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 pass for either the bus or the subway, or perhaps a combination of the two.
How can we help these people who find themselves impoverished and have this kind of opportunity for work. When it comes to EI reform, it is not normally the situation that they are forced to do this, that they go about getting a job and have to invest in transportation for that. Is there a way we can use the tax code, which the government has done in certain circumstances, to provide a benefit for those who want to buy that monthly pass? At the same time, we should be compelled to look at some kind of system of direct subsidy to make it affordable so people can afford a monthly transit pass.
We are talking about the national public transit strategy act. In this act, the conversation is what is key. There are certain things, like the coordinated approach, that I find very beneficial to this nation.
The , in consultation with the provincial ministers responsible for public transit, and with representatives of municipalities, transit authorities, and aboriginal communities, must encourage and promote a coordinated approach to the implementation of the national strategy for public transit and advise for the assistance, development and implementation of programs and practices in support of that strategy. How is that for a novel idea, a first ministers conference of some sort, where on the agenda they talk about a strategy for public transit?
Right now it seems as if the conversation between the federal and provincial governments is non-existent. We saw that during the supposed negotiations for the new health accord. There were no negotiations. There was an edict from the Prime Minister's Office. It came down to the provinces, and they were told to accept it.
Prior to this, when the Liberals were in government, negotiation took place between Paul Martin and the rest of the provinces.
Here is a novel idea. On the agenda a first ministers conference is an item in which there is a decent, fair discussion on how to provide affordable, effective and efficient transit for the major metropolitan areas and, by extension, on how to increase transport and infrastructure facilities such as highways in smaller rural areas.
The report to Parliament is also very interesting. The must cause a report on the conference, described in section 6, to be laid before the House. The House gets to debate any future national strategy for public transit. That too is a beneficial idea.
Therefore, I support this because it allows for the best practices from each major metropolitan area and, by extension, from the provinces. Then there can be discussions to determine if the best practices in British Columbia, whether it be the Lower Mainland of B.C., can be exercised in the greater metro Halifax area. We can share best practices with the Prairies, Winnipeg, maybe Saskatoon and Regina, and the cities of Toronto and Montreal. We then can determine the most efficient system that helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions as well as helps to alleviate poverty, whether it is taxes or direct subsidies. However, the federal government needs to be engaged with the people who provide the services, namely the provinces, but specifically the municipalities.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me it has been a long time since I said I was pleased to rise in this House to address Bill . I see this legislation as a breath of fresh air after the debates that we have had over the past few weeks, and particularly before the marathon session that will begin in the next few hours, if not minutes.
This legislation is refreshing because it has been a long time since we had a bill that presents a vision for the future, a bill that takes Canada into the 21st century, where it should be.
I want to point out, because this is somewhat funny, that while we are often presented with statistics from the OECD to boast about Canada's place in the world, our country is the only OECD member that has yet to adopt a public transit strategy at the national level.
What are the objectives of the national strategy proposed in the hon. member's bill? They are very simple and quite appropriate: to have fast, affordable and efficient public transit in Canada.
We have to be aware of the time lost by people because of traffic congestion. According to a study that I read recently, over a period of one year, a worker in a large urban centre like Montreal or Toronto spends the equivalent of about 32 working days in his car, commuting to and from work. This time could be reduced significantly with a fast, affordable and efficient public transit system.
We must make the necessary investments. I emphasize the word “investments”, because I think one of the main differences between the Conservative Party and the NDP is that the NDP sees the development of a true public transit strategy as an investment instead of an expenditure. It may cost us in the short term, but the return on the investment will be significantly greater than the money spent.
The Conservatives will likely tell us that financial support for transportation infrastructure is increasing every year, and I am not disputing that. However, the growing needs are outpacing this infrastructure more and more rapidly. Child-rearing incentives, particularly in Quebec, have created a mini-baby boom, which means that the population of Canada is growing fairly rapidly and that the need for public transit is critical.
I would like to add that the younger generation is increasingly aware of the importance of adopting a greener approach to the economy and to transportation. The new generation is sending a message to all the slightly older generations, such as the one I belong to, that significant efforts must be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of course this involves a public transportation system that is more effective at every level: public transit within municipalities, within the provinces and even between provinces. I will have the opportunity to elaborate on that later.
So what are the fundamental elements of this policy that we want to see implemented to enhance the development of this country's public transit system? First, we must ensure that we have predictable, ongoing funding. The various stakeholders that have to deal with the problem of public transportation must have a vision for the short, medium and long term. In order for that to happen, they have to be able to count on predictable, ongoing funding.
We have to invest in research and development. For the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee on Transport, where we have been studying new transportation technologies. Witnesses appeared before the committee and explained in very clear terms the changes that could be made if we had a little more support for research and development.
We should encourage the different levels of government to work harmoniously together. We know that transit is a municipal, provincial and interprovincial matter, and one day we will have to sit all the players down at the table so they can harmonize their policies, share their successes and, together, set a course for the future.
We should also develop greater synergy between urban development and infrastructure. The positive outcomes of this type of policy are just as straightforward as they are simple, and they are expected by the vast majority of the population. First, there is a quick and effective decrease in greenhouse gases. For every bus put on the road, for every suburban train, for every interprovincial transit ride, hundreds or even thousands of cars are taken off the road. The means of transportation, together with industry, are the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases. This is a clear, straightforward, specific and quick way to optimally decrease greenhouse gases.
We can also expect improved health outcomes. Studies have shown that, in big cities, traffic congestion has a direct effect on respiratory diseases and on people who are more severely affected. More public transit means lower greenhouse gas emissions; lower greenhouse gas emissions means lower health care costs related to respiratory diseases.
Take my own case, for example. I live in the riding of Trois-Rivières, which is populated densely enough to have a public transit system and has excellent rail infrastructure. We have a magnificent station, but the train does not go there anymore. If I want to travel between Ottawa and my riding every week, I have to go by car.
Imagine if we had a high-speed train. By high-speed train, I do not necessarily mean TGV technology. A high-speed train would enable people to travel from one major centre to another within a reasonable period of time. It would also help people save time because they can work while using public transit. For example, there are bus routes that now offer Wi-Fi connections to all passengers. More and more people who work for small, medium-sized and large businesses are choosing this option because they want to make the most of their working hours.
People in my riding are very optimistic that rail services will come back to Trois-Rivières, high-speed rail at that, regardless of which technology is chosen.
Several organizations have confirmed that this bill is a step in the right direction. I will read some quotes quickly because time is short.
The Canadian Urban Transit Association said:
...the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) has always been supportive of a strong participation of the federal government in public transit. Indeed, we believe that close collaboration between all orders of government is essential in addressing the challenges our communities are facing when it comes to offering sustainable mobility options...In order to adequately respond to the growing demand for public transit, communities must develop long-term plans with the support of their local, territorial, provincial and federal governments.
That is in keeping with what I was talking about just a few minutes ago.
I believe that I am running out of time, so I would like to share some statistics that I believe are important and that demonstrate that this truly is a policy for developing and investing in the future, and that this is not about spending and putting band-aids on wooden legs, as we see too often with existing policies.
Canada's transportation industry represents 45,000 direct and 24,000 indirect jobs. Imagine creating growth within this investment sector, and we can already see how the government could quickly and easily see a return on its investments.
Earlier I mentioned 32 days being spent in a car. That is $6 billion in costs related to workers arriving late to work because of traffic jams. We are talking about $115 million in health care savings.
Once passed, the bill will bring together the Department of Transport, provincial transport ministers, municipalities, transit authorities and aboriginal communities to design and establish a national public transit strategy to meet the needs of our communities. The result of this collaboration would be brought before the House of Commons.
That is what we hope to see as quickly as possible.
Mr. Speaker, the whole idea of having a national transit strategy has been on the agenda for many years. I can recall having discussions on this issue as far back as the late 1990s and it has carried forward. It seems to becoming more of an issue as all levels of government are recognizing that they do have a role to play.
Obviously, municipal governments over the years have recognized they have a leading role in making sure there is on-the-ground service for those individuals who need the services of rapid transit, subways, or whatever it might be.
Provincial governments over the last number of years, and a lot depends on the province and the municipalities within the province, have also recognized that they have a significant role to play. Some provinces, such as the province of Manitoba, provide direct grants and subsidies that go toward ridership and ensuring there is a transit system not only in Winnipeg, but also in other municipalities. The province itself has seen that it has a role to play.
Having said that, there has been a lack of leadership from the national government in recognizing that it, too, has a role to play. Many, including myself, would ultimately argue that the federal government needs to play a much larger role than it is playing today.
That is why in principle many of the different stakeholders across Canada would see a bill of this nature as a positive step forward as we try to come to grips with where we should be going on the whole issue of mass public transit, trains versus buses, to make sure our cities are keeping up with the demand.
The future projections for virtually all of Canada's major cities indicate that significant growth is happening. In some municipalities, it is a fairly profound growth that is taking place. As such, they need to get involved in looking at ways in which they can provide that public transportation.
It is important for us to recognize that generally speaking, municipalities do not have the financial resources or the means to get into these huge capital projects. We are not talking about a few million dollars here and there. It is well into the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the project. I could cite some specific examples in the city of Winnipeg, but the need for infusion of capital, cash, if I could put it that way, is very high.
It would be nice to see a government take an interest in looking at the bigger picture, looking at the needs of the different municipalities while recognizing there is a very finite amount of money that can be raised at the municipal level.
A vast majority of the funds that get into the city coffers come from property taxes. Property owners will tell us that their property taxes are already high enough. Because of the expenditures that would be incurred if we started investing in public transit, it is just not practical in many cases for municipalities to move forward. Municipalities end up saying that it might make sense to move toward a faster mode of public transportation, but they just do not have the financial resources, so instead they will expedite things by putting in bus-only lanes in order to increase ridership.