Once upon a time, governments stepped in to fill gaping holes in services deemed essential to citizens.
It’s how we started out. The government called it nation building and paid for a railway that connected East to West. Various provincial governments set up companies to provide electricity, telephones, television, insurance and buses.
Except for the vestigial companies, those days seem to be gone as politicians run for cover after Greyhound’s announcement that it is pulling out of Western Canada.
The loss of the bus line will strand many citizens in small towns and rural communities, cutting off seniors and other low-income people who depend on the bus to get them to medical appointments and to friends and family. And, it takes away a safe option for women and youths who now may be forced into riskier options like hitchhiking.
The situation is especially acute in Saskatchewan where the provincial government shuttered the 72-year-old Saskatchewan Transportation Company last year, closing down 27 routes, more than 170 stations and access to over 250 destinations.
Then-premier Brad Wall was confident that private-sector operators would swoop in and take them over. Eight companies got certificates to operate, but only two are offering scheduled routes, using passenger vans between the province’s largest cities with stops along the way.
Despite the private sector’s less-than-enthusiastic response, the province’s current premier, Scott Moe, continues to hold out that hope. But he also noted that he would discuss with the other premiers other options for keeping buses running along the Trans-Canada Highway.
But the Trans-Canada slashes across the country’s southernmost quadrant, barely rising above the 50th parallel.
Similar hopes for the private sector riding to the rescue were voiced by B.C.’s transportation minister, Claire Trevena.
It’s fair to say, though, that her New Democratic Party and Moe’s conservative Saskatchewan Party are miles apart ideologically when it comes to public ownership.
It was Travena who more than a year ago announced a transit service using vans along the grimly nicknamed Highway of Tears, where RCMP say 18 women and girls have disappeared or been murdered. The vans are subsidized by the province and the municipalities along the way.
During its first 12 months, close to 5,000 passengers rode the 720-kilometre route between Prince Rupert and Prince George. Another 9,000 used the government-funded, community vehicle program.
These may prove to be models for what’s to come if the gap left by Greyhound is to be filled.
Others have suggested that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft might be another answer. Of course, those services have had problems of their own with complaints of inappropriate and creepy drivers making advances on women.
Without affordable transportation options, the most vulnerable people are put at further risk. Transition house operators and advocates across the Western provinces point out that women and children fleeing domestic violence are among those for whom buses are a lifeline.
But there is a broader public policy question in play here. Housing costs in Canada’s cities are rising to unattainable levels for many people, Canadians continue to crowd into them, depopulating rural areas and leaving whole towns and villages empty.
They come to cities for jobs, but they also come because there’s nothing left for them in those outlying areas where services have constantly been eroded. Post offices have closed. Small hospitals have been eliminated, their services transferred to larger centres. Grain elevators have been shuttered, passenger rail service eliminated and, now, bus service is ending.
Much of B.C.’s wealth is still created outside urban areas, but the rural population is forecast to fall to 479,466 by 2025. Cities by contrast are growing rapidly. Surrey gains 1,000 people a month.
Not everyone wants to live in a city. Certainly, First Nations people have expressed their desire to remain on the land of their ancestors.
But without basic services, there is little left to keep young Canadians on their ancestral lands or in the communities they’ve grown up in, or to attract recent immigrants.
Still, as the Okanagan Valley has proven, they can be places of enormous opportunity.
Forced to diversify after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, it has become a major wine-producing region, a magnet for tourism and retirees and more recently the tech sector.
It didn’t happen only because of the private sector. It happened because of strategic government investments. The Coquihalla Highway makes it easier to get people and goods to and from the area.
Spending on hospitals makes it attractive for families and seniors, while building a satellite campus of the University of British Columbia means kids don’t have to leave home for post-secondary education, while also providing a skilled workforce for local businesses and entrepreneurs.
In an overcrowded world, it seems remarkable that a country like Canada with so much wealth and so much geography still struggles to find ways to use both to its citizens’ best advantage.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.