Alberta, British Columbia and First Nations leaders are calling on Ottawa to help find a replacement when Greyhound stops operating its buses in Western Canada at the end of October, saying it is an issue of national importance.
Indigenous groups in particular are concerned the lack of service will prompt more hitchhiking or walking along unsafe highways, raising safety concerns for vulnerable women.
But Transport Canada released a statement late on Tuesday that appeared to dampen any suggestion Ottawa will step up.
It said intercity bus services operate on a commercial basis with no support from the federal government. The statement said Ottawa will work with the provinces and territories to understand the impact of Greyhound’s move, but didn’t suggest it would take action.
“In 2010, a task force of the provinces and the federal government recommended that there was no need for a national program to subsidize the operations of intercity bus carriers, but that individual jurisdictions could subsidize specific routes and carriers on a case-by-case basis,” the statement said.
“Since that time, some provinces have chosen to create their own bus services or provide subsidies for service in localized areas. As the economic regulation of interprovincial bus carriers in federal jurisdiction has been delegated to the provinces and territories, under the federal Motor Vehicle Transport Act, the federal government has not taken an active role in supporting service provision.”
Greyhound Canada surprised many on Monday with the news it will halt service in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta as of the end of October. Service in B.C. will be reduced to a Vancouver to Seattle route. And the bus company will stop running in northwestern Ontario. Routes in the rest of Ontario and in Quebec will continue.
It is a blow for western Canadians without vehicles, who often can’t afford to travel by plane. Smaller communities have relied on Greyhound to get people to and from other small centres and to cities for decades.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada said the move could “exacerbate the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
British Columbia Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Terry Teegee said all levels of government, including First Nations, need to work together to make sure small communities have proper transportation services.
He notes that governments subsidize public transportation in cities.
“There’s one less option for First Nations women or any person, for safe, reliable transportation. Quite simply, as these options are leaving, it’s more likely there’s going to be more hitchhiking,” Mr. Teegee said.
The governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba expressed hope that other private-sector operators will step in.
But B.C.’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena said all options are on the table for her province, and she will press Ottawa on the issue.
“This is not just a B.C. problem. This is a Canadian problem. It is something that’s going to impact people literally from Ontario out to the coast,” she said.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the issue goes far beyond provincial responsibility. “This is a fundamental issue around the basic right to transportation in our communities, and an important economic development issue, as well,” she said.
Ms. Notley did not commit to any specific new proposals beyond the small-scale bus program Alberta already has for regional centres.
But Ms. Notley said she wants to talk to the federal government about what regime is best able to replace the services that have been lost, and Ottawa clearly has a role. She said the conversations between governments have already begun.
“At the end of the day, it goes across borders, and it’s about transportation throughout all of western Canada.”
Sheila North, leader of the advocacy group Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said First Nations themselves might be able to fill some of the gap in Western Canada.
“This is another reasoning for and opportunity for First Nations to take over everything to do with health, all the social determinants of health – including medical transportation – because a lot of the health resources are in the south and our northerners need to get there.”
With a report from Oliver Moore in Toronto