The House resumed from October 26, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support the hon. member for 's bill to establish a national public transit strategy.
The rising economic cost of congestion and traffic delays, under-financed transportation networks close to their capacity limits, and our growing population all point to one thing, that in order to move Canada forward we need a national public transit strategy.
The gap between available funding and infrastructure needs is growing and our communities need reliable and sustainable federal investment in public transit. This bill would secure a permanent investment plan for public transit and innovation research, thereby creating the predictability and stability in funding that lower levels of government need in order to take action.
I was at the FCM conference a few weeks ago, where I kept hearing over and over again from mayors that what they needed was plan-based, long-term and predictable funding.
Canadians living in rural communities have different transportation needs than those living in urban centres. I am proud to see that my colleague's bill, Bill , responds to the needs of Canadians living in rural areas.
My riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel is made up of 42 municipalities, the vast majority of which are small communities far from urban centres. The lack of public transportation is a major problem for these people who live outside the larger urban centres and who are cut off from necessary services if they do not have access to a vehicle. This makes getting to work too costly and sometimes even impossible.
My colleague's bill also makes planning possible across the different modes of transportation. A number of excellent public transit projects are being implemented in Canada. This plan would make it possible to ensure that these projects are completed effectively and efficiently and that they work together.
The bill would mean better public transit, which is vital to the movement of people and has immeasurable social, environmental, economic and health benefits. Investment in public transit creates jobs, fuels economic growth, contributes to clean air, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, decreases congestion and reduces the pressure for more roads.
Transportation in rural communities is a matter of health and fairness. Last fall, during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Carolyn Kolebaba, the vice-president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, was passionate about how a public transit strategy extended to rural areas could help reduce poverty and greatly improve life for people who cannot afford to own a vehicle. A good public transit service would allow them to participate fully in the life of their community.
What is more, there is currently a health crisis in my riding. There are truly very few health professionals available to serve the remote communities. We are seeing that in Argenteuil, where eight doctors have left the health and social service centre in the past few months. According to the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, in 1991, 14.9% of Canadian doctors were working in rural regions. However, by 1999, that number had plummetted to 0.79% and it is estimated that it will continue to drop to 0.53% by 2021.
In the meantime, the population across Canada is aging and my riding is no exception. Access to public transit is an important solution for providing seniors with access to the health care system, at a time when they might no longer have access to a car of their own.
People with reduced mobility also frequently rely on public transit for their work and community life and in rural areas their needs are pressing. Transportation can make the difference between their isolation and dependence on loved ones, and their independent and healthy involvement in their community.
The lack of public transit is also an obstacle for young people who want to pursue higher education.
These young people should not have to choose between leaving their home regions to pursue higher education and abandoning their studies to remain in their regions.
In my riding, for instance, many students who complete their studies at the Polyvalente Lavigne high school want to study at the Cégep de St-Jérôme. Since transportation is currently very expensive, the RCM is doing everything it can to serve those students, but the RCM needs a lot more support in order to ensure that these students have access to transportation.
The Papineau region is facing the same problem: students are going to Gatineau to study at the UQO. The same thing is happening in the Mirabel region: students are going to study in Montreal. These young people need public transit so they can live at home and still make ends meet.
An effective public transit system, whether by bus or by train for longer distances, would not be an extravagant indulgence. Indeed, it would be an excellent way to keep the lifeblood of our rural areas where it belongs.
This bill can help everyone in my riding in several ways. For instance, a high percentage of workers from the city of Mirabel commute every day between Mirabel and Montreal.
We know the government has studies in its possession showing that daily commuting and traffic have a negative impact on workers and on the environment.
According to a Statistics Canada study done in 2001, approximately 4.8 million workers in Canada, or one-third of all workers, cross municipal boundaries to go to work. Another study done by Statistics Canada in 2010 shows that, for many workers, commuting daily to and from work is a major source of stress and frustration. It is also a waste of time and a waste of potential productivity for them or of time that these workers could have spent at home with their children.
Traffic congestion is a major problem that reduces productivity and, by contributing to pollution, endangers public health. However, there is a simple and accessible solution to reduce workers' stress and solve the environmental problem caused by all this inefficient travel: an affordable, practical and efficient public transit system.
Public transit is not just a solution for public health, for greater fairness and for the protection of the environment; it is also the solution to a major economic problem.
According to a 2006 Transport Canada study, the annual cost to Canadians of chronic congestion in urban and peri-urban regions is somewhere between $2.3 billion and $3.7 billion. These figures are from 2002. The problem of traffic congestion has only gotten worse since. Over 90% of the congestion costs relate to the time lost by drivers and their passengers.
We cannot let workers get stuck in traffic for hours every day. And we cannot ignore this issue by dumping it onto the provinces and municipalities, as this government is doing.
What we have before us is a good bill, both from a collective and an individual point of view.
I am going to conclude by congratulating the hon. member for on this important legislation to promote public transit. I also want to thank the Speaker for giving me the opportunity to address this issue.
I hope all hon. members will support Bill .
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand to talk about this wonderful bill, a bill to establish a national public transit strategy.
My riding has 200 communities and it is about as rural as can be, maybe not as rural as some other members ridings, but certainly the vast majority of ridings.
It is somewhat ironic that I am talking about a national transit strategy when a lot of the big spending would be on subway systems. The nearest subway system to my riding is in Boston, Massachusetts.
I do believe in the importance of the bill. Whether it is in Montreal, Toronto, or the SkyTrain in Vancouver, public transit and mass transit in this situation, like the subway or the SkyTrain, is beneficial to the nation.
There are several aspects of the bill that I appreciate fully. It will help to encourage dialogue about large cities and urban centres. It gives us the opportunity to discuss just how people will be moved around at a time when cities are expanding, like the greater Toronto area, where millions of people are set to arrive by 2020. Vancouver and Montreal are both going to expand. In places such as St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, or even Halifax, the transit system, primarily bus, or in the case of St. John's the metro bus, the infrastructure is there.
Public transit improves the environment because people can be moved into one vehicle. It also helps people who live in poverty and who are unable to find transportation of their own, either a car or motorcycle. Insurance costs are high and fuel costs are rising. Something like this would help alleviate poverty in a major way.
What I see is a bill that has a national dialogue about who we are. It takes stock of what we have thus far when it comes to infrastructure and builds and improves upon that.
I have lived in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. In each and every city I took advantage of the transit system. It was an advantage for me because I did not have a vehicle because I could not afford one, especially living in Vancouver. I was able to avail myself of the transit system there namely, the SkyTrain and the bus system to get to work.
Several aspects of the bill will improve the conversation in our country in addition to eventually improving the infrastructure situation.
Municipalities struggle. My hon. colleague mentioned earlier the FCM meeting that was held in Saskatchewan. Right now there is a funding deficit. Many municipalities, small or large, are now in a situation where they want to renew a fiscal framework with the provinces.
As members would know, municipalities are creations of the provinces. The Constitution recognizes two levels of government, federal and provincial. The provincial government, through its own municipal affairs department, looks after municipalities.
Only 8¢ of the average tax dollar winds its way through to municipal coffers. Imagine a city the size of Toronto, or even a mid-size city like Halifax, having to support a transit system primarily through its revenue from 8¢ of the tax dollar. That is not a substantial amount of money. This is what the FCM is talking about.
This bill provides us with the opportunity to have a discussion about transit and the strategies for each and every municipality. It would be a pan-national conversation. We could discuss options such as direct subsidies to individuals through the tax code or direct subsidies to the municipalities themselves.
We talk quite a bit about the gas revenue, which is shared with municipalities through the provinces. This initiative was started in 2005. A portion of the gas tax revenue or the excise tax is given to the municipalities and a lot of that goes to transit. Investing in public transit infrastructure benefits the people of Canada. Better public transit would result in cleaner, more productive cities and communities in which people could access the jobs and services that would be needed for economic growth.
Is it not ironic that in the budget we will vote on tonight, Bill , are employment insurance reforms. One of the issues at play is the government trying to hook up people with full-time work within an hour's drive. That would be highly problematic in rural areas, especially with respect seasonal industries. Some people have said that EI recipients could go from the fish plant and work in tourism to help to expand it. However, according to the philosophy of what the government is putting in place when it comes to EI reforms, they cannot go from one seasonal industry to another unless it is expanded by a couple of weeks. Even still, the government is looking to have people work all year round. It wants to ensure that people do not become repeat users of EI, which is very problematic when it comes to seasonal work.
One of the solutions to employment is that people have to be within an hour's drive. If they are in a situation where they are offered a job that is less than an hour away and they do not have a vehicle in a rural area, forget it, it just will not work. However, in an urban area they have to look at investing in a monthly