Opinion: Vote Yes to support restoration of rail service on Vancouver Island

Monday, July 28 2014

At the July 22 Regional District of Nanaimo meeting, the Board took its final vote on whether to support passenger rail on Vancouver Island - the final regional government to vote. 

A “yes” would unlock $15 million in federal and provincial funding. 

I presented as a delegate, the following is a copy of the presentation given to the RDN Board.

Local government associations supported improvement of passenger rail infrastructure, consistently and as far back as 1984. But I’m not here in my local government role.

Because I am seeking to represent Nanaimo-Ladysmith as the New Democrat Member of Parliament in Ottawa, I’m speaking tonight from the perspective of the federal role I hope to hold in 2015.

The federal NDP supports

Improved passenger rail,

Investment in Public transit,

A guarantee for VIA operating and capital funding, and

A National Transportation Plan.

It’s from that point of federal representation I am speaking tonight.

Rail built Canada and was a term of BC’s entry to federation in 1871.

Rail is part of Canada’s past, has united the country; passenger rail has a role in our future too. It can take cars off highway, and ease commuter travel, connecting people and Vancouver Island communities.

Everyone I speak with is excited about passenger rail returning to the island, especially with Nanaimo being the railway’s hub. I hope the RDN will reflect this groundswell of support. It’ll be in good company; the Capital, Cowichan, Comox, and Alberni/Clayoquot Regional Districts are on board. The RDN is the last to sign, holding the key to unlock $15M in federal and provincial money. 

Vancouver Island’s rail corridor came at price, with a loss of First Nations lands, and 20% of Vancouver Island granted in trade for the railway to be built. The legacy is a rail corridor that could be key to transforming transportation in the face of climate change. A no-vote tonight might shut the whole agreement down. Could that risk losing the rail corridor? And if we lose the rail corridor, could it ever be re-established?

The federal government’s failure to fund track maintenance got us into this bind; it’s sadly too common for senior governments to step back from their obligations, eroding key infrastructure and starving vital public services to death.  

If I have the honour of being Nanaimo-Ladysmith’s federal MP, I’ll work to get federal infrastructure money to our community, for rail and public transit, for the common good. Your yes-vote tonight can keep that hope alive.

I’m grateful to the five Regional Districts for working together to restore passenger rail at this historic and vital time.

~ Sheila Malcolmson, candidate in the NDP October 5th nomination race in the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.