Saskatchewan

Sask. rejected Ottawa's offer to cost-share subsidized bus routes once operated by Greyhound

The Saskatchewan government snubbed a 50-50 partnership offer from the federal government to subsidize the bus routes formerly operated by Greyhound Canada.

Advocate says offer doesn't fix problem created after province axed Saskatchewan Transportation Company

Crown Investments Corporation Minister Joe Hargrave says the province needs more details and information from the federal government regarding the offer. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan politicians snubbed the federal government's offer to help replace Western Canadian bus routes abandoned by Greyhound Canada in 2018.

Federal Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau called the move disappointing.

"We were ready on a 50-50 basis to cross share in providing service for lines that would not be covered by the private sector," he said Wednesday.

Garneau said the federal government made the $10-million offer to four provinces, and so far both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have said no.

Garneau said the offer is meant to help mitigate some gaps in service, while the federal government tries to find a long-term solution to inter-city bus travel.

Feds cite 79% gap in service

Garneau wrote to Minister of Highways Lori Carr on Jan. 28, 2019, urging the minister again to accept an offer first made in October 2018. In the letter first obtained by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Garneau wrote that Greyhound's withdrawal had a considerable effect on communities.

"Particularly on vulnerable groups, such as seniors and Indigenous women and girls, who may lack access to other means of transportation for safety concerns or to access healthcare services."

Garneau wrote that the private sector has not filled gaps in public transportation.

"There remains a 79 per cent [service] gap within your province. This concerns me greatly," Garneau wrote.

"Restoring this service is more important than partisan politics."

Advocate says federal offer misses the mark

The federal offer stands until October 2020​.

Even if the province changes its mind, that likely won't help the province's most vulnerable people, said Jo-Anne Dusel, executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, whose member agencies run shelters for women.

Dusel called the Greyhound routes inadequate and said they were unable to fill expansive gaps in public transportation caused by the closure of STC (Saskatchewan Transportation Company).

"It was only covering the major urban centres," she said.

"The people who are still really vulnerable and lacking transportation are those in more rural areas and the smaller communities and remote people living on reserve."

Dusel said provincial shelter staff have reported that women trying to flee violent situations have struggled without a reliable form of inter-city transit. 

"Sometimes women say that they're coming to shelter, that they'll be there in the morning, and then they never show up," she said.

"Did they decide to stay in a dangerous situation or did they somehow come into some misfortune along the way? It's very disturbing."

Advocate Jo-Anne Dusel says rural shelters are no longer able to ease the population at overflowing urban centres because the women have no means of transportation to the other shelters. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

Women have reported being physically and sexually assaulted or left on the side of the road — often with their children — after having to hitchhike, she said.

Dusel said the province should have invested in shuttle buses and mini vans to cover transportation in and out of remote and rural communities.

She criticized the government's decision "to remove a service without looking at who the most vulnerable people were and putting some some processes in place to protect them," she said.

"[That] was a very unfortunate choice and one that I think the government does have a responsibility to address."

Saskatchewan ended its passenger service on May 31, 2017 as part of the province's efforts to balance its budget. (Hilco)

NDP says province should have negotiated with feds

"It's not entirely clear what was offered partly because they didn't go to the table and that to me is a real problem," said Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili.

"The federal government comes along and says we want to have a conversation about this … and the province just says no, they're not interested."

Meili criticized the provincial leadership and accused it of leaving money on the table. He said the province appears to have no interest in accessible transportation.

"When you are only saying it's going to be small start-up companies, with no support to get started, you're really sending the message that you don't particularly care whether smaller communities have access to transport."

Hargrave says federal offer lacked details

Saskatchewan Crown Investments Corporation Minister Joe Hargrave said there was "some talk of this money but there were no details provided."

Hargrave said he attempted to negotiate with Garneau "two days ago," adding he recommended the money go toward the existing private sector. 

"There's a lot of good private entrepreneurs out there that are running bus services throughout the province and they could use a hand."

Hargrave said the province will not accept the offer as it stands, but could be inclined to accept a different offer, should the money go toward something like equipping private sector vehicles with lifts for people with disabilities.

with files from Chris Rands, Chanss Lagaden

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