House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-449 would allow the minister to set up a trust fund for other levels of government so that seniors can take public transit free of charge during off-peak hours. This is a laudable goal. Anything that encourages people to take public transit more frequently is a great idea. It is a more active form of transportation, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and it keeps our communities vibrant.

The bill is such a tease. We could be talking about a bill that completely re-imagines public transit in this country. Our current approach to transportation is unsustainable. We need to make a transition to a more sustainable form of transport, including public transportation. Improving transit is about setting a legacy, both economic and environmental. We need better, more efficient public transport because it improves access to community services and it improves participation in the community. Poor access to transport causes isolation for individuals and pockets of our communities, particularly in low-income areas, as well as rural communities.

Improving public transportation is an excellent way to combat poverty because it allows the economic engagement in all areas of the city by people who live in all areas. It improves the exchange of money and ideas and allows people to access educational opportunities and services that are outside of their neighbourhoods. It provides individuals and families with the opportunity escape the cycle of poverty. Free transit would greatly increase the quality of life by removing the terrible choice between rent, food, or heat and bus tickets.

Canada is the only G8 country that does not fund public transit and it has negative consequences on the environment and on our pocketbooks. Canada does not have a national transit strategy either.

Seniors are some of our most vulnerable citizens, both economically and socially. Better transport for seniors is an important issue to tackle, particularly with respect to increasing a person's ability to live independently. As seniors age, some can no longer drive and as their mobility becomes limited they may become more isolated if they cannot afford public transit or have access to public transit.

There is a public transit route in Halifax called the Manors. Recently it was announced that it would be cancelled by the Halifax regional municipality. The Manors went to all the seniors' manors on the peninsula. It was a circuitous route and it might not have made much sense to me trying to get from point A to point B, but it made a lot of sense to the community it served; a community of seniors around the city.

It allowed seniors at Joe Howe Manor or Samuel Prince Manor to take the number 3 and get to where they needed to go, such as the grocery store, their doctor's office, the bank, or the shopping mall.

The announcement to cancel the Manors route was made because it was said the bus route did not pay for itself and it had to be cancelled. Seniors from Samuel Prince Manor rallied to fight that decision. They came together with other residents of the other manors and after many petitions, phone calls and letters, they realized their victory. They had worked together to mobilize their community and they saved this vital service. It was an incredible victory for our community.

One may think that this is a municipal issue. Why would it be relevant for an MP to raise this in the House of Commons?

I believe that there is a federal role for transit. I believe there is a necessary federal leadership role for transit. It is too important a service not to have a national strategy. In fact, it is not just a service, it is a necessity.

I am proud that my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, introduced such a bill recently. She introduced the national public transit strategy act and it would coordinate between all levels of government to maintain and expand public transit across the country.

The public transit act, a first of its kind, would decrease the burden on cities and communities. The bill outlines a strategy for the federal government to provide a permanent investment plan to support public transit, to establish federal funding mechanisms for public transit, to work together with all levels of government to provide sustainable, predictable, long-term and adequate funding, and it would work to establish accountability measures to ensure that all governments work together to increase access to public transit.

Better public transit means sustainable economic growth and cleaner, more productive cities. It means a better Canada and a better Halifax.

The story of the Manors is a story from a city, but there are rural examples in my riding as well. When I speak of Halifax in the chamber, I am speaking of the riding of Halifax. The name of the riding can sometimes be misleading because I do not represent the entire city, but I also do not represent only the city. I represent the peninsula, which includes the south end, downtown, the north end, the west end and Westmount, but the riding extends beyond the Armdale Rotary and includes Fairview, Jollymore, Purcell's Cove, Duncan's Cove, Ketch Harbour, Sambro, Harrietsfield and Williamswood. It is much bigger and more diverse than people think.

When I first rose in the House to give my inaugural speech in 2008 after being elected, I talked about some of these communities, which are located in what is affectionately known as the loop because the highway goes around in a loop. Many members of these communities did not have access to bus service at all.

When I first rose to speak in the House, no one could catch a bus in Sambro. People could not get on a bus to go to the grocery store, to go to the peninsula, to go to a doctor or to see friends. Then a pilot project was announced. There was a bus route and then it was reduced. Now there is no service during peak hours.

Another thing to point out about these communities is if people live in Harrietsfield or Williamswood, they have to go grocery shopping in Spryfield. They have to go to another community to access a grocery store. It is absolutely vital that there is public transit in all communities across Canada, as well as across the riding of Halifax.

As a result, the community has come together to try to get increased bus service and increase public transit presence in these communities. There is actually a blog called the Sambro Loop Community Bus Transit blog. People go online, give information about what is going on and try to figure out how to mobilize bus service. There is also a Facebook group. In checking out the Facebook group today, people were posting car shares so people could get a ride with somebody else. They were posting pictures of bus stops that are poles with no signs and talking about how they can rely on each other to get into town or to the grocery store.

While it is wonderful that this community has come together and is organizing ride share programs, they need a bus system. Why is there no service? There is no service because HRM does not have the money to provide this kind of service or is choosing not to find the money.

How can we help these communities at a federal level? The NDP has a solution that has to do with the federal gas tax transfer. The gas tax transfer to the municipality was established, but with very few strings attached with respect to its use. The intention was for improvements to public transit and while many cities have used this transfer for its intended purposes by making service enhancements to their public transportation systems, there are a number of cities that have not. It shows one of the problems with not having strings attached with respect to use.

The federal government can give municipalities stable, long-term funding by transferring an extra cent of the gas tax, making sure that it is dedicated to public transit. This is the NDP's solution. It is a solution that makes sense to me when I look at my own community and realize that not everyone can access a public transportation system. I think about how we can change that at a federal level. This is where good public policy comes from. Good public policy comes from the ideas from communities. We bring them to Ottawa and to the chamber and say, “Here is a solution that would help my community”.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-449, An Act regarding free public transit for seniors, which was introduced by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer. I would like to begin by thanking and congratulating the member for bringing the matter of transportation for seniors before the House.

Why is this debate so important? Because it seeks to find a solution, one of many initiatives that, when combined, will help make seniors independent. This solution seeks to counter the isolation of seniors who, all too often, do not leave their homes because they do not have the means to do so. They too should have the opportunity to enjoy the activities offered in their community.

I recently read the 2006 Statistics Canada report entitled, “A Portrait of Seniors in Canada”. Two items caught my attention. The first is that 62% of the Canadian population lives in Ontario and Quebec. The second, is that seven out of ten seniors live in urban areas, in centres with at least 50,000 residents. As most municipalities of this size have a public transit system, providing free public transit to seniors in off-peak hours is a timely issue.

I was also interested in the percentage of women who are seniors. I will explain. Women account for 52% of the population between the ages of 65 and 69. This percentage increases with age and reaches 75%. In addition, we know that older women who live alone often have a lower income, especially in Quebec and British Columbia. The Mouvement des aînés du Québec is very concerned about the financial insecurity of women.

In the section that discusses seniors' access to transportation, the Statistics Canada study also shows that the gap between senior men and women is quite significant in older age groups. For example, among seniors between the ages of 75 and 84, 83% of men drove a vehicle to which they had access, compared to only 45% of women. Among men 85 years and older, twice as many men drove a vehicle in their household to which they had access, or 66% of men compared to 33% of women. These differences between men and women are not really surprising because senior men are much more likely to have a valid driver's licence than women. A lower proportion of men than women have never driven a vehicle in their life.

Thus, transportation is becoming increasingly and proportionally important as our population ages. The proposal made by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer is laudable, realistic and achievable. Seniors already face many challenges that would not even occur to younger people. However, one day we will all face the problem of being unable to access basic social services. I am talking about attending doctors appointments, going to the pharmacy, getting around to do volunteer work in the community, getting groceries and so on. We take our ability to do these day-to-day activities for granted until we are forced to deal with the reality of aging.

This reality can have even more profound consequences when it comes to family and friends. How can seniors remain socially active and maintain their independence if they cannot leave home because they do not have access to public transportation? Not all seniors can afford to take a taxi every time they need to go somewhere. Few seniors have the luxury of a family member or friend who is available all the time to drive them around.

Access to public transportation becomes a major issue, especially for seniors who no longer have their driver's licence. Not only do they feel disadvantaged, but they also feel dependent and isolated. Transportation for seniors presents special challenges and is an issue that requires urgent attention. Our colleague's proposal deserves further study.

I realize this issue might overlap on provincial jurisdictions, as our colleagues from the Bloc did not hesitate to point out. However, I think the problem transcends the issue of jurisdictions.

The needs of our seniors are real and are not going away. On the contrary, their needs are growing as the population ages.

I know that the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer is open to amending Bill C-449 in order to have the Minister of Finance look at ways to establish a trust to help make public transit free for seniors.

Our Liberal critic for seniors has also made the following observations: people are living much longer and families are living much further apart because the children often have to leave their home region in order to find work. These new realities present challenges that we must face.

It is not by building mega-prisons, purchasing F-35s, or cutting taxes for wealthy corporations that we will be helping our seniors in Canada.

Not only must we focus our efforts on our country's economic growth, but we must respond to the real challenges of Canadians, the needs of families.

I support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer because it addresses a real problem for a growing segment of our society and because it proposes a solution that is worth looking at in committee.

I am calling for the support of this House to send Bill C-449 to committee.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-449 would make it possible to provide free public transportation to seniors during off-peak hours. What is the purpose of this bill? The purpose is to encourage seniors to have an active social life and to reduce the isolation that far too many of them experience. Canada's population is aging; we cannot deny that. We certainly cannot ignore it, as the Conservatives would like to do.

Aging has it own set of problems and we must address those problems with realistic and practical solutions. As I explained in my earlier speech, transportation for seniors is extremely important because they need it to get to social and medical services.

Not everyone can afford to take taxis or has a son or daughter available to provide transportation, as my colleague from LaSalle—Émard said. Furthermore, many seniors, especially women, are on a low income, which restricts their mobility. We must take a look at this issue to avoid having our seniors become isolated.

Isolation is the enemy of seniors. I believe that free public transit must be part of the strategy and action to help prevent isolation and give seniors the tools needed to have a good quality of life. We all hope for that one day.

I would like to thank my colleagues from York West and LaSalle—Émard. Their support for Bill C-449 shows their empathy for Canada's seniors and their eagerness to solve the mobility problems that affect so many seniors, in both urban and rural areas.

I would also like to thank the hon. members for Trinity—Spadina and Halifax. Their support for public transit is only matched by their interest in Canada's seniors. The Bloc agrees that Bill C-449 is an excellent initiative and a recognition of the role seniors play but I have been told that they are reluctant to vote yes.

This is why they should vote yes. It is simple: in order to let the committee look at the question of mobility for seniors and free access to public transit, where it exists, in off-peak hours. This is an important issue for seniors from coast to coast to coast.

I am seeking the support of the House to study the issue of mobility for seniors in committee. The members opposite are hiding behind a procedural smokescreen. They did not even bother talking about the substance of Bill C-449. They did nothing more than reject its form. I think by refusing to take part in this debate on seniors, the members opposite are shirking their responsibilities. They are abdicating the leadership role the government must play.

This government is unaware of the needs of families and seniors. What are the ill-advised priorities of the Conservatives? Spending billions of dollars for the untendered procurement of fighter jets, the construction of mega-prisons, and corporate tax breaks. We, the Liberals, are listening to the concerns of the Canadian public and their priorities: pensions, education, health care, family care and seniors. Bill C-449 falls in line with those priorities.

I want to clarify something. Not that I want to speak for the members of the Standing Committee on Finance, but I will be proposing an amendment in committee to have the Minister of Finance look at ways to establish a trust to help make public transit free for seniors during off-peak hours. This amendment would also eliminate the need for the minister to spend money from the consolidated revenue fund.

In closing, I ask for the support of all members in this House to pass Bill C-449, for further review in the Standing Committee on Finance.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Second reading
Free Public Transit for Seniors Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 2, 2011, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Accordingly the House stands adjourned until Monday, February 28, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:03 p.m.)