Labrador and New Brunswick share two things in common at the moment: brand new highways and an almost complete lack of public transportation.
In both regions, highways are looking good.
In Labrador, the road from
Happy Valley-Goose Bay to the south coast was finished some years ago and the route west will soon be covered in blacktop. New Brunswick once had the worst roads in the country, but the province twinned not only the Trans-Canada Highway, but several other roads as well.
Now that the work is done, however, many New Brunswickers are finding that they can’t use the new roads — not unless they can afford to own their own automobiles, which, given the province’s slack economy and the federal government’s persistent desire to punish seasonal workers, is leaving many families short of income.
So, how does a carless New Brunswicker travel on the new highways if he or she can’t afford to drive? Take a train or a bus? Not likely. About the only way a low-income person can get around these days is by hitchhiking.
Available public transportation will probably get scarcer before it becomes more plentiful — if it ever does.
Like almost everywhere in southern Canada, New Brunswick used to have passenger trains running on daily schedules. A host of buses operated by a good selection of companies used to not only compete against the trains on the main routes, but they also drove into
all the far-flung corners of the province, taking people into and out of almost every community along the way.
No longer. VIA Rail, of course, is continuing the suicidal policies begun when Brian Mulroney was prime minister. That is, now that they have cut every feeder line that once supported the main cross-country service, the rail company’s managers can blame customers for no longer being able to catch a train where and when they need it at a reasonable cost.
The once-daily service through New Brunswick has been cut and cut until now there are only two trains per week — trains that will no doubt soon be eliminated altogether.
Faced with such devastation to the passenger rail service, one would naturally assume buses would take up the slack.
One would be disappointed. New Brunswick’s bus company is going out of business at the end of November, leaving the public with no clear idea about how they’re going to get around without cars.
Acadian Bus Lines used to provide an adequate service throughout New Brunswick, but when the company ended a labour lockout last May and resumed operations, it eliminated every run except the main one along the Trans-Canada. Even then, the smaller communities along the route were deprived of their accustomed stops. Once Acadian disappears another company will step in to take its place, but it will offer an even more diminished service. It won’t be running anything to the whole northern part of the province.
Labrador has never had any kind of bus service. It has no passenger rail except the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway, but the company that operates it doesn’t want it and has already cut a vital connection from Labrador City to discourage usage. The only public transportation the provincial government has ever provided are the coastal boats, but St. John’s has been slashing them as fast as possible.
This year, the government made no attempt to replace the Northern Ranger when the boat broke down at the start of the shipping season, depriving the whole north coast of an essential service.
The Liberals started cutting ferries when they were last in office.
When an MHA from the south coast was asked how her government would see to the travel needs of her constituents she predicted that a private bus company would come to meet the demand. That never happened, which should not be a surprise since the Liberal
government had already prevented one company from starting a route from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Labrador City, using bureaucratic delays to drive the hopeful entrepreneur out of business.
Sad to say, Labrador and New Brunswick are typical of today’s Canada: if citizens enjoy an essential service, it’s sure it will soon be cut.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.