Full credit to MP Olivia Chow for her introduction of private members BILL C-577 - An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to another Act. Here is her statement in the house March 4th introducing the bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to present the VIA Rail protection bill. The bill presents a vision for the future of VIA Rail. It lays out a clear mandate and government structure. It gives it a larger say in determining its funding needs and frees the railway board from patronage appointments. By strengthening VIA Rail's position vis-à-vis CN and CP, delays for passenger trains would also be reduced.
Currently VIA Rail has no clearly delineated rights, powers, obligations, or mandated targets. Without legislative protection, it has suffered years of neglect and devastating service cuts. It is time to secure VIA Rail's role and responsibility through a federal law. (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed).
Her point that VIA Rail merely exists as a Standing Order in Council and has no legislative existence has long been a concern to passenger rail advocates. Can her private members bill ever become law in the extreme anti-passenger rail majority government of Prime Minister Harper remains to be seen.
Trying to get VIA Rail it's own act and regulations has failed before. Most recently in 2003 when pro passenger rail Minister of Transport David Collenette presented a Bill C-26 that actually made it to 2nd reading before dying.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier in the USA has long enjoyed the benefits of having its own legislation.
Legislation is not a magic bullet for saving VIA Rail and the future of passenger in Canada. The development of an Act and subsequent regulations will give strength and stability to VIA. Secure funding mechanisms will have to be developed to support the new act and regs.
Just how tough of a battle MP Chow faces with her new private members bill can be gauged by a recent question Chow asked Minister Raitt about cuts to funding to VIA Rail. Raitt's response,to paraphrase, was if it is losing money it could be cut.
This simplistic approach to VIA rail funding is wrong and shortsighted. What if the Harper government and provincial and lower tier governments used that same rationale for funding for our hospitals, roads, sewers, policing? They would all be cut as none make a profit. There are things we do as a society for the "public good" and providing passenger rail services is one of them.
Now the contents of the bill will be closely analyzed over the coming days and weeks but we at High Speed Rail Canada strongly support the concept VIA Rail Canada having it's own legislation.