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Algoma passenger rail line gets funds for business plan

Missinabie Cree First Nation has been granted $200,000 from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Missanabie Cree First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier speaks with Sault MP Terry Sheehan during a January event in Sault Ste. Marie. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

More than a year after the Algoma Central Railway passenger service ceased operation, Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan says the First Nation band seeking to take over operation of the service is receiving funding toward creating a business plan for the proposal.

Sheehan said the Missinabie Cree First Nation will receive almost $200,000 in support of getting the passenger rail service back up and running.

The Missinabie Cree, led by Chief Jason Gauthier, hopes to become the new operator for the passenger rail service, which will be rebranded ‘Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban’ or ‘Bear Train’.

The funding is intended to go toward the creation of a business plan for the Bear Train and to assist in ongoing negotiations with CN, which owns the line and has final say over who operates the service on it.

“They need an agreement with CN. It’s of utmost importance for them to secure funding from government sources and private sector,” Sheehan said.

The funding will allow the First Nation to position themselves for both public and private sector financing, he said.

“They can use that funding to hire people to build that business plan, to negotiate and get those things necessary to get the train up and running again,” he added.

Although an official announcement on the funding has not been made, Sheehan shared the news of the grant in response to SooToday’s questions about the concerns of NDP MP Charlie Angus in regards to a reported $900 million in unspent Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) funding for the 2016 fiscal year.

The Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban is seeking $2.2 million to help subsidize the service.

In July, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the Sault-to-Hearst passenger service does not qualify for the Remote Passenger Rail Program subsidy and the file was passed to INAC.

Although Gauthier has previously presented a business plan Transport Canada, INAC is providing the funding for another kick at the can.

The initial business plan was written with the Remote Passenger Rail Program in mind, said Gauthier. The new plan will focus on the economic benefits of having the train and the impact of losing it.

"I think they (the government) realize I am not going anywhere,” Gauthier said in a phone interview. “I'm going to keep on moving forward and keep trying. If it means visiting every ministry in the federal government, then that's what I'll do.”

Regarding the $900-million shortfall for INAC, Sheehan said he is focused on projects in his own riding.

Sheehan said that recently announced $5 million in funding for an Anishinabek Discovery Centre shows the Liberal government is committed to supporting projects for First Nations people.

The Algoma Central Railway passenger rail service ceased operation in July of 2015, with only six days’ notice to camp and lodge owners.

CN Rail made the announcement in a joint statement with the ACR regional stakeholder passenger service working group.