Speech on National Transit Strategy (C-305)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-305, An Act to establish a National Public Transit Strategy.

I would like to commend my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, for all the hard work and dedication that she has invested over the years on this tremendously important topic.

The proposed bill provides a strategy for long-term, permanent investment in public transit funded by the federal government. It also fosters co-operation between the various levels of government in order to ensure sustainable, predictable and adequate resources for the transit needs of all Canadians. Additionally, it establishes accountability measures that ensure governments collaborate to increase access to public transit.

For too long, Canada has been the only G8 country lacking a consistent, long-term investment strategy to maintain and expand public transit. As a result, Canada lags behind other nations in terms of providing its citizens with public transit options that are affordable, accessible and convenient.

The government must provide Canadians with the tools they need to broaden the scope of transit projects. The public has demonstrated a strong desire for greater transportation choices and is willing to take action and fund public transit.

Public transit is a vital resource for many communities. Its value extends beyond the simple movement of people and goods. Public transit provides environmental benefits as well as long-term social, health and economic benefits. The issue of climate change and of the need for healthy liveable communities must be at the forefront of this debate.

The implementation of a national transit strategy is anticipated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tonnes a year. This means an annual electricity savings equivalent to the amount used by a city the size of Saskatoon. It allows us to reduce our dependence on oil and gas, a non-renewable resource, whose price will only continue to rise into the future. Reducing CO2 emissions will allow future generations to benefit from our vast natural resources, pristine wilderness, diverse ecosystems and thriving communities.

Public transit saves $115 million a year in health care costs related to respiratory illnesses. As populations increase, a focus on health and prevention is vital.

An effective transit system is also a pillar of our economy. It is estimated that the economic benefit of Canada's existing public transit system is about $10 billion a year in savings through reduced vehicle operating costs and the reduction of traffic accidents. In addition, the transit industry employs over 45,000 Canadians and creates an additional 24,000 jobs indirectly. These statistics are not insignificant, especially in these difficult economic times. By investing in public transit, Canada also has an opportunity to create green jobs for its citizens.

We need to work with municipalities, provinces and territories to provide the predictable, adequate and long-term funding necessary to fill the critical gaps in our transportation networks. Responsibility for transportation should not be off-loaded to local and regional jurisdictions that are already overwhelmed by these demands, such as what is happening in the Lower Mainland. Community planning needs to be conducted comprehensively and effectively, not piecemeal.

I urge the federal government to take a leadership role in ensuring effective public transit planning across the country. This means meeting the challenges of urban communities by building and maintaining inner-city bus and rail lines. This means establishing accountability measures that ensure all levels of government work together to increase access to public transit.

Public transit investment creates jobs for Canadians and fuels the local economy. It contributes to cleaner air by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing congestion. It reduces the pressure to build more roads and helps to create more liveable communities. Bill C-305 is our opportunity to work together and solve an issue that affects so many of our constituents.

Far too many times I have heard from constituents who wait for a bus for too long or, in some cases, for a bus that never arrives. Transit service in my community in New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody is inadequate.

Projects aimed at improving public transportation, such as the proposed Evergreen Line in my riding, have experienced countless delays. The Evergreen Line is anticipated to service 70,000 passengers a day, reduce 4.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and other air contaminants emitted by cars, and provide 9,000 construction jobs.

The project was first proposed in 1993, almost 20 years ago, and yet we still struggle to fund the $574 million gap for this community-enhancing project.

Canadians cannot afford to wait for essential transit services any longer. Communities across the country face similar challenges and require similar supports. The Evergreen Line is only one of many projects that a national transit strategy would help address.

The current government has failed to keep pace with municipalities and Canadians' growing demand for public transit. For example, 35% of current necessary infrastructure investments in rapid transit lines remain unmet. Funding is also falling short in stock rehabilitation and replacement, maintenance facilities, and advanced technology investment.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association estimates that Canadian public transit systems face an $18 billion funding gap in transit infrastructure needs between 2010 and 2014. The adoption of a national transit strategy would ensure that resources allocated to transit would be used in the most efficient manner possible. A national transit strategy would also go a long way to ensure our communities are healthier and more livable.

The national public transit strategy act is about securing investment in key areas within the country. It would create jobs, improve commute times, help the environment, and allow our cities and communities to plan and implement the public transit projects that they need.

The act would bring together the Minister of Transport, provincial transportation ministers, representatives of municipalities and transit authorities, aboriginal communities, and many others to design and establish a national public transit strategy to meet the needs of our communities.

The objective here is to move away from unstable short-term funding programs in favour of providing secure infrastructure planning for the future. The aim is to foster more effective co-operation among all levels of government and transit networks directed by clearly defined national and provincial objectives.

A national transit strategy would increase collaboration to provide better data collection research and to better integrate transportation systems to capture important synergies between urban development and infrastructure, and to pay greater attention to the integration of land use.

A national transit strategy would ensure better performance measurements to ensure value from investments and to improve future planning. A national public transit strategy is well supported by many people; for example, Berry Vrbanovic, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

Mayors and municipalities across Canada, from Charlottetown to Toronto to Winnipeg to Vancouver, are all calling for a commitment from the federal government for public transit. Feedback from Canadians echo these sentiments.

Affordable, efficient and well-organized public transportation networks in cities across our country are vital to ensuring Canada's success in the 21st century.

We must work together to ensure that these needs of our citizens are adequately met and that we are prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow. By adopting a national public transit strategy, we would protect our environment, improve the health of Canadians, and create more livable communities.

I urge all members of the House to consider the great need in our country for a national public transit strategy and I call on my colleagues on both sides of the House to support Bill C-305.