Documents released following a Freedom of Information request show many community leaders told the provincial government that better transportation was needed along Highway 16.
Outlined in the release are details of meetings held in communities along the highway related to the Highway of Tears and the missing Women Commission recommendations and most say the services offered by Greyhound, Via Rail and the Northern Health Connections bus are inadequate to stop people from hitchhiking.
The notes indicate that those in Smithers told Ministry of Transportation staff that “service needs to be good enough to be an option for people” and that the region will “need consistent accessible public transportation for all” before talking about service improvements. In Vanderhoof, ministry officials were told that “mothers with kids face severe transportation options just to access the social safety net” while leaders in McBride told staff that “rural communities deserve some basic level of access to larger communities” and that any proposal needs to include a “network” to connect smaller communities to the main highway and transportation links.
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice says those type of statements fly in the face of her discussions with ministry and Minister Todd Stone.
“I have been pushing this for two years and the minister said that those people I said wanted improved transportation along Highway 16 weren’t saying that … I am really shocked that he stood in the legislature and said improved transportation was not identified as a practical solution by the people who live here when clearly the people the ministry spoke to said otherwise,” said Rice, who spearheaded the Freedom of Information request to get details of those meetings and was told such records did not exist.
“There are two things here — one is hiding and deleting emails, which I think is totally disrespectful to the families, and then there is suppressing information to support the spin put on the situation by the minister. That is worrisome.”
In February, according to the Hansard, Stone said the idea of a shuttle bus was not something that people wanted to see given the distance that would need to be covered. However, on Nov. 3 he told the legislature work on the file was still very much active.
“The important thing here, I think, for people on Highway 16 is that we continue to focus on how we can make this corridor safer. That’s the work that I am pouring myself into. That’s the work that my officials are putting their shoulders into. We’re going to continue to do that important work to make that corridor safer,” he said.
“I’m going to continue to do the work that’s required with communities and First Nations along Highway 16 to identify safer transportation options.”
Given the support for increasing transportation access along the Highway 16 corridor and figures indicating the cost to do so would be between $1 million and $2 million per year, Rice said she is optimistic change will be coming.
“That is the cost of twinning a highway and that type of expenditure they make all the time … I can’t believe the government wouldn’t spend that kind of money to keep people safe and to connect remote communities to grocery shopping or medical services,” she said..
“I can’t see them not doing something like putting in a shuttle service or linking up those communities and I can’t believe so much effort has been put in to not do this.”