During a recent House of Commons committee meeting, executives from Via Rail stated that Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra wasn’t communicating with them during a treacherous winter storm on Christmas Eve that left hundreds of travelers stranded during the Christmas holidays.
The executives said that while Transport Canada and the minister’s staff were in contact while crews worked to clear the debris of a downed tree on the railway, Alghabra himself didn’t reach out to Via Rail until January 11th— two weeks after the debacle was already fixed. As the transport minister, it is Alghbra’s responsibility to oversee all federally regulated sectors like air and rail travel, as well Via Rail, which is a Crown corporation.
Conservative MP Mark Strahl called out Alghabra’s incompetence, arguing that his absence during what turned out to be a very frightening ordeal for Canadian travelers is unacceptable. The passengers were forced to remain on the train for over 18 hours, with little access to food, water, and sanitary toilets.
When questioned by reporters as to why he didn’t speak to Via Rail during the travel crisis, Alghabra’s spokesperson stated that the minister kept himself in the loop as the situation evolved. “Instead of taking away resources Via needed to manage the situation and duplicating the work of officials and our office, Minister Alghabra was frequently briefed and gave direction to the officials he was speaking to on a regular basis until the resolution of the situation,” they said, as cited by CBC News.
Via Rail issued an apology for charging passengers a fee for food and water on board during the ordeal, as well as the state of the washrooms, which at times, were overflowing with human waste. So far, Via Rail refunded travellers the full price of their ticket, but the company has yet to refund the money passengers were charged for food and water— as it’s otherwise uncustomary to charge such a fee for an overnight delay.
The debacle even caught the attention of Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who didn’t waste any time pointing the finger at the Trudeau-appointed transport minister.
Likewise, twitter users took some time out of their day to poke fun at Alghabra’s incompetence, suggesting that the transport minister couldn’t get to the phone because he was likely vacationing somewhere hot during the winter crisis. Another twitter user proposed introducing a snow tax to prevent such a debacle from happening again.
In Via Rail’s parting shots, executives stated that CN is partly to blame for what transpired over the Christmas period. They stated that Via Rail passenger trains operate almost exclusively on tracks owned by freight railways like CN and CP, which means Via Rail has little control over some operational issues.
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