This week Canadians have been reminded about the fragility of our transportation system. Firstly, protesters caused rail service, including VIA passenger trains, to be shut down across the country just by blocking a few key rail junctions. Secondly, fear of the new Coronavirus has heightened anxiety worldwide that overcrowded public spaces, such as Toronto Pearson Airport, could intensify the virus’s spread.
How can a modest mob of between one and three dozen protesters, at a handful of points across the country, shutdown a national rail service? Whatever their political motivation, they have shown our transportation system to be so fragile that that a small gaggle of protesters can cause a major disruption. Shutting down rail service and holding a country hostage is an invitation to mob rule and economic disaster. In this case it was over a pipeline project in British Columbia. On one side is the federal government, backed by the majority of Wet’suwet’en elected chiefs and councils plus the majority of band members, versus a number of traditional hereditary chiefs. Next time it could be any small fringe group that hungers for their 15 seconds of fame by breaking our fragile rail links. If our nation of 37 million people is to function as a democracy, a small mob of protesters cannot be able to disrupt our transportation infrastructure to this level.
This disruption is a reminder that Canada is not Europe. We do not have a trillion-dollar robust multi-route rail network. Canada’s rail network often narrows to single vulnerable point. A single fragile ribbon connecting Canada from coast to coast. It contrasts sharply with passenger air travel, a system that can move Canadians, asphalt- and rail-free, directly between hundreds of destinations. In Canada air travel is critical to our economy, our freedom of movement and is the safest way to travel.
The idea that air travel should be limited on certain domestic routes to herd travellers into VIA’s passenger trains should be discarded given the fragile rail system. Restrictions on competition hurts the public interest and can restrict freedom of movement. Instead, rail and air transport should work together to enhance the robustness of Canada’s transportation infrastructure.
If Pickering Airport existed today, it would serve in part to get many travellers on their way as well as ease the frustration of being caught up in the current situation.
The Toronto region is now growing by 100,000 people a year. Toronto’s booming growth has placed extra strain on Toronto Pearson International, Canada’s busiest airport. This growth is accelerating and is creating another unacceptable chokepoint in the Canadian economy. Toronto Pearson is already list by IATA as a level 3 fully coordinated airport (highest level) where demand exceeds the capacity part of each day. One in three Canadian air travellers fly in or out of Pearson airport every day.
It will take 10 years to build Pickering Airport. It’s is time to start the process of building Toronto’s long-planned new international airport in Pickering.