Greyhound Canada’s announcement last week that it will cease bus service this fall on its western Canadian routes.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/BEN NELMS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated he has directed federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, above, to “find solutions” in the wake of Greyhound Canada’s announcement last week that it will cease bus service this fall on its western Canadian routes.

Speaking to reporters in Antigonish, N.S., the prime minister acknowledged that Greyhound’s looming pullout from the West — ending all service in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, while maintaining just a single route in British Columbia (to Seattle, operated by Greyhound’s U.S. arm) — will create hardship for people living on the Prairies, most notably those of limited financial means.

The PM said he has ordered Mr. Garneau to work with provinces, communities and the bus company to see "what paths forward there are."

As political pronouncements go, Mr. Trudeau’s vague attempt at reassurance is a bit like seeing a bus finally pull up at your stop after a long wait outdoors in a winter snowstorm: late in arriving and offering no great sense of certainty — given the difficult conditions — that it’s going to get to where it needs to go.

But the fact that the prime minister has seen fit to publicly address this crucial transportation issue — albeit a full week after the Greyhound announcement — shows that either he or his advisers have taken some notice of the outcry that has echoed across Western Canada since the looming pullout was announced.

The facts driving Greyhound’s decision are undeniable: with ridership and freight loads in continuing decline, bus service in Canada’s vast and sparsely populated western region is no longer financially viable.

And regardless of how vital certain transportation links are to far-flung, at-need populations, private, for-profit enterprises feel no obligation to sustain them if the balance-sheet ink is consistently red.

(If you need convincing, ask a few Churchill residents to share their views of Omnitrax’s approach to corporate-citizen largesse).

What’s clear, before Mr. Garneau asks a single question to those most affected by the Greyhound-service cessation, is that government cannot compel a private corporation to continue a money-losing enterprise. Corporations are beholden only to their owners and shareholders; when issues of public interest and essential services are at issue, it’s up to government to find ways to fill the gaps created by shifting economic fortunes.

City-to-city bus transport has fallen out of fashion for many reasons — cheaper airfares, more affordable private automobiles, declining quality of service as a result of continuing budget cuts and even fear associated with violent incidents aboard highway buses — but for those who still rely on bus transportation, the loss of Greyhound’s service will be crippling.

The scheduled end of western-Canadian bus service on Oct. 31 will hit rural First Nations communities and small towns particularly hard. Many of the Greyhound trips taken by their residents have been of the necessary variety — for doctor appointments and medical treatments — rather than recreational.

Transportation is one of many areas of responsibility in which it is consistently difficult to redirect federal-government focus away from heavily populated and service-supported (not to mention vote-rich) Ontario and Quebec and toward the less-connected regions.

Mr. Garneau has been given a daunting task, but his government’s support from Indigenous Canadians and residents of the rural West may well depend on his ability to consult effectively and, as his boss has demanded, "find solutions."

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