It has been over a year since the Algoma passenger trains stopped running. The Algoma Passenger Train Working Group, including rail advocacy groups, has come up with a proposal to run the service as a not for profit venture led by the Missanabie Cree First Nation with a Board of Directors representing the First Nations, municipalities and socio-economic stakeholders. The new Mask-wa Ootaban (Bear Train) will be more cost efficient while creating more employment and tax revenue.
The positive economic arguments became evident from a 2015 study undertaken by BDO Canada that conservatively estimates how the train creates direct and indirect economic activity in the range of 28 to 38 million dollars a year for the region’s severely challenged economy. On top of that, the service supports 170-220 jobs, while generating those tax dollars that more than replaced the original yearly subsidy which was cut by the previous government thereby creating the whole problem in the first place.
After considerable community advocacy, the previous Harper government committed to restore the subsidy for three years. However, under the current Liberal government, Transport Canada has suddenly and without public consultation, backed away from this commitment, allegedly because the new proposal requests an on-going subsidy. There is widespread public outrage on this decision. The First Nation is approaching Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to request that she work inter-ministries to garner the required funding.