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Is population decline directly linked to train cuts?

'We've never been in favour of cutting trains. We fought like crazy to stop it. We strongly believe that the train should be brought back' - Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof
John Vanthof MPP
John Vanthof, MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane speaks as Éric Boutilier (left) and NUSU President Jordan Andrews listen to the discussion on reinstating the railway in the north. Photo by Stu Campaigne.

In late January, Nipissing University Student Union (NUSU) President Jordan Andrews took part in a question and answer session on campus with Premier Kathleen Wynne at the Harris Learning Library. Andrews asked Wynne what could be done about accessibility issues for college and university students in Northern Ontario.

"With the changes in the cap and trade system, with the carbon emissions taxation, it's putting more of a financial burden on students to come to Northern Ontario to study," said Andrews Friday at an event hosted by the Nipissing NDP Riding Association. The gathering featured an address by Timiskaming-Cochrane NDP MPP John Vanthof, followed by a question period.

"To this day we have, on a weekly basis, people come into our [riding] office to lament the fact that we don't have the train," said Vanthof Friday. "Seniors who have to go to larger centres for medical reasons, spending seven or eight hours on the bus is not an option. They're having to leave the area because of the lack of train service."

"North Bay is home to a world-class post-secondary education centre, with amazingly talented faculty, staff, and administrators," reminded Nipissing NDP Riding President Jared Hunt, "and we need to do everything possible to ensure that out-of-town students can travel safely, affordably, and efficiently to and from school."

Transportation shortcomings not only lead to population decline but Andrews says they also deter potential students from considering Northern Ontario schools as viable options.

Andrews observed that "without the rail system or an affordable air system, students are forced to either carpool, or use the bus, or drive themselves to Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury or North Bay if they want to pursue a post-secondary education there.

"For some people that might be an impassable barrier, so what we posed to the Premier was, basically, given all of that information, and how that need is there, what can we expect moving forward? Are there going to be changes to the bus system? Are they going to look into bringing back the rail system?"

Recently, a group has been advocating for the reinstatement of passenger train service in the region.

Vanthof, foreshadowing a potential campaign platform told the group, "The way I believe, the way the NDP believes, public service should be delivered is that you build on what you have, you make what you have better, and where it works, you expand."

"If the train comes back, it's got to be better. It's got to have a better schedule, it's got to work and be compatible with the buses. It's a service we need for young people, but we also need it for seniors. In my riding, we have lost seniors whose only transportation to go to medical appointments and visit relatives across Ontario was by train," said Vanthof.

Andrews said that he had noticed some advertising for the event held Friday at Twiggs Coffee Roasters on McKeown Avenue, and had attended so that his questions on student travel could be addressed "in the hopes that Northern Ontario college or university education can be accessible to everybody."

Andrews attended the event without political affiliation, solely in his official role as NUSU President.

"I understand that it is something that the NDP has been pushing for, said Andrews, " it is something that they really are passionate about, which I'm glad to see. At the end of the day, I'm here to make sure that, regardless of what political party is in power, the student voice is heard at the municipal, provincial and federal levels."

Said Vanthof, "I am going to push like crazy for the train to be reinstated. Without transportation, the province doesn't run. There are other issues that might be the heart, but [transportation] is your circulatory system, and we're missing part of ours and it's a high-priority to me."