Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications

Issue 22 - Evidence -  Morning Sitting


MONTREAL, Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 9:15 a.m. to examine issues facing the intercity busing industry.

Senator Lise Bacon (Chairman) in the Chair.

[Translation]

The Chairman: The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications is meeting this morning in Montreal. We are examining issues facing the intercity busing industry. I would like to welcome the witnesses, observers and committee members who are present at these public hearings. I am particularly pleased to be chairing these public hearings in the province that I represent in the Senate.

Montreal is an important city. This is the second largest city in the country and, historically, the transportation hub of Canada and therefore the ideal place for examining both the evolution of transportation and changes the State and the private sector can make in order to meet new and changing needs.

The Transport Minister, Mr. Collenette, asked our committee to undertake this study. We began our hearings last week, in Ottawa. Tomorrow we will be hearing witnesses in Halifax and then we will go to Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto next month. We will be reporting the findings of our study to the Senate by the end of 2002.

Our research is already underway and we have also benefited from the work done by many committees, from studies undertaken by the federal government and several provinces as well as from reports produced by other countries. However, it is important that we hear what the public wants to tell us and this why we are here today.

People investigating the transportation sector at times get sidetracked by a carrier's operational or even equipment problems or focus on the advantages of various regulations before really understanding what it is that transportation users really want.

In our opinion, our primary mandate is to understand the wishes, the needs of bus users and what economists call ``the demand.'' After all, providing good service to the users is what carriers are all about. Once the demand has been well understood, we feel that it will be much easier to design the required services and to regulate the sector appropriately, if needed.

Concerns pertaining to equipment, competition and administrative priorities should be examined bearing the following question in mind: What does the user want?

Before hearing the first witness, I would like to summarize, in a few words, why we were asked to undertake a study on intercity bus transportation.

The problem resides in the fact that fewer people are travelling by bus. Some people say that there has been a constant decrease and others deny that this is so. We use the expression ``decline in bus transportation.'' This situation is troubling, because the bus is an important aspect of the passenger-transportation system. The bus can go just about anywhere. The bus is ecologically friendly and, in the past, it was not very costly.

Here are a few explanations for this decline: it may be that people are travelling more often by car; it may be that there are more people living in the big cities; and it may also be that government regulation is too cumbersome and varies too much from one province to the next.

These are the points that we are trying to clarify and that we will be trying to clarify in the weeks and months that lie ahead before submitting our report and recommendations to the Transport Minister as requested. This will be done by the end of the year.

Each witness will make his presentation. We will ask questions following each presentation. We would also like to add that there are some key questions which we would like to have answered, questions which are on our website.

This morning we have representatives from Intercar: Mr. Hugo Gilbert, Director General, and Mr. Romain Girard, Executive Vice-President of the Association des propriétaires d'autobus du Québec (Quebec Association of Bus Owners).

Mr. Romain Girard, Executive Vice-President, Quebec Bus Owners Association: Madam Chair, as the director of the Quebec Bus Owners Association, I would like to wish you a warm welcome to Quebec.

My role here this morning — you have probably seen that I will be coming back to testify this afternoon along with other associations — is to provide support to Intercar, an important regional business in Quebec, one that is diversified and involved in its association. The purpose of the presentation is to give you a good understand of the various sectors of a business and the ties it has with the population it serves.

During Mr. Gilbert's presentation, I will be beside the table in order to identify the itineraries and the routes that he will be describing to you in exact terms.

Mr. Hugo Gilbert, Director General, Intercar: Group Intercar thanks the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications for inviting us to these hearings. Our organization is proud to contribute to this study.

Intercar began in 1959, in Laterrière, a town near Chicoutimi. It was founded by Saguenay businessman Georges Gilbert, who began by providing school bus service to the small community of Laterrière. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gilbert decided to launch a daily shuttle service between Laterrière and Chicoutimi, which was the nearest big city. By providing this service to the community, Mr. Gilbert made intercity transportation part of Intercar's service.

Over the years, thanks to his acquisitions and the help of his son Jasmin, Intercar became an important player in bus service throughout the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.

In 1989, Intercar had 100 school buses and 25 long-haul coaches. The following year, Intercar acquired routes belonging to Voyageur between the Quebec City-Baie-Comeau and Quebec City-Chicoutimi regions. In 1998, after a number of other transactions in the school sector and the construction of a major operations centre in Quebec City, Intercar started developing a new niche: paratransit services for persons with disabilities or in need of assistance.

I now represent the third generation of our family to be with the company, having joined it in 1995. As the managing director since 1997, I now assist my father, Jasmin.

We now own, in 2002, nearly 400 vehicles: 350 school buses and paratransit vehicles and 50 intercity and charter coaches. Our growth is the result of our diversification into different modes of transportation and our unwavering desire to expand our services to connect with any town or city near the ones we already serve.

This means that, today, Intercar is active in school, intercity and charter transportation as well as paratransit, in a territory ranging from Quebec City in the south to Dolbeau in the west, Havre-Saint-Pierre in the east and Chibougamau in the north.

To get a better idea of Intercar's operations, I would like you to take a look at the map which is on my left. Everything in orange represents territory served by Intercar.

Starting on the right, you see the North Shore, from Havre-Saint-Pierre to Sept-Îles, Baie-Comeau, Tadoussac, La Malbaie and Quebec City. We provide intercity bus service on this territory and we also lease long-haul coaches.

A little bit more towards the centre, you can see the city of Saguenay. This is where the business first started and this is also where we provide intercity service originating on the North Shore, in Quebec City, in Lac-Saint-Jean and Chibougamau. We also have a large charter coach fleet. In addition, we have contracts to provide school busing, with the Rives du Saguenay and Jonquière school boards. Finally, we have the contract to provide paratransit on behalf of the local mass transit company.

More to the left, in Lac-Saint-Jean and Chibougamau, we of course provide the intercity network and we also have a vehicle leasing service.

In Quebec City, we have had a major operation centre since 1990. We provide intercity transportation to Lac-Saint- Jean, the North Shore and the Saguenay. We also lease vehicles and we have school bus and paratransit contracts with the Découvreurs and Capitale School Boards.

We have a varied clientele base in this territory. In the paratransit sector, Intercar transports nearly 72,000 people who are disabled or in need of assistance every year. In the school board transportation sector, Intercar carries 22,000 children to school every morning. Indirectly, the parents, school administrations and school board officials are our clients as well. The schools in the region also use our school bus services for students' educational and sports trips. Through its school contracts, the company is proud to contribute to the education and development of young people throughout its service area.

In the area of charter transportation, we estimate that nearly 200,000 people use our charter services every year.

As regards intercity transportation, in the course of its 40-year history, Intercar has succeeded in developing a very substantial clientele base in this sector. Here is a description of this sector.

First of all, we have our discount customers. In these areas, Intercar offers discounts of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent to its customers. Children under the age of 11 travel at half-fare. Seniors over 60 and students are entitled to a 25 per cent discount. Those who purchase a same-day return ticket benefit from a 25 per cent reduction and those who purchase a 10-day return ticket receive a 15 per cent reduction.

As a result of an agreement between the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec (Office of Persons with Disabilities), the ministère des Transports du Québec (the Quebec Department of Transport) and the Association des propriétaires d'autobus du Québec (Quebec Bus Owners Association), persons with disabilities who have a valid personal aid pass may have a companion travel with them at no cost throughout the Quebec intercity system. Information on this program can found at the end of the brief. We have even included a personal aid pass for each of you.

Intercar also provides a program that enables unaccompanied children between the ages of 8 and 11 to be placed under the care of the driver at both the start and end of the trip. Parents wishing to use this service must complete and sign a form. We estimate that we transport nearly 5,000 unaccompanied children annually. We have also attached an example of the form to this brief.

We also have clients in the hospital services network. Intercar has specific agreements with most of the hospitals and CLSCs to transport persons undergoing medical examinations outside their home region. Patients present themselves at the wicket at one of our bus terminals in order to pick up a pre-prepared ticket.

We also have a substantial Amerindian client base. Intercar serves a number of Amerindian clients in its area and you can find the client list in the brief. We estimate that we transport 10,000 Amerindian clients annually in our territory.

We also offer some packages. Our most popular package is the Rout-Pass. With this pass, which is sold throughout Canada and Europe, people can travel anywhere within the Quebec and Ontario system for a single price using the regularly scheduled intercity system.

In addition, Intercar has special agreements and I will mention only a few of them. The Jonquière CEGEP uses Intercar's services to enable students to visit their families during major holidays and then travel back once the holidays are over as part of our charter trip service which is run in addition to our regular schedule.

Throughout its system, Intercar helps police with the ``Young Runaways'' program. When the police find a young runaway from our region, transportation is made available at no charge on one of our vehicles.

Intercar serves the Port-Cartier Penitentiary by providing transportation for families and friends visiting inmates and for prisoners released at the end of their sentence. For nearly two years, this clientele has been transported on the intercity system.

Intercar transports over 200,000 persons annually on its intercity system: 115,000 are carried between Saguenay and Quebec City; 50,000 between the North Shore and Quebec City and 35,000 between Lac-Saint-Jean and Quebec City and within the Lac-Saint-Jean area.

We like to say that every passenger is important.

Obviously, in order to transport all these people, we need a big fleet. Intercar's fleet of buses comprises three types of vehicles. We have 47 long-haul vehicles, which provide intercity and charter transportation, and a fleet of 350 vehicles used for paratransit and school busing. All three vehicle categories include vehicles that provide varying degrees of luxury and vehicles adapted to meet the needs of our disabled clientele.

Safety is paramount, a sine qua non condition for all decisions pertaining to vehicle maintenance, driver competency and scheduling. Moreover, after a comprehensive review of our operations and activities and following hearings, the Commission des transports du Québec (Quebec Transport Commission) confirmed that our safety rating would remain unchanged.

Safety is not something you can improvise in a business like ours. To guarantee safety, the company has developed policies on hiring, defensive driving and stringent vehicle maintenance training for mechanics.

As a result of the expertise it has acquired since 1959, Intercar is one of the most respected companies in Quebec for its maintenance and training programs and for its leadership role in the area of safety. Intercar is committed to transporting clients safely in the communities it serves and will make no compromises where safety is concerned.

Although Intercar transports thousands of passengers each year and the company is a public transportation leader in Quebec, there are problems that we feel you should be made aware of.

First of all, let us take the example of the Natashquan-Havre-Saint-Pierre route. Several years ago, Intercar tried to introduce an intercity service for the population of Natashquan, which had requested a public transportation service from our company. After only one year of operation and a loss of several thousand dollars, the service was discontinued due to poor ridership. Today, as at that time, only a subsidy from the municipalities or the Government of Quebec or Canada would make it possible to reintroduce this service needed by the population.

Such a service is particularly necessary given the air transportation services available in the area. In the meantime, the communities have no access to public transportation which will enable them to avail themselves of services to which they are entitled. They must wait. How can this service be made available? Will the Government of Canada work with us to find a solution for the area?

Now let us take a look at the Saint-Félicien-Chibougamau route, which is in Lac-Saint-Jean. Intercar took over following the bankruptcy of the transportation company operating in this corridor to provide services to the people of Chibougamau. After three years, we recognized that, without cross-subsidization of our basic network, we would not be able to operate this route and provide public transportation to the community of Chibougamau. Is the Government of Canada willing to acknowledge this situation and assure us that cross-subsidization will continue to be an option?

Now let us look at the abandonment of service on the east shore of Lac-Saint-Jean. Until 1994, Intercar operated the link between Alma and Dolbeau via Péribonca. Owing to poor ridership and lack of profitability, we had to discontinue the service. Since then, no other transportation company has taken over, be it with minibuses, taxis or school buses. If our basic network is threatened and cross-subsidization ceases to be available, will our remote regions lose their public transportation services, thereby confining their populations to their region? One possible solution might be to combine services. A number of municipalities are presently working on this in their area.

What can the federal government do to complement the Quebec government's action?

There are a few areas in our network that are in competition with carriers providing charter-type services to client groups. Intercar has and continues to operate a number of vehicles as charter businesses. We feel that this is an interesting idea as it enables us to keep on working during slow periods and because it provides a real service to our community.

Moreover, we took part in the ``Étude sur l'industrie québécoise du transport par autocar nolisé'' [study of Quebec's charter bus transportation industry] carried out by the UQAM Tourism Chair. The results of the study are to be made public in the next few days. We have included an excerpt of this study in the brief we tabled with the committee.

We feel that the regular services that could be provided to residents as charter operations would not provide any more guarantees than those already offered by regular public transportation. The charter transportation system is not the panacea many consider it to be. We have done business for many years in the charter transportation industry and we feel that the potential financial returns are negligible.

Let us now take a look at network balance. Because our regional network is sizeable, it makes it possible for some regions to benefit from public transit which they would otherwise not have access to. The Charlevoix, Baie-Saint-Paul and Malbaie areas have regular services only because the service is also provided in the more highly populated North Shore region. The same goes for services in the Tadoussac area.

Regions such as Portneuf and Bellechasse have no public transit system, ever since private carriers there were forced to abandon the service. As neither region is located on a busy corridor, the people there can longer rely on public transit.

A structured network serving more densely populated areas also makes it possible to provide services to communities with fewer inhabitants, but where the service must be available.

For a company such as ours, safety has a cost, because the verification and control procedures under which we operate are far more rigorous than those required by laws and regulations. Can we continue to assume the cost of safety if we have to compete with companies subjected to minimal legal controls?

For Intercar, it is not enough to simply meet the legal requirements. Is the Canadian government aware of the costs we bear in order to be able to ``guarantee'' safety?

The routes served by Intercar are greatly affected by the weather. A mild winter with little precipitation and a few snowstorms can result in an 8 to 12 per cent decrease in traffic. Wild fluctuations in fuel prices in the last two years have greatly affected our profitability and the stability of our network.

Our company has no control over these two factors, and is able to carry on its activities because of the diversity and complementary nature of its services. On that point also, can the Canadian government do something to help us, rather than leaving us in a constant state of uncertainty?

Expressways encourage the use of cars and therefore discourage the use of buses. Since several expressways are planned for our network, we have to wonder what impact these new investments, which give cars a competitive edge, will have on our operations. Are subsidies for cars not the reason for the modal transfer so often observed?

Intercar is precious to our family, to our employees and especially to our region. Above all, the people who do business with us are proud and happy to use our services. People receive quality service when they have access to a well- run network whose services and funding are integrated. Intercar is not the only company in Canada with such a network.

In our view, Intercar is a typical Quebec company in that it is involved in and committed to its community. That is why any action by the federal government must be carefully considered and aimed at protecting and above all preserving services provided to the community. The balance achieved by our network promotes economic and social development within the various communities and facilitates access to the major centres. Preserving this balance is essential to communities such as ours.

Intercar hopes that you will be mindful of this throughout your proceedings.

The Chairman: You have many questions for the federal government, and I hope that you do not expect to get the answers here today. We will take time to study this issue throughout the year, as I was saying earlier, and we do not want to have any preconceived notions at the outset. We want to listen to people so that we can then find the necessary solutions and perhaps answers some of your questions.

Is economic regulation of the industry still appropriate? Would it be appropriate to deregulate all or part of this industry now or in the near future?

Mr. Gilbert: Our company has been in existence since 1959 in a regulated context. What we realize after 49 years is that despite everything, the company has been dynamic over the years. It has grown by acquiring other companies, and by developing certain practices that enabled us to serve the aboriginal clientele, the clientele of CLSCs and hospitals, and to serve new communities.

There are many who say that regulation has been an obstacle to bus transportation; far from it.

We are very proud. Personally, as I am very young and I am now taking over the business, I can say that I am very proud to head up a business of this nature where I can establish certain marketing concepts, certain concepts to develop clienteles. Despite regulation, we feel that our business is very dynamic.

Since we have worked in the regulated context for years, we think that it is part of normal life and it enables certain communities to have service. I have said so throughout my presentation: there are regions that would be at risk if ever our industry were to be deregulated.

There are routes such as Havre-Saint-Pierre-Sept-Îles where passenger volume is not very high. But we maintain those routes anyway because we want to serve the community. We would have to review our position if ever there was deregulation.

We have seen this in other sectors. There would certainly be changes in our network. And the stability of our network would certainly be threatened.

The Chairman: Have the differences that have appeared in the past 10 years between the provincial systems that regulate bus transportation been harmful to the industry, to travellers or to both? Is a remedy necessary, and if so which level of government should introduce it?

Mr. Gilbert: We think that our network is efficient and has stood the test of time. I do not think that has had a negative effect on the clientele, rather I would say that it has helped some.

We now offer services to persons with disabilities on our intercity corridors, throughout our network. These are services we developed almost five years ago with federal government assistance.

So unless I am mistaken, the differences that may exist between provinces do not have a significant impact on us, at least not on our regional network. It is difficult for me to comment on this because we mainly operate within Quebec.

Perhaps other carriers could answer that question.

The Chairman: Those who go outside the province.

Mr. Gilbert: Exactly. With regard to Quebec regulations, we find them appropriate and we do not see any problem for our clientele.

The Chairman: What would be some ways to reverse the long-term reduction in ridership in regular bus service? First of all, do you accept the premise that there has been a reduction? I will not say decline but rather reduction; it is more positive.

Mr. Gilbert: I should point out that we entered the large provincial intercity market in 1990, when we bought the Quebec-Chicoutimi and Quebec-Baie-Comeau routes that used to belong to Voyager. Before that, there was a rather local intercity network in the Lac-Saint-Jean region. But since 1990, we have not seen any drop in our ridership in our intercity networks.

We transport 200,000 people a year. We have seen increases of 2 to 3 per cent per year in our networks. That is due to the fact that year after year, we invest in our labour force, we train our drivers and we buy high-quality vehicles. The average age of our vehicles for our intercity fleet is about four years. So we are talking about very new vehicles.

And we have routes that help us a lot in the sense that there is a lot of bad weather. We serve a clientele of students and seniors who are often afraid to drive on the North Shore or in the Parc des Laurentides. They therefore use our vehicles. They know our vehicles are of good quality, that our drivers are well trained and that they know the road. People are aware that we offer a very good service.

The Chairman: You don't see any need to reverse a downward trend?

Mr. Gilbert: We are not seeing a downward trend.

The Chairman: No. We saw this from the figures that you provided earlier.

Mr. Gilbert: Exactly. We carry 200,000 people. And as I said, in the Quebec-Chicoutimi corridor alone, we transport 115,000 people. That is twice the population of the city of Jonquière. Therefore it is quite a sizeable corridor.

The Chairman: You talked about the Saguenay earlier. This is Jonquière-Chicoutimi, the new city?

Mr. Gilbert: Jonquière-Chicoutimi-La Baie.

The Chairman: La Baie, that's right.

Mr. Gilbert: Yes, exactly.

The Chairman: It is because I once lived in Chicoutimi, and I wanted to make sure that was the case.

Mr. Gilbert: Yes.

[English]

Senator Oliver: Madam Chair, I apologize for not being able to pose my questions in French; however, I am currently studying French and hope, in a year's time, to be able to ask questions in French.

When I look at your map, I am interested to know whether on the route from Roberval to Chibougamau you have competition, and, if so, who is your competition? Or do you have a monopoly on that route?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: Throughout our intercity network, we have no competition in terms of bus transit. We are the only one serving the corridors. However, five years ago, the carrier who operated the Chibougamau-Saint Félicien route went bankrupt. Despite that, we decided to provide service between Chibougamau and Saint-Félicien-Roberval. We are the only ones to offer this service.

[English]

Senator Oliver: Would you make one trip a day along that route, or two or three? In your brief, you indicate that you need some government assistance to continue to properly serve the northern part of Chibougamau. How many times a day could a person travel from Roberval to Chibougamau?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: We go to Chibougamau from Saint-Félicien once a day. However, every day, the city of Roberval is served three times toward the north, in the direction of Dolbeau and three times towards the south, in the direction of Alma.

Moreover, the Saint-Félicien-Chibougamau corridor is very important to us, in the sense that we have a good aboriginal clientele that travels from Chibougamau to Sept-Îles. Therefore, when the carrier went bankrupt in 1995 or 1996, it was obvious that it was a good opportunity for us to serve the Chibougamau-Saint-Félicien corridor, because that enabled us to complete the loop between Chibougamau-Saint-Félicien, Saint-Félicien-Alma, Alma-Chicoutimi, Chicoutimi-Tadoussac, Tadoussac-Baie-Comeau, and Baie-Comeau-Sept-Îles, where a large number of aboriginal persons travel each year.

[English]

Senator Oliver: When I look at the yellow on your map, I see that Intercar does not have any routes, say, from Quebec City to Montreal. It seems to me that it would be profitable for your company to make, say, 15 trips a day between Quebec City and Montreal. What steps would your company have to take, under the general legislation, and given the general climate, to get that route?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: Right now, as we all know, the Quebec-Montreal route is served by a transporter called Autocar Orléans Express. Over the years, we have developed an agreement, a partnership, that allows us to serve the community of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean towards Montreal. Therefore, we have at least one bus a day that leaves Chicoutimi and transits through Sainte-Foy. The passengers don't change buses there; it is just the Orléans Express driver who boards our vehicle and drives it to Montreal.

It also takes place in the opposite direction. An Orléans Express vehicle leaves Montreal, stops at St. Foy, and the Intercar driver who gets off the bus from Chicoutimi gets onto the vehicle that left Montreal and continues on to Chicoutimi.

In this way people have access to express service. There is strong demand for it. During the Christmas Holidays and busy periods, we make two return trips a day with our bus drivers changing buses rather than the passengers.

[English]

Senator Oliver: Would it not be more profitable for you to have, say, 10 of your own buses traveling daily between Quebec City and Montreal? Would it not help your bottom line?

[Translation]

Mr. Girard: The Intercar services offered in Quebec all allow for transfers on the Autocar Orléans services. The timetables are integrated. Throughout Quebec, customers can buy tickets for any destination and the tickets can used on the different lines. That means that in any terminal of the network, people are able to buy tickets for any destination in Quebec. The customer is able to make connections. A business provides service for its territory, it is responsible for its own segments, but it is connected with the remainder of the territory.

Senator Biron: Is there any sharing of money between the companies so that it is not necessarily more economical to go as far as Montreal?

Mr. Gilbert: Every month we do have interline exchanges with the companies with which we do business and transfer passengers. The prices are already determined. Assuming that a one-way trip from Chicoutimi to Montreal costs $100, then a pre-established portion of the $100 will be paid to Orléans and another portion to Intercar; this would work out to the regular price a user would pay for this route. There is already a part that is allocated for Orléans and another one for Intercar.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: You say that your business is thriving, that business is up 2 per cent to 3 per cent every year. You are involved in charters, school buses, intercity, and so on. Are there sectors that are more profitable than others; and if so, why?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: I have to admit that there is one sector that is not profitable, namely chartered transports. As for school buses and paratransit, we are getting by, and the same applies to intercity transport.

The beauty of the thing is that our business network developed over time. And whenever a new segment was added, it was integrated to the service we were already providing. So when there is appreciation of the business as a whole, then of course it is profitable. When we examine the individual sectors, as we often do, we are able to identify the trends that I have just described.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: You say that the charters are not doing well? I understand that a lot of people in the industry think that charters should be deregulated. What is your view on that?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: As I said at the beginning of my presentation, since 1959 our business has evolved in a regulated environment. We believe that we would be able to manage in a deregulated context but the impact on our basic network and on the communities would be significant.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: I am just talking about charters. In other words, what I am hearing is that you would not want to see that deregulated?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: In Quebec, there are permits for the different sectors. We have permits for charter transport as well as permits for intercity bus service. As far as charters are concerned, there are three businesses that are present in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area in addition to ours. For the entire province of Quebec, where we operate, there may perhaps be a dozen. At the Dorval and Mirabel airports as well as at Pearson in Toronto, where we often pick up people who are arriving, there may be as many as 50 carriers. So in the case of charters, we already find ourselves in a competitive environment.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: So there is competition. You mentioned a small community — I cannot remember its name — and you said that you serviced that small community because you wanted to. I understood that you were not really making money on it. However, is part of the deal that in return for a scheduled run, a profitable route, you have to do this other route? Is that part of the package?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: As I already explained, if we take the example of Saint-Félicien-Chibougamau where a carrier went bankrupt, it did fit in well with our network because it enabled us to service the Aboriginal communities in Sept-Îles, the North Shore, and Lac-Saint-Jean as far as Chibougamau. So in our case it was a choice to serve this community.

It is clear that without the cross-subsidization of the basic network — Sept-Îles, the Saguenay and Lac-Saint-Jean — we would not be able to provide the service between Chibougamau and Saint-Félicien.

Senator LaPierre: Does that mean that the part of the network that is profitable supports transportation to Chibougamau and the rest? Since you are doing it without regulation, I suppose it means that you are willing to provide this service?

Mr. Gilbert: As I said, I am doing this because it enables us to serve a particular clientele. To return to the previous example of the cost of $100 for the trip from Chibougamau to Sept-Îles, the Chibougamau-Saint-Félicien portion may account for $20 of this. When we decided to offer the service between Saint-Félicien and Chibougamau, we asked ourselves whether we would be operating this segment in order to attract the $80 fare between Sept-Îles and Saint- Félicien, a service we were already providing.

Senator LaPierre: I see. In other words, your Amerindian clientele comes from Chibougamau and usually goes to Sept-Îles?

Mr. Gilbert: Exactly.

Senator LaPierre: How long does it take to make the trip from Chibougamau to Sept-Îles? It must be a month!

Mr. Girard: We don't go there by canoe!

Mr. Gilbert: We hope that our network is more efficient than that. It takes two days.

Senator LaPierre: There are two things I would like to discuss with you. In view of your competence and the agreements that you can enter into with other carriers, it is obvious that you will be extending your network over the next five years. You are not going to let all this go to waste. If you have the necessary funds and clientele, how would you go about extending your network? And what type of government permission and other formalities would be required to do so?

Mr. Gilbert: Our intercity network expanded in the year 2000 because of our acquisition of the Baie-Comeau-Sept- Îles route.

In the past two years we have also taken on many new school bus services. We have consolidated our position. We have agreed to be a regional carrier and to provide service to the Saguenay, the Lac-Saint-Jean area and the North Shore. Since we were serving the Saguenay, Lac-Saint-Jean and the North Shore, our reasoning was that as a regional carrier, we should establish a firm foundation.

There was a school bus company with a fleet of about 100 vehicles. We acquired them in the year 2001. So that means that we do have a strong foundation as a regional carrier in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.

For the time being, we do not anticipate any further expansion of the network and the corridors that we now service.

Senator LaPierre: If you were to receive government funding for one reason or another, it would mean greater government control. They will want to ensure that the money is properly used. But it can mean more regulation, and more control over your business. Is that a good thing?

Mr. Gilbert: At the present time we do not receive any subsidies. In the case of the intercity network I described to you, as well as the school bus services, as well as charters and paratransit, with the exception of school buses where we received money from the government to provide this service, there is no type of subsidy at the present time for our operations.

Senator LaPierre: I gather that you do have buses to provide transportation for the disabled?

Mr. Gilbert: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: In the case of disabled persons who wish to travel from Chicoutimi to Quebec City in one of your regular buses, do you have special ramps or equipment?

Mr. Gilbert: We have a well-established procedure that is the same for all the Quebec intercity carriers. The person must make reservations from 24 to 48 hours in advance. Our bus drivers have been trained for the boarding of elderly or disabled persons. The system is sold by Prévost Car, the Sainte-Claire manufacturer: it is a special ramp at the back of the bus that can be lowered in order to allow for the boarding of the disabled person in a wheelchair. Inside the bus it is possible for us to move seats to allow this person to stay in the wheelchair.

Senator LaPierre: Let's talk about safety. We can take the example of a trip between Saguenay and Quebec City. Let us assume that the driver gets off the bus and it is turned over to a stranger you may not know and this person starts acting crazy. In a case like this, how can you ensure the safety of your passengers?

Mr. Gilbert: I am happy to tell you that we are associated with carriers who do take care of their buses and look after the safety of their passengers.

There has to be trust in the other carrier. We know that Orléans Express also has safety and quality standards that go beyond the level required by regulations. So the fact that we exchange a vehicle once a day with Orléans Express is not a cause of concern for us. And if we were unable to ensure the safety of our passengers, we would not do so.

Senator LaPierre: Who pays for the gas for the Quebec-Montreal portion of the trip?

Mr. Gilbert: It is very technical. At the end of every month, we bill the kilometrage recorded on our vehicle. Orléans Express pays.

Senator LaPierre: So you do not lose anything. One last question: Since September 11, has security been a big issue with you, as is the case for airplanes?

Mr. Gilbert: Yes, we have talked a lot about security but I must say, in all modesty, that we were pleased to see the recognition of what we have already done. For years now we have been investing in safety, we have been looking after our vehicles and ensuring their proper maintenance.

We are convinced that the strong emphasis now being placed on security will be a benefit to us. It is obvious that since September 11 there has been more focus on security and travellers are worried.

Senator LaPierre: Do you think that before getting on a bus, people will have to go through the same security procedures as when boarding an airplane, that is pass through detectors and so forth?

Mr. Gilbert: After the September 11 incidents, a number of journalists phoned our offices to ask that question. Since our network is a regional one for the time being, we did not see any need for such measures. Of course we did raise the awareness of our bus drivers and they check passengers for any signs of inappropriate behaviour.

As for the carriers who provide cross-border service, those who travel to the United States from Canada, I think that measures have been taken to ensure greater security. But at the regional level, aside from raising the awareness of our bus drivers, we have not done anything special.

Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer: I have a question about children travelling alone. How many children make use of your service in the course of a year?

Mr. Gilbert: From memory, I would say about 5,000 children.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Do you do any publicity? How do people, parents know about your service? I am very interested, because where I come from in British Colombia there is no service like that.

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: We are a regional carrier, as I already said. We invest about 1 per cent of our total sales in advertising to make our services better known, whether it relates to security, to our travel packages or new services such as those for children travelling alone or disabled persons.

As you probably know, the cost of television, radio and media advertising is not nearly as expensive in the regions as it may be in big cities like Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto. This means that we can have good advertising campaigns to promote our intercity service.

Our services are made known both by the people who use them and the advertising we do in our region.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Do you see an increase in the use of the service in the future, with unaccompanied children?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: We are aware of the fact that unfortunately, in reality, there are couples that separate. This means that in regions like the Saguenay and Quebec City, where there is a sizeable population, there is an increasing number of people whose children must travel alone on our network. We think that this trend of children travelling alone will probably increase.

I should mention that since we began offering this service, there have never been any serious cases of children disappearing or being forgotten by our bus drivers. The service works very well.

The Chairman: I have a short supplementary question on this point.

When the child reaches his or her destination and the parent has not yet arrived, is there any service to look after the child until the parent shows up?

Mr. Gilbert: Normally we expect the parent to be there since he or she must sign the release form. Otherwise, the child is kept in the terminal since the driver cannot stay with the child. In 99 per cent of the cases, the parent is there for the child's arrival. In the other cases, the child is kept in the terminal and the terminal will see to it that the discharge form is signed.

Senator LaPierre: Do the police carry out a security investigation for all of your drivers?

Mr. Gilbert: Under the legislation we are required every six months to obtain a copy of the bus driver's driving record from the Société de l'assurance-automobile du Québec. In addition, every year we also carry out a background check of our driver's criminal history. We ask them to obtain a certificate of criminal history from their municipality.

Senator Biron: I do not wish to be indiscreet, but what is your most profitable route?

Mr. Gilbert: Yes, it is an indiscreet question.

Senator Biron: I suppose that it is between Chicoutimi and Quebec City, but I am not asking you confirm this.

Now if there were deregulation, it is possible that your competition would be for your most profitable route. Is it possible that, if faced with such competition, you would have to improve this route and possibly do away with Havre- Saint-Pierre and Sept-Îles? In the event of deregulation, would you have to give up certain services?

Mr. Gilbert: We have never taken an in-depth look at this kind of scenario. There is no doubt that if there were competition on the Quebec City-Chicoutimi route, we would need all our financial resources. So it is possible that some of the less profitable communities that we serve at the present time would be abandoned.

The situation you refer to, Senator Biron, involves the principle of cross-subsidization. This requires a different analysis for the segments of a route that are profitable; I am referring to a longer route. Certain portions of the route may be profitable and thus support another portion of the same route.

There are certain time slots that may be more profitable and support the less profitable ones. For example, Friday evening and Sunday evening services for long routes are generally more profitable than the same service on a Tuesday morning.

The idea of destabilization as a result of competition must also be examined in relation to segments of the same route, and not merely comparing one route to another, as well as from a point of view of timetables in relation to other timetables for the same route. All these different levels or degrees of cross-subsidy exist. What exactly do they amount to and what would their impacts be? We are anxious to see what your conclusions are.

[English]

Senator Oliver: I have two brief questions, one related to school buses and the other to charters.

School buses are used to transport children from home to school and from school to home. These buses require a large capital outlay. Is there not some additional use that can be found for those buses? For example, could those buses not be used to transport seniors, elderly people, or others living in a remote or rural area who have to go into a major metropolis, say, Chibougamou or Roberval? Could those buses not be used in the evening for this purpose, after the children have been delivered home, to maximize the use of that particular asset?

On the same topic, are your school buses all the same size, or are some large and some small? Is it part of your business plan to look at alternative uses for school buses?

On the subject of charters, you were very critical in your brief of charter buses. You say this in your brief: ``In the charter transportation sector, important investments have been artificially stimulated by financial support of suppliers and manufacturers of motorcoaches, regarding institutional lenders.'' Can you explain that statement? Can you outline some of the facts supporting that very strong statement against how some charter carriers are financed and get benefits?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: To answer your first question, it is possible to consider using our school buses for other purposes than regular school bus transportation. We have made a significant investment in school bus transportation but it is not as large as our investment in the long-haul intercity buses we now operate.

Obviously, the kind of service and comfort for people travelling on our intercity routes would not be the same if we were to use school buses.

However, in order to provide service to more remote communities or smaller towns, then of course we would be willing to make use of school buses.

[English]

Senator Oliver: Do you have more than one size of minibus?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: We have different sizes of school buses. We have a regular long school bus that can hold up to 72 students. And we have a minibus that can hold up to 25 students.

As for the second question, it is clear that chartered transportation is currently a highly competitive area, and one where there is a price war underway, at least in Quebec. And the prices of the vehicles that we buy from our manufacturers, Prevost Car or MCI, have gone up constantly from year to year.

For the past year, we have seen that the bus resale market has been collapsing. When vehicles were resold, transportation companies were making money, because the market for used buses was very good. But with what has happened in the past year, it is increasingly difficult to sell used vehicles and make profits on resales.

[English]

Senator Oliver: What were some of the benefits that suppliers and manufacturers of buses gave to the charter carriers?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: If I fully understand your question, you are talking about manufacturers like Prevost Car or MCI?

Senator Oliver: Yes.

Mr. Gilbert: As for the benefits they have provided, well, it is clear that the vehicles are comfortable, they are large passenger vehicles, and luxurious. But clearly, when there are only two manufacturers, as is the case, we do not have many opportunities to find vehicles at a better price.

You alluded to the study on charters that will be published within the next few weeks. The study of the financial situation of companies providing charter service shows that many companies obtained financing equal to 100 per cent of the value of the vehicle when they bought new vehicles from the two manufacturers.

The manufacturers provided this 100 per cent financing of the vehicle and encouraged this 100 per cent financing of the new vehicle, through their sister finance companies. This was possible because one, two or five years later, the used vehicle could often be resold for an amount equal to what had been paid for it initially.

Senator Oliver: Because the value had appreciated.

Mr. Gilbert: Each year, the price of new vehicles went up so much that used vehicles maintained their value. They were 100 per cent financed, and could often be resold at the same price.

Accountants would say that there had been a gain on disposal of the asset. And often, companies used this gain on disposal of the asset to recapitalize or refinance their company, even if their daily operations were in a deficit.

Senator Oliver: I see. Thank you.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: I want to ask about parcel service, which is something that has not been raised this morning. Do you promote that service?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: We do in fact provide parcel service on the entire intercity network we serve.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: But is it something that you promote? What is the cost of your services in comparison to those of Priority Post? Are you competitive?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: Obviously, we promote this service. And we believe that part of the company's development will be in this area in the future.

Our prices increased recently, in 2001, and we studied the competition. We made sure that our prices were competitive and that we also had some competitive advantages, such as same-day delivery.

So to answer your question more clearly, we do promote parcel service, and in fact, we are competitive.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: Is this a sector of your business this is growing a lot?

[Translation]

Mr. Gilbert: Revenues from parcel service have remained more or less stable in recent years. Last year, we assessed our situation and we thought that this could be a sector we could develop in the future, hoping to do as Greyhound has done in the Canadian West, to try to obtain a larger portion of the revenues from parcel delivery.

The problem in Quebec is that the network is fragmented. So you have to come to an agreement with other carriers, like Autobus Maheu and Autocar Orléans Express. And that is precisely what we did last year.

The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Girard, for coming. We really appreciate the information you have given us. Feel free to forward other information if you think of other details that might help us.

As you can see, we are very serious about this work. The senators were well prepared and asked you a lot of questions this morning. We are very interested in this matter.

Mr. Girard: Rest assured that we will forward any further documentation that might flesh out this morning's answers.

The Chairman: Our next witnesses are from Kéroul, Mr. André Leclerc, Director General of Kéroul, and Ms Johanne St-Martin, Transport Development Assistant.

Mr. André Leclerc, Director General of Kéroul: Thank you very much for inviting us to state our position. By the way, if the translators do not understand, they can ask me to repeat myself, at no extra cost!

Kéroul is a touristic and cultural development organization. Our goal is to promote touristic and cultural accessibility, to show the industry how to deal with people with restricted ability.

We say ``people with restricted ability'' because that covers not just people in wheelchairs, but also the blind, short people, the obese, the temporarily disabled, little people, parents with strollers, or anyone with mobility issues. And we know that the population is increasingly aging and that there will be more and more mobility problems

.Kéroul attempts to convince the industry of the market potential of this 15 per cent of the population. That percentage is going to grow more and more because of the phenomenon of population aging. If Canada wants to position itself as an accessible touristic and cultural destination, the product will have to be improved.

Enter Kéroul with its four-pronged research program to inventory all of the accessible spots in Quebec — hotels, restaurants, camp grounds and museums — with very, very detailed criteria. Based on these questionnaires, Kéroul processes the information and assigns an accessibility rating.

And I forward this information to the tourism network for inclusion in travel guides. We have managed to convince Tourisme Québec to set up a tourism industry quality program; accessibility is one of the quality criteria. We are basically going to inventory these places and disseminate the information. And in places that are not accessible, we tell people they will have to improve.

Second, we have a training program for tourism industry workers. We have developed training courses for tourism students and for Air Canada, casino and bus company employees. We have developed courses for every type of tourism worker. And the courses are given by disabled people.

Third, we do a lot of advocacy work. We do a lot of lobbying to raise awareness in the tourism and cultural industry. We also give clients information on the various accessible places in Quebec.

Kéroul is currently sharing its expertise across Canada. We want to open offices in different provinces, because Kéroul's expertise is unique in the world. We are involved with the OPHQ and the Canadian Tourism Commission in a project to develop international accessibility criteria that would be recognized as international standards.

Our goal for the past 20 years has been to position Quebec as an accessible tourist destination. The market for people with restricted ability is a very viable market because these people often travel in twos or threes. It would therefore be in Canada's interest to carve out a niche to attract those tourists.

There are, after all, 45 million disabled people in the United States and 50 million in Europe. I hope they don't all come to Quebec at the same time!

I would ask my colleague to continue the presentation and to give a broad outline of out brief, in order to give the translators a break.

Ms Johanne St-Martin, Transport Development Assistant, Kéroul: Just to add to what Mr. Leclerc was saying before, Kéroul has made written submissions on transportation many times. In this brief, we have gathered together recommendations that we have often made and explained to various task forces. Given the subject matter, we will of course focus on buses and bus stations.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to translate this brief, but I believe you will be able to do so later.

We represent users with restricted ability. That is the basis for all of our recommendations.

With respect to the motor coach operators' code of practice, our main observation is that the present code of practice is not very detailed. We therefore give instructions to motor coach operators and owners to enable them to serve clients with restricted ability well.

What we are hoping for and recommending is more specific physical dimensions under the code of practice. By physical dimensions, I mean bus aisle width, room for a guide dog, and so on. We would like to have more detailed specifications because the code is too open to interpretation by motor coach owners.

For some people, a suitable width is x centimetres, whereas for others, it is different. So there is not necessarily enough room for people in wheelchairs. Often, they have to get out of their wheelchair and into a boarding chair, and that sometimes causes problems. The steps and all of these little obstacles are unacceptable, and we would like the code standards to be a bit more precise.

As a matter of fact, greater precision would greatly assist manufacturers and carriers.

Now let's talk about bus terminals. The bus terminals in Quebec City and Montreal are fine. Their main purpose is to accommodate buses. But in the regions, bus terminals are often corner stores, service stations, et cetera. And unfortunately, those places are not usually accessible.

Obviously, with the help of Mr. Leclerc and others like the Quebec Department of Transportation and Tourisme Québec, we are trying to find solutions to this problem, to find a network of restaurants or other facilities that would be accessible and open to clients with restricted ability.

At present, in addition to terminals that are not accessible, we know that bus passengers do not always have accessible washrooms on board. Drivers must therefore stop every two and a half hours at accessible places for those passengers. That may be a drawback. But it would be good if that were included in the terminals.

We have also noticed that it is hard for those in the industry to offer cultural or travel packages to groups of people with restricted ability. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of room in a bus. If more than one person is travelling, it is hard. A bus cannot accommodate a group.

We recommend better bus access for wheelchair passengers — more buses with more room for wheelchairs — to facilitate group travel. We hope the government will support this initiative so that there will be more accessible buses for our clients in all provinces.

We are also concerned about deregulation. That is not necessarily the purpose of today's meeting, but Kéroul and many others in the busing industry sincerely hope that current accessibility and service quality will never be lost.

Even with a code of practice, it is often hard to get services for those with restricted ability. We fear that deregulation would undermine hard-won quality services for our clients.

If there is deregulation, Kéroul's position is that we would like to have guarantees that services for people with restricted ability will be maintained without any effect on quality. That is crucially important to us.

I referred earlier to room for an animal. It still happens that animals are denied permission to board, guide dogs or assistance dogs. For example, in Ottawa, a woman told us the following anecdote. She was travelling with her spouse. She is blind but has a white cane, and her spouse had a guide dog. They were told there would be a charge for bringing the guide dog. A lot of training remains to be done because, unfortunately, even with the code, which clearly says the dog must be allowed, they were still refused. And that happened in Ottawa, not in some rural area, but in a big city.

So if we lose the code or if there is deregulation, that is what we are afraid of.

We feel that buses are an essential service for our clients. Of course, there is the train, the plane, et cetera. However, buses serve many towns in Canada. That is not necessarily the case for planes and trains.

Also, keep in mind that in many cases, people with restricted ability have limited financial means. It is important that a person at least be able to travel by bus to visit family, cultural sites, and so on. Without that option, which is economical and accessible, people with restricted ability would have fewer opportunities to travel freely. It is therefore an essential mode of transportation.

That is a general outline of our submissions. In fact, the brief goes into much greater detail. We provide statistics on passenger characteristics and patterns and on obstacles these people may encounter. I have given you our usual recommendations. Do you have any questions?

The Chairman: Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Leclerc and Ms St-Martin. I must say, Mr. Leclerc, that we have come a long way since 1970, when you tried hitchhiking and decided to devote your energy to tourism development.

Mr. Leclerc: You have a good memory!

The Chairman: We are well informed, and we have done our homework, Mr. Leclerc.

I congratulate you on what you have accomplished since 1970. This issue is important to us. I think the statistics you have presented and the information you have added orally this morning, in addition to the document we have before us, are very important.

I have a few questions, and then I will turn the floor over to my colleagues.

Does the busing industry feel there is sufficient market potential?

Mr. Leclerc: No.

The Chairman: But in the industry, is there realistic potential to do more and to better meet the needs you just mentioned?

Mr. Leclerc: I do not know if you recall, but about 10 years ago, the federal government set up a grants program to help carriers become fully accessible. That really gave a boost in terms of persuading the busing industry to follow suit. I was recently told that carriers were buying accessible buses that did not need any alterations. That means that there is a market, and that they have understood how important it is to be accessible.

The Chairman: The potential is there, as well as, of course, the interest of the bus companies.

Mr. Leclerc: All these figures point to the aging of the population. By the year 2015, the average age of the population will be over 65. If the industry wants to meet the needs of this clientele, it will have to start doing something.

Ms St-Martin: In a brief that we will soon be presenting, we refer to a study on an expanding market entitled: ``Tourist behaviour of persons with restricted physical ability.'' This study shows quite clearly that the most frequent users of buses are between the ages of 18 and 35, in other words, there is a large number of students. Students with limited physical abilities are part of this group, as well as lots of young professionals.

So there is a market potential here. In my opinion, this age group is a very significant potential market.

We should also bear in mind that the blind, as we will also demonstrate in our study, are more inclined to make use of buses than any other means of transport. They are also a large clientele.

The Chairman: If I've understood correctly, you offer your services to transit companies.

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

The Chairman: You make your needs known to them and they respond by implementing the appropriate changes. You say that over the past 10 years there has been a remarkable change.

Mr. Leclerc: Kéroul is a sort of intermediary between the tourist industry and customers. Part of our action is to encourage the industry to improve the product and at the same time, we inform customers about the different types of service available.

The Chairman: I see. You say that through your consultant service you make known possibilities to people in the industry as well as to users. Do you think that the bus companies' present response to requirements is adequate? You note that the needs will be increasing as a result of the aging population. I think that it will be more difficult for people to get around because of reduced mobility.

We see that there has been a change over the past 10 years but you think that over the next 10 years, it will be possible for us to meet the needs of the population?

Mr. Leclerc: The bus sector is perhaps the one that has made the most progress in the past 10 years compared to the train.

The Chairman: Yes.

Mr. Leclerc: The government of Canada bought these trains from other countries at a good price but these trains are not accessible. On VIA Rail, there is only one place to put a wheelchair; that is not much.

In Europe, trains have much greater accessibility, as well as in the US. Canada has a lot to do to make trains accessible. In the case of airplanes, progress has been made but there is still a lot to be done.

The bus sector is certainly the one that has made the greatest effort to accommodate our needs.

The Chairman: Are they responding well to your needs at the present time?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

The Chairman: As for the future, you have confidence in the bus industry, do you?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Ms St-Martin: Statistics indicate an aging of the population and reduced abilities. Between 1986 and 1991, the disability rate increased from 13.2 per cent to 15.5 per cent.

Moreover, 46 per cent of people aged 65 and over have some physical limitations. There are lots of seniors who travel. It is becoming an increasingly important clientele.

[English]

Senator Oliver: On page 13 of your brief, you list the seven conditions that you would like to see be met for bus terminals. These include parking, accessibility, public toilets, signage, and so on.

Last night we toured the central bus station here. During that tour, I saw accessible toilets, an accessible entry; in fact, most of your seven conditions were met. However, what about accessibility for people who need guide dogs, or people with other physical limitations, in places like Alma, Chicoutimi, and Roberval? Whose responsibility is that? Is it the responsibility of the businessman in Chicoutimi, the municipality, the county, the Province of Quebec, whose responsibility is it to bring in the laws to ensure that the seven conditions that you would like to see met in bus terminals are met.

[Translation]

Ms St-Martin: Let me start by answering the first part of your question. As to the study you refer to, with reference to some of its recommendations, in Montreal, parking, accessibility at the entrance and all these points, are generally speaking respected. However, outside Montreal, if, for example, a person with reduced mobility is dropped off by a friend, a relative or someone else, the person is unable to park in the boarding area and wait 15 minutes with the passenger who will be getting on the bus, he or she must find a parking spot. And the person must also have help to get out of the car or vehicle and most often be accompanied to the terminal.

What are they suppose to do with the car? They cannot park there, they have to look farther afield. So that is a problem.

Handicapped parking spots are often not close to the boarding gate. Once again this is a problem for people with restricted mobility.

In Montreal, the inside of the terminal is accessible but in a number of regions this is not always the case. That brings us back to the point I raised earlier, namely the fact that there is no terminal building for places in the countryside.

The Chairman: There is not the same kind of accessibility at the local convenience store.

Ms St-Martin: Exactly. So as far as accessibility goes in the rural areas, the situation is not the same.

Mr. Leclerc: That is why it is important to attempt to find a network of private businesses that would be interested in playing the role of a terminal, I am thinking for example of a chain of restaurants, for example St-Hubert, where the buildings are all accessible. This would be of interest both from the standpoint of economics and physical access.

The Chairman: That also has potential.

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

[English]

Senator Oliver: It seems to me that an organization like yours really needs to get in with the architects and the planners of any new terminal or new building. In that way, you could ensure that the seven conditions are being met. As well, you could have a voice in things such as special safety considerations, special fares and other comfort items that will be required for people with disabilities.

Has your organization found ways to speak to the architects, planners and designers, to ensure that these considerations are built into their plans before any sod is turned?

[Translation]

Ms St-Martin: We work together a great deal with Tourism Quebec. Tourism Quebec does have a quality program along with a building code. In cooperation with Tourism Quebec and the Department of Transport, we make sure that all the new structures are accessible.

I admit that it is difficult to always be at the right place at the right time. Take the example of the Longueuil terminal. We had to put a lot of work into that. In the case of the new STRCM terminal, that is always used as the Voyageur terminal, the process was wrong because work began before we were able to meet those responsible. There may not have been the same degree of openness at the beginning but nonetheless we were successful in obtaining a certain number of changes.

We do try to keep informed about new construction projects. It is for that reason that we have created a department known as ``Research and Accessibility.'' We have a data bank that includes all the terminals. If there is a change or a closure, we attempt to keep informed and make regular updates.

It is true that we cannot be everywhere at the same time but generally speaking, we are able to meet people to present our recommendations for persons with restricted mobility.

Mr. Leclerc: As Johanne was mentioning, Kéroul is the official representative in discussions with Tourism Quebec and we work with 13 departments in Quebec. The tourism industry concerns several departments: the departments of Labour, Agriculture, Culture, Transport and so forth. At the federal level, there are 18 departments involved. We work a great deal with the Privy Council of the Government of Quebec, the Executive Council. At the federal level, we work with the Secretary General of the Government of Canada who can put us in touch with the different departments. But we do find it difficult to work at the federal level.

It is our impression that they do not recognize the work being done by Kéroul. May be it is because we are Quebeckers, I don't know, but it is very complicated to make Kéroul's expertise known at the Canadian level. In spite of that, there are countries like Peru, Argentina and Thailand that recognize the expertise of Kéroul at the international level.

In Kéroul we have a unique kind of expertise in the world and we are willing to help you, we are ready to help the rest of Canada to avoid the mistakes that may have been committed in the past. We want to help the rest of Canada to take up its position as an accessible tourism destination.

The Chairman: The fact that we are meeting today, Mr. Leclerc, does demonstrate our openness.

Mr. Leclerc: We shall see.

The Chairman: You will see so in our report.

[English]

Senator Oliver: I was somewhat surprised to hear Mr. Leclerc say that buses are more accessible and have made more advancements than the trains. On the train from Ottawa to Montreal, there is signage and washroom accessibility, as well as accessibility on the train. In what way is the train behind the bus?

[Translation]

Mr. Leclerc: The bus is more flexible when it comes to timetables. If you want to leave at two o'clock, you have to reserve a day ahead of time to take the bus. The train may have one car that is accessible. You make the trip from Ottawa to Montreal or Montreal to Quebec City but only one disabled person may be taken on board. On one occasion I took the train to go to Quebec City and for the return trip, there was no train that was accessible. In spite of the fact that I had reserved for an accessible train. I had no choice but to come back on the bus.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: You have had a lot of progress in the last 10 years. You mentioned this morning 10 years ago a federal-provincial program was put in place to help carriers become more accessible. Tell me about that program. Did that program have a lot to do with your progress?

[Translation]

Mr. Leclerc: Yes. Yes, that was what provided the impetus to convince companies to go along with this measure. It is as if we were being asked by the tourist industry whether it was profitable to make places accessible.

Until you are accessible, you cannot receive customers with restricted physical abilities.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: Is the program still in effect? Does it still involve federal-provincial governments, right across Canada?

[Translation]

Mr. Leclerc: I think it is no longer in existence.

Ms St-Martin: Yes, we do not think that it exists anymore.

Mr. Leclerc: We will look into it.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: You think the program has ceased, that it no longer exists; is that what you are saying?

Mr. Leclerc: Oui.

Ms St-Martin: We will have to verify that, however.

Senator Callbeck: When was your organization established? How long ago?

M. Leclerc: En 1979.

Senator Callbeck: Are there organizations, in other provinces, like yours?

[Translation]

Mr. Leclerc: No, our approach in Canada and in the rest of the world is unique because we have an overall vision of the situation. We do not limit ourselves to training and research. We attempt to take into account all the pieces of the puzzles. It is well and good to have accessible places but if you do not engage in promotion, then disabled persons will not know about it. No matter how much training there may be, if the industry is not properly trained, then nothing will come of it.

An overall approach to the situation is necessary to take into account the pieces of the puzzle. We must defend our interests in relation to the transport industry and that is what we are doing this morning.

Ms St-Martin: To add to what Mr. Leclerc has said, there are other organizations elsewhere of persons with restricted physical abilities. But it should be borne in mind that Kéroul's mission focuses first on tourism and culture. We are an advocacy group but we also attempt to bring about solutions through working together in partnership.

That may explain how we are different and the fact that we are able to bring about progress on certain issues that would otherwise remain unchanged.

Mr. Leclerc: There is also the fact that Kéroul has a proactive approach. There is no point in listing our demands, it is better for us to ask what we can do to improve the situation. We could have said that an hour is not good enough. But we sat down with them and we said that we would try to come up with a solution. The Canadian disabled community had an injunction issued. What would the point of that be? It would simply mean money for the lawyers. We did not go along with that. We said that we would try to come up with a solution to improve the product. It took us a long time to convince them but they did understand.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: How is your organization funded?

[Translation]

Mr. Leclerc: You are very curious!

The Chair: That is why you are here.

Mr. Leclerc: We are funded in part by the Department of Tourism and the Department of Transport which help us pay for some advertising relating to transport in Canada. The Department of Culture allows us to send someone to the cultural committee. We organize fundraising events for Kéroul. There is also the sale of our publications.

[English]

Senator Phalen: Thank you very much for your presentation. I agree that you present a very important aspect for this committee to consider. I just have one short question: To your knowledge, are there any subsidies available to carriers to effect the changes that you feel are necessary?

[Translation]

Mr. Leclerc: As I said before, we don't know, but we will ask Romain.

The Chairman: If you are not able to provide us with the full answer, you can send it to us. We will distribute it to the senators for their information.

Senator LaPierre: You say that 15 per cent of Canadians have some disability and that this will increase over the years because of old people like me still walking around on the streets.

Mr. Leclerc: You do not have to say that.

Senator LaPierre: But I can.

So at the present time, it is profitable.

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: And will it become increasingly profitable?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes. And if we do not want to lose out on the product, then the industry is going to have to make adaptations immediately so it won't find itself, 15 years from now, unable to meet the needs of this clientele. In other words, the product will have to be adapted with this in mind.

Senator LaPierre: You say that you are in almost constant dialogue with companies like Intercar, is that so?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: And is it working out well?

Mr. Leclerc: Very well.

Senator LaPierre: Do they listen to you, do they understand you?

Mr. Leclerc: They do not have any choice.

Senator LaPierre: I see. It must be hard to say no to you, Mr. Leclerc.

Mr. Leclerc: There aren't many who have tried.

Senator LaPierre: Let's turn to the charter buses. Did you say that it was difficult for you to organize groups?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes. At one time Kéroul did have a travel service and we also organized trips for groups of disabled persons. The problem was that we had trouble finding quality coaches to make these group trips. These disabled persons had to travel in school buses, which are not very comfortable.

The other problem was the lack of accessible rooms. For example, if people from France want to visit the Gaspé Peninsula, there is only one hotel with accessible rooms.

Senator LaPierre: But in the case of coaches, they can be reconfigurated, can't they?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: They also do that in airplanes.

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: So it is possible.

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: I gather there are subsidies that would allow you to develop the tourist side, taking into account your needs?

Mr. Leclerc: I don't understand.

Senator LaPierre: When you want to organize a group, is there any government assistance?

Mr. Leclerc: No.

Senator LaPierre: None at all?

Mr. Leclerc: No.

Senator LaPierre: Have you discussed this with the federal government?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes.

Senator LaPierre: Are they stupid?

Mr. Leclerc: They are difficult.

Senator LaPierre: Difficult, I see. Why and how?

Mr. Leclerc: It is very complicated.

Senator LaPierre: Is it more complicated with the federal government than with the Quebec government?

Mr. Leclerc: Yes. Particularly with the scandal that occurred in the Department of Human Resources. They are more nervous or more defensive. It is very, very difficult to work at the federal level. Even though our only purpose is to help them. We certainly don't want to harm them, we are trying to improve the economic spinoffs for Canada.

There are 50,000 disabled Americans in the United States. This is a niche market.

Senator LaPierre: Yes, an important one.

Ms St-Martin: For the purpose of comparison, we work with Quebec departments but we've also met all the federal departments involved in one way or another. I looked after that at the time. It always took much more time and was much more difficult to meet people from the federal departments and to get some action taken than when we were dealing with Quebec departments.

That being said, when we were successful in arranging a meeting with these people, most of them proved to be very open-minded and things were done. But it was always a much longer and complicated process.

Senator LaPierre: I have no doubt that this will come back to us in the near future.

One last question. I have a number of rights. I have the use of my two feet, my two hands, my two eyes. My brain may not be very well-organized but that's another matter.

And you have rights. You have your individual rights and the fact that you may travel in a wheelchair or with a guide dog et cetera., in no way detracts from your basic human rights and you are entitled to mobility just like me.

Do you think that Canadians and more particularly the authorities understand this?

Mr. Leclerc: There was a lot of momentum for integration in 1992 with the ``Decade of the Disabled Person'' and a big presentation made in Vancouver. Kéroul was charged with the hosting of 150 disabled persons from throughout the world. They asked Quebeckers to look after the hosting of disabled persons in Vancouver. That shows how much our expertise was recognized.

Ms St-Martin: Not everyone recognizes these rights. We still have lots of work to do.

Senator LaPierre: Thank you.

The Chairman: Let me go a bit farther. What would you like to see in the recommendations? I have always said that we would not make recommendations without hearing everyone. We are here to listen to what you have to say.

What would you like to see in the recommendations that our Senate committee will be making to the Department of Transport?

Mr. Leclerc: It is not complicated. As far as buses are concerned, if deregulation takes place, then steps must be taken to ensure accessibility. The reason why we were against deregulation is we did not want to lose what we have achieved so far. In my opinion, it is very important to have measures that will ensure that accessibility will always be respected.

Second, some way must be found to improve the accessibility of regional terminals.

Third, we are in the process of developing a single travelling companion card for the four types of transportation, namely airplane, train, bus and boat, so that the disabled person does not have to have a whole set of cards noting this disability. Later on, this card could be used by others as well.

The Chairman: I see. That is quite clear.

Mr. Leclerc: And the government of Canada will have to be convinced to listen to us.

The Chairman: You don't seem to like the government of Canada, Mr. Leclerc.

Mr. Leclerc: I love it!

The Chairman: Has it caused you any trouble?

Mr. Leclerc: I love it when it listens to us.

The Chairman: But there are over 30 million people in Canada to look after. I think that is why it takes longer for you when you deal with the various federal departments.

Ms St-Martin: Let me add, in conclusion, that it is important to maintain the quality of service as well as the kind of accommodations required by persons with restricted physical abilities. We must raise awareness about the need to accommodate people from other countries and provinces, whether it be interprovincial or international, so that these people feel accepted and properly looked after when travelling.

The Chairman: I think you should be congratulated for the expertise you have developed over time. I think it is quite extraordinary. And we hope that people from everywhere in Canada will call upon this expertise since the needs are not limited to Quebec, they are found in all the provinces.

And if we can facilitate your meetings with the 18 federal departments, then we would be pleased to do so.

Ms St-Martin: Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you for coming here. And if you have any further recommendations to make, do not hesitate to send them to us.

Our next group represents La Solidarité rurale du Québec. Mr. Jean-Pierre Fournier is a member of the executive and Ms Anne-Marie Rainville is the Director of Public Affairs.

Mr. Jean-Pierre Fournier, Member of the Executive of La Solidarité rurale du Québec: I first of all would like to thank you for inviting us to make a presentation.

I am a member of the executive of La Solidarité rurale du Québec in my capacity as a member of the association known as l'Association des CLSC et CHSLD. I am a member of the latter association as president of my own CLSC in my region.

I am accompanied by Ms Marie-Anne Rainville, Director of Communications with Solidarité rurale from its very beginning.

There are four elements to my presentation. First of all, a few words about what Solidarité rurale is. Secondly, information about the present state of affairs, then, I'll attempt to draw some conclusions and answer your questions. We do not claim to have answers to all your questions but we will try our best to answer them.

Solidarité rurale du Québec is the organization that is responsible for taking follow-up action on the états généraux du monde rural held in 1991, in which some 1,200 rural dwellers from around the province took part. The organization is a hybrid with a membership made up of 23 major province-wide organizations such as the Assemblée des évêques du Québec, major union organizations such as the Union des producteurs agricoles and the Desjardins Movement, la Fédération de l'âge d'or, local development centres, l'Association des régions or the federation of municipalities; in short, it is an ongoing socio-economic summit combined with regional organizations, groups with links to us and even individual members.

Since 1997, Solidarité rurale du Québec has also been a consultant agency to the Government of Quebec on the subject of rural development. The coalition is thus a consulting group, a lobby, a training centre, a documentation centre, a research site, a small publishing house, all of this with only a small team of 10 people.

The Internet site of Solidarité rurale du Québec is well-worth a visit. The rural secretariat has given us a number of mandates, one of which is to draw up an inventory of the rural initiatives being undertaken in the province of Quebec. A number of organizations in the West and the Maritimes have called upon our expertise.

Finally, among the research projects and other tasks on which the organization focuses on a daily basis, two in particular are of interest to the members of this Standing Committee on Transport and Communications, namely public transport in rural communities and community services.

Two logics: A number of factors relating to the logic of the market place have contributed to the deterioration in the delivery of everyday community services. When we talk of community services, we include both public and private services. In Europe and especially in France, the question of community services generally forms part of what is referred to as ``the economy of solidarity.''

From a political and administrative point of view, it is generally admitted that cuts to public funding, the wave of municipal mergers and the changes in the health and education systems and even in financial institutions are not unrelated to the concentration of services in regional and urban centres. This concentration and reorganization, especially of social and health services in regional centres where a critical mass of population justifies the application of economies of scale, has contributed to depriving rural communities of services.

In fact, at the present time, government management is based on numbers rather than on a wish to maintain a presence in an area by serving members of the public where they live. Despite the government's rural focus, evidence of this is to be found in the fact that the measures and programs it puts into place are rarely followed or preceded by an assessment of their impact on social behaviour and relationships in the communities where people live. Nonetheless, a sense of belonging and rootedness in a community provide a defence against a great deal of social suffering and form part of the web of daily life.

Nor are private services immune to this logic of the market place. Thus, many villages no longer have a doctor's office, gas station, grocery store or hardware store. Ensuring their survival poses substantial challenges.

The impact of this logic of the market place on rural communities is substantial: reduction in the accessibility of services, exclusion of certain groups from society, reduced effectiveness of preventive programs and job losses as a result of closures of businesses and points of service. Do we need to point out that the loss of services tolls the knell for a village's decline?

For a long time now, rural dwellers in the province have asserted their need to receive public and private services of a quality equivalent to that provided in our towns. Nobody disputes the fact that in order to live and grow, a community needs a minimum level of services and facilities, which is called the sociability threshold.

Beyond the usual economic considerations and the demographic thresholds established by the authorities, services constitute the basis of a genuine social life and a dynamic presence in an area of the province. Thus, for rural populations, the quality of life is assessed in terms of daily life and the environment, which ensure the functions that are necessary for life, reproduction and the growth of households.

In this context it should be noted that the area in which daily life takes place expanded in the late 20th century, primarily because public services are now organized in larger towns, and at the present time, 7 rural dwellers out of 10 do not work where they live.

Problems of passenger transport in rural communities: The need to travel has therefore grown over the last few decades. Today, a person's workplace has little connection with his or her residence because only 25 per cent of rural dwellers work in the village where they live. Standard services have multiplied and, for many people, have been established in or moved to small regional towns.

Moreover, the reorganization of health services and the shift toward ambulatory care in Quebec now force patients to travel frequently to the nearest CLSC, clinic or hospital. Friends and relatives no longer necessarily live close by, and it is primarily in the cities that recreational infrastructures are located.

During the same period, public transport in rural communities has given way to the car. The train is now merely a shadow of its former self. The intercity bus system shrinks each year; over the past 20 years it has declined by almost one-half. The routes travelled by the airlines are limited in number and the cost is staggering. Since there are now virtually no means of travel to the next village or to the next town in which services are provided, seniors living in rural communities as well as young people and the poor are forced to become hermits in their own village or to move.

An age-old problem that has grown worse: Given this state of affairs, organizations in different parts of Quebec have begun to view public passenger transport as a crucial issue in the maintenance and revitalization of villages and as a means of slowing the exodus of young people and avoiding an exodus of the few remaining seniors.

Thus, in the Magdalen Islands, the question of transport became a hot-button item for local decision-makers in 1977. At that time, seniors meeting at a regional conference demanded that transport services be put in place to meet their travel needs: shopping, visiting and travelling for purposes of social services and health. At the same time, paratransit was making its presence felt. Since then, two projects have been outlined, one for the eastern part of the Islands and the other designed to serve a wide variety of clients including visitors. However, they require financial support from the Department of Transport. Since the population of the Magdalen Islands is below 20,000, the threshold adopted by the Quebec Department of Transport for grants of financial assistance for public transport, it was necessary to obtain an exemption from the department.

However, everything suggests that the answers given did not succeed in meeting all the needs because in 1996 the problem was again on the agenda. On that occasion, students, users of social services, adults undergoing training, seniors and members of the public referred in a survey to a number of problems they experienced in obtaining access to services and social activities. A new approach was accordingly taken.

In the Lanaudière region, the problem of the lack of transportation was raised in about 1987. At that time, the Coopérative des services multiples in Lanaudière demanded that people be allowed to use vacant seats in school buses to travel at a reasonable cost ($1 per person). The Réseau Jaune (Yellow Network) was born, following the example of the program in existence since 1982 at the Commission scolair Lac-Témiscamingue [Temiscamingue Lake School Board]).

Elsewhere, as in Valleyfield and Montmagny, the problem arose in the early 1990s. It was seniors and a women's group respectively who demanded a means of public transport in their area.

More generally, it was not until the mid-1990s that groups seeking solutions to the defects in the inter-village transportation system began to multiply. In 1997, local and regional social development forums, under the influence of the Conseil de la santé et du bien-être [Health and Welfare Board]), became real catalysts in this regard. ``Transport is a topic that has become a priority almost everywhere, with the exception of the urban areas of Montreal and Quebec City,'' states the document summarizing the proceedings of the local and regional forums.

``It [transport] is in fact very closely linked with participation by individuals in the life of their society. Consequently, the lack or inadequacy of means of public transport — or even of transport at all — is a factor that plays a major role in the isolation of individuals by leaving them apart from their community.''

At the present time, close to 60 groups from all parts of Quebec are seeking innovative solutions for the problems of transport in rural communities.

In the central part of the brief, we make observations about the regional situation and its consequences. We refer to the fact that some people have to turn down job offers for lack of transportation. We mention certain groups, like women who are victims of conjugal violence, who cannot access services in the hub city for lack of transportation. And we mention the difficulty seniors have in finding transportation.

Over the last ten years or so, major changes have greatly increased the demand for transportation in rural communities. There are four significant factors. There is the reorganization of the health system and the shift to ambulatory care. There is the deregulation and privatization of public transport, which has been in decline since 1985. Routes are abandoned because of the rural exodus toward hub cities.

There is also the rationalization and concentration of some services. In some towns, doctors' offices, post offices, gas stations, grocery stores, schools and even CLSC service points are closing. We must not forget another important factor: the aging population.

In conclusion, in 2002, the inadequacy of the rural public transport system is an observation made by a host of local and regional actors throughout Quebec. The experiments conducted show that those involved in rural communities know how to effectively integrate the available resources and to do better with the resources that already exist.

Thus, those stakeholders who are coping with the impact of inadequate public transport have gone beyond the observation stage. For some years now, they have moved to action and have taken original steps to implement their own integrated public transport systems in their own way. They know how to ``get by'' with the resources that already exist to make them more effective.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that they have improved a transport system that is organized and adequately financed. However, an ability to make due is no substitute for public action.

In Quebec, beyond any doubt, the level of consultation, implementation and application of a rural transport system is the regional county municipality. On its territory, stakeholders from all levels are involved. Moreover, the local development centres have placed priority on public transport in their local plan of action for the economy and employment; whereas regional boards agreed to make it a regional priority and to work on it.

Regardless of the path taken and the highly specific ways of mobilizing local resources, stakeholders now need support from governments, which, as everyone knows, must coordinate their actions. Moreover, government action must absolutely include the private sector. Furthermore, the government must be aware that deregulation of bus transport would lead to chaos that no local initiative could overcome.

In short, the challenges brought to light by the question of passenger transport in industrialized and heavily urbanized western societies are complex and require a horizontal solution. Passenger transport could not quickly be reduced to school transportation or to paratransit. The solutions that can be implemented and that it is possible to consider for our rural communities cannot be initiated as part of a vertical approach to action based on the concept of areas of jurisdiction. That means slicing up reality, that is impossible to consider seriously.

As part of current approaches, it is hard to imagine that rural dwellers could be provided with public transport adapted to their needs. In particular, the amalgamated and complementary nature of the transport services that already exist in rural communities will require major intervention by the government in the form of consultation with its partners. The main role of government is to force the parties involved in public transport to serve the whole rural population and not individual separate groups of customers.

The Chairman: Is the traditional regular bus service system a good way of providing public transit for small communities or rural communities? What would be the alternatives? And what public policy would best support service to these communities?

Mr. Fournier: We would be deluding ourselves to think that we could have transport like that throughout Quebec, even in the most remote rural regions. I think it is important to understand that the various levels of government must be involved. And I am also talking about local government, municipal government, and the MRCs as well.

Ms Anne-Marie Rainville, Director of Communications, Solidarité rurale du Québec: To answer your question, if you are talking about bus transportation between regions or municipalities, it is a problem. Daily commuting is another problem.

Part of the problem of rural transportation is what I call daily commuting, where we clearly need partners. As we said in our brief, we have to stop transporting groups of customers. For example, in a family living in rural Nicolet, there may be a preschool-aged child, a child in high school, a handicapped person and a senior who needs hospital care, and four different vehicles come to the house to provide transportation. So it is not that there is no transportation.

However, if the woman is a homemaker and looks after the preschool-aged child, the high school-aged child, the handicapped person and the senior, and she wants to go into town to buy some clothing, it is very complicated if she does not have a car.

So there is a problem with transportation within the community and between regions. And in some cases, we could even talk about goods that are transported. But I know that is not the topic of your study.

The Chairman: We are going to be talking about that as well.

Ms Rainville: At Solidarité rurale, we feel that there are two major shortcomings. First of all, there is a lack of imagination. It would seem that we are unable to reduce the size of the buses in Quebec. That is quite unbelievable!

There is a lack of imagination and a lack of agreement among stakeholders. And that is where the government has a major role to play. Because it is not easy to bring everyone to the same table: people managing CLSCs and who have transportation, the people managing school boards and who have means of transportation, and the people who are managing the bus companies and who make their living with buses. It requires a lot of effort.

We think that the levels of government — and this is a bold idea — should use what they are already investing in transportation as a lever or incentive. It would be excellent if governments could agree to say: ``We need transportation services for all people in rural communities,'' and not: ``We need transportation services for our children.''

That is where the problem lies. Rural communities cannot, no more than urban communities can, afford to pay for multiple public transit systems.

I will use examples that I am familiar with. If, in Montreal, the Quebec government were not... And the federal government must have a role to play there one way or another, even if it is only through equalization — if there were school buses in Montreal too, the number of people taking the subway would drop considerably. And among the many people taking the subway and buses, which belong to everyone in an urban community, there are of course children using public transport to go to school.

The Chairman: People talk about minivans, for example.

Ms Rainville: Yes.

The Chairman: Would a well-regulated system of minivans meet the needs of rural communities?

Ms Rainville: Some communities are already using minivans. Communities with highly-reduced resources are very innovative. We ask this question: ``Can a community business do better where private companies have failed?'' We do not think the vehicle will last long after the motor breaks down for the first time.

Other communities have, among other things, joined forces with taxi drivers. And the results are interesting. The private and public sides have been mixed, et cetera; there are solutions.

The last thing I would like to say is that public transit is also a matter of sustainable development. Does Canada still have the means to promote widespread use of the car? We can perhaps say that we do have the means, but the ozone layer does not.

So in terms of intercity transport, be it by bus, train or otherwise, we must look at it in terms of sustainable and ecological development for our society.

The Chairman: That is part of our committee's concerns, Ms Rainville. Mr. Fournier, would you like to add something?

Mr. Fournier: Yes. At Solidarité rurale, we strongly defend the development of small communities. And if the small communities do not have access to this type of service, they will slowly die off.

I will talk about something I know, services provided by CLSCs. In some regions, people made appointments at the CLSC from the same town, and had to go to a service centre in another town, and people from the same town were given appointments on different days. So you can see that simply organizing transportation is not enough, it goes farther than that, and other areas must be organized as well.

We had to tell the people from the local community service centre: ``Listen, there are five people coming from another village, we are not going to make five trips, we are going to make one. Get organized so that the appointments are scheduled one after another.''

We have had some success by taking that approach. Please understand that this is piecemeal work. Ms Rainville said a little earlier that community transportation has run out of steam and resources, and people are at their wit's end.

The Chairman: Do you believe that a better transportation service can help stop what people have been calling the ``decline'' of rural areas? Again, I repeat that I do not like the word ``decline.'' What I mean is the fact that people are leaving the countryside.

Mr. Fournier: The exodus.

The Chairman: The exodus: thank you very much, that is the word I was looking for — from the countryside. Wouldn't that happen anyhow, inevitably, given the socio-economic situation?

Ms Rainville: It would happen. Inevitably? I am not so sure. Because I cannot predict the future. Some people claim they can predict the future, but not me.

Sure, that is one factor. As the poet Gilles Vigneault said, speaking of schools, in Natashquan kids go to high school in the city, but, at the age of 12, when they start coming into their own in the city, and then come back to the country, they do not want to stay.

Transportation is only one of many solutions needed to address the exodus from the countryside.

These days, in most rural areas, if parents want their children to go to CEGEP — I am talking about 16 year-olds — they have no other choice but to buy their kids a car. We all know how expensive car insurance can be, especially if you are buying it for a son. Many families just cannot afford to give their children an education.

Second, some young people are not very good drivers, yet they have to drive in winter. This raises public health issues. As well, the students quickly tire of all that driving every day. What often happens is that after their second year of CEGEP they move to town. So, they have left their village.

This speeds up the exodus to the city prematurely, when young people should still be living with their parents. Further, it is difficult for the elderly who, when they hit 75 or 80 years of age, must move to the city because otherwise there is no one to look after them.

I will conclude by telling you a brief anecdote. Mr. Proulx, our president, worked very hard to help create an old age home in his village. His own father is 90 years old and his mother 85. Every time Mr. Proulx goes to visit his father, his dad begins to cry and tells his son: ``This is the best gift you ever gave me: the fact that I may spend the rest of my days in the village.''

And if it happens that people become sick or require care, there is no recourse because this type of care is not available in the country.

Mr. Fournier: I will end by saying that it is a bit like a turnstile. This morning on the radio, on my way over, I learned that there are fewer students attending CEGEPs in outlying areas. You need 60 students to maintain a program. The provincial standard is 60 students and if there are fewer, the CEGEP cannot offer the program.

Some CEGEP programs are not available in outlying areas. People have to attend courses in urban areas, such as Quebec City and Montreal.

Take, for instance, the small town of Sainte-Véronique. School children in grades 1, 2 and 3 — these kids are still very young — have to take the yellow school bus each morning. The first kid is picked up at the end of the township at 7 a.m., and the last kid is dropped off at 5:30 p.m. We all know that it is important for children to have time to play. They cannot just be learning all the time, they also need to play. Well, these kids do not have time to play anymore.

Mr. Fournier: There is what is known as the yellow network. Some school boards have agreed to let people get on their buses, but there is one complication: a school bus is made to measure. If there are 52 students to transport, there are 52 seats. If it is a bus for primary school children, the seats are very close together. I cannot imagine an adult sitting sideways on the seat of a school bus for the entire journey.

[English]

Senator Oliver: You are aware that another Senate committee is looking at the problems in rural Canada, because you appeared before the Agriculture Committee last week. That committee is examining the death of rural Canada and the role of the state in trying to revitalize it.

You have reached two conclusions, which you have told us about today: that we need consultation, that we have to forget about a horizontal solution and look for a vertical solution, and that we have to find a way to have the government force those already in the business to serve the entire community.

I understand your point of view, but I have a bigger question, and my question is this: Given that rural communities are dying, that farmers cannot make a living, that not enough money is being left at the farm gate, is an issue like the one we are discussing, transportation, the way to save the communities? If these rural communities continue to deteriorate, farmers will walk away from their farms, they will close them down, there will be no children in those communities to attend schools and no people there to go to the health clinics. Is transportation the solution? Do you not have to look at a greater, consolidated issue?

In your presentation, you said, ``We have to have a better vision, a better imagination, a better creativity, and more cooperation with all the stakeholders.'' It is not really a transportation issue, is it?

[Translation]

Ms Rainville: First of all, I remember well when the senators travelled as a committee to study the question of agriculture. Much emphasis was put on the fact that Canada's rural population is no longer a rural farming population. In Canada, 10 per cent of the population earn their living through agriculture. And the other people living in rural communities, be it in Quebec or in Canada, earn their living through other means.

All members of the OECD are asking themselves the same question: what is the future of rural communities? Those of us who live in those communities have an answer, but it is meaningless without a response from the government and, I would say, from society in general. Do you want rural areas to become a huge park for city dwellers to spend their holidays in June, July and August? Or do you want those rural areas to be places where people can live?

We are increasingly convinced that there are many Quebecers and Canadians who do not feel comfortable living in urban areas and who will never leave rural ones. They need to live in a village. It is quite a fundamental choice.

The day the Canadian government says it will recognize that not all people live in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax it will have to decide what to do to ensure that people living outside major centres have a decent life.

The first step is to have a dialogue between the federal and provincial governments. What do we want rural Canada to be? That is an important question. And I would say that Canada is responding, but all it has to discuss the rural issue is a rural office with just a few employees.

There is supposed to be a ``rural focus group'' to review any bill or government initiative and to assess its impact on rural communities. Between you and me, all that is just rhetoric.

Restructuring the rural economy is not just a political project; it must lead to economic development. Restructuring the rural economy should not be any less important than restructuring Montreal's or Toronto's economy. It will require the same amount of effort, thinking and money. So make an effort on the transportation front.

Mr. Fournier: Last year or two years ago, Solidarité rurale du Québec conducted a survey of some city dwellers, not people living in the country, and the big surprise for us was that young people between the ages of 18 and 30 said they were very interested in living in the country. And it was a very high percentage: 80 per cent.

To me, that is the guarantee that our small communities will survive. It is not just a matter of keeping the people who are already there. There was an exodus towards the city and I think there are people willing to do the reverse.

People who live in the city, who are used to certain services, the subway and bus at their doorstep, have trouble settling in outlying areas because those services would no longer be available. But if they were offered those services, I do not mean a subway in the country, I mean a small station wagon, a taxi service or one a little more developed in bigger towns, I think we could meet those people's needs. And if you reduce some of the congestion in cities, that will reduce the problems in major centres.

Ms Rainville: Do not forget that people from rural areas have contributed to developing the public transit system in urban areas. They also pay taxes.

[English]

Senator Oliver: I am interested in your statistics about the 18- to 30-year-old group who are interested in living in rural Canada. Of all the modes of transportation — car, truck, bus, helicopter, boat, airplane — the bus is the most logical one to extend into rural Canada because in most rural areas there are paved roads, the infrastructure is there.

However, it seems to me that the problems in rural Canada extend far beyond transportation, that the problem goes beyond urging the government to force these buses into rural areas. I do not think that that will solve the problem because the problem is much more complex than merely transportation. Do you agree?

Ms Rainville: Yes, absolutely.

[Translation]

It is important to note that Quebec is not short of means of transportation. There are lots of buses. The example I gave earlier is a good one: this morning, some families used four different types of transportation. What we do not have is multi-purpose transportation, a system that meets everyone's needs.

The biggest problem in rural areas is always when there is an attempt at vertical integration. There is never the required client base, of course.

You have to take a different approach by saying that the objective is to transport everyone and to make people feel that they have access to transportation. If they choose to own a car that is their business. We could find new, clever, shrewd and creative ways to use all vehicles currently on our roads. And perhaps a point will be reached where people think yellow buses should not carry only small children but could also serve a variety of client groups. Then you would see regulations for school buses again.

The private sector must also get involved in the process. The yellow buses are privately owned and some of those owners still want to provide a service. In rural areas, there are still what one could call independent transport operators, people who own their buses and sell seats on them.

There are as many pubic carriers as there are butchers. There are also self-employed bus drivers and they must not be forgotten.

Mr. Fournier: To add to what Ms Rainville said, yes, there are many means of transportation. And it is costly. Approximately $450,000 are earmarked for transportation, school buses, para-transit, and all the others. That is a lot of money in Quebec.

Perhaps the entire system should be revamped. There is plenty of money. Perhaps more is required, but before putting more money in the kitty, perhaps we should see what we can do with what we already have.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: I certainly identify with your comments about rural communities because I come from a community of 200 people.

You made the comment that intercity bus systems have declined by 50 per cent in rural areas. Over what period of time is that? Also, what does that 50 per cent represent; does it represent routes?

[Translation]

Ms Rainville: I do not remember exactly, but it seems to me that it was between the 70s and now. This is strickly from memory. But it varies from one region to another. It is either the number of trips or number of services.

Many routes have been completely abandoned. Let me give you an example: if you go from Montreal to Disraéli, there is no longer any public transit service on that route.

And your question leads me to say that bus transportation, since the train has nearly disappeared in Canada, is also a tourism issue. Everyone knows that bus trips in Quebec represent the lion share of tourism. But more people would travel, especially young people, if there were better routes.

In fact, in the summer, some major companies, in Orleans for instance, increase their service to some tourist areas such as the Gaspé.

Mr. Fournier: On page 10 of the brief it says that in 1994, there were just 47 active carriers compared with 86 in 1981. The number of routes dropped by nearly half. That is significant. The number of communities serviced by one bus was 670 in 1995, which is a third less than in 1970, when it was 835. So you can see the drop in service throughout that decade.

Ms Rainville: It is interesting to note that a community can be growing and still lose its transportation service. Take the Beauce as an example; there is no longer any transportation between villages linking, for example, Lévis and Sainte-Marie. There is no longer any public transit system, even though the Beauce is experiencing economic growth.

So economic growth does not necessarily mean development of rural communities. That is the major problem of our century.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: Do I understand you to say that the government should force bus companies to serve the rural areas?

[Translation]

Ms Rainville: No, our approach is more subtle. We think the government should use its leverage capability. The governments involved should use that money to invest in transportation of people, school transportation, paratransit and mass public transit that they support in major urban centres. They should therefore use that portion as leverage to force the players, including the private sector, to develop a better offer. It is a somewhat revolutionary approach.

I started off by saying that Solidarité rurale is bold. And the day that one or the other government gets involved in this, I promise you that we will be very happy and we will applaud. It is a most unusual way to proceed, but it is tailored to the rural environment. They work in tandem. Let us be a little bolder. Let us say: ``I will put money on the table if you guarantee you will make more services available to us. That will take tough ministers!

[English]

Senator Callbeck: To offer more services in the rural areas, many of which would be unprofitable, would the rates in profitable areas have to increase, or would the government subside those unprofitable rates? How would this work?

[Translation]

Ms Rainville: Just to continue on the idea of boldness and creativity, I think you should consult the Quebec Bus Owner Association, who have given a lot of thought to these issues and who have justifiable concerns about profit and economic development. But the impression we have, given the various projects that have been implemented all over, is that private companies that are currently not profitable may become so because some of the services they would provide would be ``prepaid'' by the state.

Let me go over this again. The owners of yellow school buses that are not geared to carry all types of passengers are private owners. Right now, they generally survive thanks to one client, the Quebec Department of Education. So why not assume that over the next 10 or 15 years other types of buses could be designed to serve all client groups in rural areas, and if there is financial support from the government, the remaining revenues could come from the private sector? I am no expert. The Solidarité rurale is not a group of actuaries; we are proponents of rural development.

Senator LaPierre: In English they say: ``How are you going to keep them on the farm now that they have seen Paris?'' It becomes an issue. Do you not believe that if a statistic says that seven out of ten rural residents do not work where they live, that means that rural regions are bedroom communities?

Ms Rainville: No, no.

Senator LaPierre: They are bedroom communities. People do not live there all the time. They sleep there and work in the city eight or ten hours a day. They are bedroom communities, are they not?

Ms Rainville: No.

Senator LaPierre: Then what are they?

Ms Rainville: Those people often work in the neighbouring town.

Senator LaPierre: They work in the neighbouring town. In Nicolet?

Ms Rainville: Well, yes.

Senator LaPierre: They work in Nicolet. But those are villages. When you say you are proponents of rural development, that applies mainly to any region whose population is lower than a certain level.

Nicolet is a town. Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce is becoming a town. It is already. That is rural?

Ms Rainville: The Quebec government has just introduced a rural development policy which contains a fairly specific definition of rural region. And we worked with the regional county municipality grid. In Quebec, there are 54 regional county municipalities that the Quebec government deems totally rural and Nicolet-Yamaska is one of them.

Senator LaPierre: What is the population? How many people are we talking about?

Ms Rainville: Twenty per cent of Quebec's population live in a rural area. And in Canada it is about the same.

Senator LaPierre: And how do you define a rural area? What are the features?

Ms Rainville: The Quebec government generally defines it as a region with a low-population density, where the main economic sectors are tied to the development of natural resources and so on. There are many criteria.

But, Senator LaPierre, I just want to correct one thing. Solidarité rurale is all sorts of things. We may be accused of everything, but the last thing we are is ``ruralist'' because that means someone who likes bygone days, who likes the old rural world. We do not live in the past.

Senator LaPierre: I was reminded of Curé Labelle when you spoke.

Ms Rainville: You are hurting my feelings.

Senator LaPierre: No, I do not want to hurt your feelings; I am paying you quite a compliment. Curé Labelle fought to have railways in the Laurentians.

Ms Rainville: Yes, that's right.

Senator LaPierre: And he was alone until his friend Chapleau helped him.

Ms Rainville: That's right.

The Chair: Senator LaPierre still does things the way he did on television. So he is a little provocative.

Mr. Fournier: Senator LaPierre, I should tell you that my local community service centre is called Arthur Buies. Do you know who he was?

Senator LaPierre: Yes.

Mr. Fournier: He was Curé Labelle's right arm or left arm.

Senator LaPierre: Another thing that interests me that is that you spoke of people between the ages of 18 and 30. Do you not think they would go to live in a rural area only if they can bring along all their ``gadgets,'' their computers with all the accessories?

Ms Rainville: Our association cannot afford too many opinion polls. When we do one, it is on a large scale. The original one was on the consumption of local products. We used that opportunity to ask 12 questions on the perception of rural life. We got a big statistical surprise; 89.5 per cent of young Montrealers want to live in a rural environment, even after being told it had a low-population density, with fewer services, et cetera.

We nearly fell off our chairs when we saw that statistic. And the executive said they should go further with those youths. So we went further. We called them back and conducted more open surveys. And we realized that they wanted to live in a rural environment because they were tired of urban living. They said that the turning point for settling in a rural area would be when they started their family. In fact, young Montrealers do not want to raise their children in the city.

It is clear that in their minds, they were saying: would you like that, and why would you like that? As I always say when I talk about that survey, there were no moving vans at the door. But one thing is clear: rural communities without services, without access to new technology, as you have just said, are not very welcoming.

And I will conclude by saying, Senator LaPierre, that this week, I got a call from a TV show, — I will not name it. They wanted names of young people who had moved into rural areas over the past year, because a year had lapsed since we did that survey. So we sent an e-mail to the rural development agents who are spread throughout the rural communities. In two hours, I had a very long list. Everyone had stories.

When a family of three moves into a rural community of 200 people, demographics change.

Senator LaPierre: Could we have your surveys?

Ms Rainville: I think they are already on our Internet site.

Senator LaPierre: Thank you very much.

Mr. Fournier: I would like to add something. You mentioned technology, and I think that people in the city are very interested in telework. The problem in the regions is that Internet services are not necessarily always available, especially high-speed services. These barriers prevent people from moving out of town.

Senator LaPierre: I want to tell you that whether we talk about buses or transport, it will be over the Internet. Thank you.

Mr. Fournier: Yes.

The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Fournier and Ms Rainville. We could go on at length. You have shed a very interesting light on our discussions. If you think of any other information you could provide the committee, do not hesitate to send it to the clerk, and the information will be distributed to senators. Thank you very much for coming.

The committee adjourned