Single parent families once again eligible for Ontario Northland discount

Single parent families living in communities on the James Bay Coast in northern Ontario are once again eligible to receive a family discount on Ontario Northland's Polar Bear Express rail line.

'Why have a family discount if you're not going to apply it evenly and equally to everybody?'

Ontario Northland's family special changed last summer to require two adults to travel together instead of one adult and one child. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Ontario Northland has changed the criteria for its family train discount on the Polar Bear Express line from Cochrane to Moosonee, Ont., after it was accused of discriminating against single-parents. 

"It's discriminatory not to be able to apply for a family discount just because I'm a lone parent," Cheryl Tomatuk-Bagan said. 

"Why have a family discount if you're not going to apply it evenly and equally to everybody?"

Tomatuk-Bagan is one of many single parents on the James Bay Coast in northern Ontario who became ineligible to get 20 per cent off Polar Bear Express tickets last summer.

Ontario Northland changed the wording of its family special to require that the family consist of a minimum of two adults instead of one adult and one child. 

'Discounts can truly benefit single-parent families'

Tomatuk-Bagan spent months trying to get answers from the company.

At one point, she and Moose Cree First Nation councillor Gilbert Cheechoo Junior considered filing a human rights complaint. 

"I, myself, was a single father at one point. I know how these discounts can truly benefit single-parent families," Cheechoo Junior said.

"This is really a big impact on single-parent families having to rely on Ontario Northland for transportation."
How Ontario Northland's family discount used to look before it changed to include single-parents.

Once the winter ice road season is over, Cheechoo Junior noted that people living on the James Bay Coast can only go south by flying or taking the train. 

'We've heard from our passengers'

Ontario Northland was trying to encourage passengers to purchase advanced tickets by altering its family deal, according to marketing and communication director Rebecca McGlynn.

But the revised discount did not get the response the company was looking for. 

"We've heard from our passengers," McGlynn said.

"So we've updated it [family discount] to hopefully satisfy our passengers who are taking the train."

'Doesn't make any sense'

As of Monday, the family special gives 20 per cent off the regular adult fare when two adults or one adult and one child are travelling together.

McGlynn still encourages families to book their tickets two days in advance to receive bigger savings.

While Tomatuk-Bagan is happy about the change, she still has questions about why single-parents were left out before. 

"That doesn't make any sense at all," Tomatuk-Bagan said.

"If you're going to have a family discount, it has to apply to everybody."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: