Hon. Jane Cordy: Thank you very much for being here with us today, minister.
My question has to do with the increasingly limited transportation options for rural Canadians. Commuter air routes, regional bus lines and even national bus companies are reducing services or stopping altogether, and rail services are limited or non-existent in rural areas. The pandemic has accelerated the shrinking of these services, but the fact is that these services were disappearing long before the pandemic.
Minister, what are you doing to ensure that rural Canadians have convenient, affordable and reliable access to what are essential services?
Hon. Gudie Hutchings, P.C., M.P., Minister of Rural Economic Development: Thank you, senator. Trust me, I get it. I used to say, when I first came to Ottawa, you could fit six Prince Edward Islands in my riding, and then I realized that people didn’t have a clue how big Prince Edward Island is. Now I say that my riding is bigger than Switzerland. I have over 200 communities, and 5 of those are accessible by boat only. Of course, our island of Newfoundland is only accessible by ferry service.
Since I have been minister, I have done over 70 round tables — with people from coast to coast to coast — focused on many things. One of them was on rural transit. We had a deep discussion of how things have changed since the pandemic. Yes, you are correct: Transit was an issue in rural Canada long before the pandemic, but I think that the pandemic has ripped off the Band-Aid because we’re now seeing more and more people wanting to move to rural areas.
I have regular discussions with my colleagues Minister Alghabra for Transport and Minister LeBlanc for Infrastructure and Communities. We work with the provinces and territories on how we can create a rural transit plan for the country. Mr. LeBlanc has a Rural Transit Solutions Fund that he announced last year, and the applications are being reviewed now.
But we have to make sure that it works for all rural Canadians — not just those closer to a large centre.