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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird calls for new leadership at Via Rail

VIA Rail's Steve Del Bosco is pictured on a Toronto-bound train February 27, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris

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VIA Rail's Steve Del Bosco is pictured on a Toronto-bound train February 27, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris

OTTAWA - It looks like it's the end of the line for the acting head of Via Rail.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, an influential voice around the Harper government's cabinet table, said Friday he has lost all confidence in Steve Del Bosco's ability to run the Crown corporation and hinted his days are numbered.

Baird took the rare step of publicly shaming Del Bosco on Twitter on Thursday before elaborating on his displeasure with how Via Rail has been communicating with the public on issues like technical problems with safety equipment at rail crossings.

The "last straw," Baird told a news conference, came this week when Via Rail mistakenly accused local Ottawa transit buses of causing a signal malfunction at a crossing a short distance from his home.

It later emerged that the problems were of a technical nature with the crossing lights.

"If you can't operate the technical capacities of a rail crossing, let alone the simple engagement with the public in an honest, transparent and expeditious basis, I don't think you're qualified to run the railways," Baird said.

Baird said he has expressed his concerns to Del Bosco.

"I'm held accountable, and I told them two or three weeks ago we'd hold them accountable, and that's my view," he said.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who is responsible for Via, would only say that more will be expected from the Crown corporation going forward. The company had no comment Friday.

"Via Rail does not comment on statements from members of Parliament," spokeswoman Mylene Belanger said in an email.

Del Bosco has worked for the railway since 1978 and was named interim president and CEO of Via earlier this year. Baird suggested Del Bosco may be out of a job "sooner than later."

"I laid out my views very clearly, and I would encourage you to watch in the coming days," he said.

Asked if this was the Conservative government's position or his as the local MP, Baird replied: "I always speak for the government."

Last year, six people died in a collision between a Via Rail train and a city transit bus at a crossing in the Ottawa area, though investigators have indicated the crossing lights and gates were in good working order.

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