House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-38.

Topics

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in Bill C-293 at report stage under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #286

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand from the member for Trinity—Spadina that there have been discussions and there is unanimous agreement for the following motion: that notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House the hour for private members' business today be cancelled and the order for the resumption at second reading of Bill C-305, an act to establish a national public transit strategy, be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent for this?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yes

No

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There is no consent.

It being 6:33, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 26, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-305, An Act to establish a National Public Transit Strategy, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

June 13th, 2012 / 6:30 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina'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 C-305, 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 Trinity—Spadina 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 C-305.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

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 C-38, 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 Minister of Transport, 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 Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities 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.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

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 C-305. 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.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

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.

That is why, in fairness to municipalities, the federal government needs to come to the table, sit down and start talking about that national strategy with regard to public transportation.

If we recognize that role up front, I believe that at the end of the day we will have healthier communities. We will have communities that would be able to accommodate the potential demand if we could provide the proper mode of transportation. For example, in cities the size of Toronto and Montreal—let us focus on Toronto and Montreal, because Vancouver has the SkyTrain, which is an above-ground mode of travel—there is a great deal of investment in their subway systems.

Back in the days when I had the opportunity to take some university courses on urban development, we talked about how subways and the construction of subways is a long-term project because of the hundreds of millions of dollars required. The impact on development huge. Wherever that subway actually stops, we will see a core of development, quite often, take off to feed into the subway's system. A great example is Canada's largest city, the city of Toronto. Could members imagine if Toronto did not have the subway system it currently has? It would not be able to facilitate the type of demand on growth, on population, if it did not have a reliable subway system.

However, if we were to talk to politicians of different political stripes and at different levels of government, we would find that Toronto's need to expand is very real. It is there. It would be very difficult for a municipality like Toronto to be able to do that without any commitment coming from Ottawa and the provincial government.

That same principle would apply also to Montreal or even, to a certain degree, to cities such as Calgary and Edmonton, which are developing their subway systems.

I had the opportunity last fall to ride the Vancouver SkyTrain. It is an amazing system. It is amazing how quickly one can get from the airport to the downtown core. These modes of transportation are, in good part, what allow our cities to continue to grow.

In Winnipeg we talk about light rail transit and how we could speed up travel in the south corridor, although Mayor Sam Katz has been aggressively pursuing other ways to speed up our bus system.

However, arguments have been brought forward even in the city of Winnipeg as to what potential we have in subway development, because when we look to the future, we want to continue to grow as a city and prosper. That means we need to be able to sit down with the different levels of government so that we can get that joint project.

If we took a look at a lot of major projects across Canada, we would find all three levels of government getting involved in order to turn a project into reality.

In essence, that is what this bill wants to do: develop a public transit system policy through which Canadians would benefit as a whole. That infrastructure needs to be worked on. We can talk about expansion, but we also need to recognize that even the current infrastructure needs repair, more in some areas than in others.

It is important for the federal government to take a serious look at what is being proposed in this private member's bill to see how we can enhance our role here in Ottawa to ensure that we have great public transportation systems that will allow people to travel between larger cities and to commute. That would allow us to continue to grow and prosper well into the future.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Trinity—Spadina for having the tenacity and the doggedness to push ahead with the decision by this party to support a national public transit strategy across this vast land of ours, not just in urban centres but in rural Canada as well.

At the transport committee we conducted a study of a national public transit strategy. Unfortunately, government members opposite decided that they did not want a strategy, so they changed the name of the study, after it had been completed, to a study of public transit, which is an indication, I am afraid, of the government's current mentality when it comes to public transit.

We need a public transit strategy in this country. One has to look no further than Toronto to understand why a strategy is essential. We had a situation in which a political decision was made, not a public decision. The political decision was to build subways in areas where they are currently being very lightly used and to fill in a hole where a subway was being built.

Tragically, that hole is being dug up again. We have spent probably 200 million public dollars by digging a hole, filling it in, and now digging it again, all because of changes in government.

Public transit is a 200-year investment. It is not a four-year investment, as many government members would have us believe. “Is it going to get me re-elected in four years' time?” is the only question they care about.

It is a 200-year investment, and we need thinkers who think in 200-year timeframes, as the people who built this country did when they installed railroads across this country 160 years ago. The bridge over the Humber River that crosses into my riding was put there 158 years ago, and it is still standing and still carrying trains. It is actually being added to, not being torn down; it is being rebuilt to carry more trains, which brings me to the next piece of the folly of not having a strategy.

In the early 1990s the Ontario government, which was at the time an NDP government, decided that there was a need for more public transit in Toronto. The government started a big series of projects to build transit. The Conservative government that took over in 1995—and some of the members opposite were in that government—decided to cancel most of that public transit investment and filled in the holes that had been dug.

The City of Toronto, realizing that it needed transit, asked the federal government to come forward and help build a subway to the airport. What did we get from David Collenette and the federal Liberals? We received a rapid transit line in the form of a diesel train that was going to be only for business passengers. It was going to be incredibly disruptive and incredibly expensive, and it was not real public transit. However, he told us not to worry, since not one nickel of public money would be spent on the train.

The trouble is, here we are, 13 years after the promise that it would not be public money, and the $1.5 billion investment that we received, some of it from the federal government, will not do anything to improve public transit in the city. We are spending $1.5 billion to build a train to the airport that will only be used by a relative handful of people. We will be the only major city on the planet that runs diesel trains to its airport from downtown.

All the people I have talked to who live along that line have unanimously agreed that to build diesel trains in such incredible numbers is not smart transit. Not only can they not use it, because it is only for the well-heeled, and not only can they not access it, because it will not stop anywhere along the route, but It will also pollute tremendously in every part of Toronto. A total of 464 diesel trains will be whizzing by neighbourhoods in ridings just south of mine. There will be over 300 in my riding, many of which will be running to the airport.

The government said, after a “thorough” environmental assessment, that a new diesel fuel is out there, a better and cleaner diesel, and that we would just run with that.

The public wants electric.

That is part of what a national public transit strategy could give us: a direction from the government so that transit would be funded in an intelligent way, in a way that does not pollute, in a way that actually gives people public transit they can use and in a way that is healthy.

It is remarkable that today the World Health Organization has released a report that now lists diesel exhaust as a carcinogen in the same category as asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas. The provincial government—with some money from the federal government, as there is a considerable amount of federal money in this project too—is going to expose people and their children to the proven carcinogen of the diesel exhaust coming from literally thousands and thousands of trains a year.

That is not smart transit.

We should, in all rights, go back to the drawing board with the environmental assessment, but what is the government doing with environmental assessments? It has decided that human health should not be part of environmental assessments. The only thing an environmental assessment should look at from the federal perspective, because schedule 2 is missing, is whether aquatic wildlife, species at risk, or fish are harmed. Humans do not matter.

That is wrong.

It is for that reason that we need a strategy. It is not just to make sure that we are spending our scarce public transit dollars effectively or to make sure we are not doing it in a wasteful way; it is to make sure we are doing it in a way that does not actually harm the health of humans, of the people who vote for us.

For that reason, I am supporting Bill C-305, and I would urge the members opposite to think long and hard about supporting this bill as well.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the private member's bill, Bill C-305, concerning a public transit strategy.

While I appreciate, support and applaud the member for Trinity—Spadina. who proposed this bill, I would like to provide my own perspectives on the whole definition of transit and to arrive at a little bit of a comparison or at least a contrast to other public priorities related to transportation.

Investment in transportation infrastructure obviously is very important to a country as vast, as huge and as densely populated as Canada. Transportation infrastructure is a costly but necessary venture.

The substance of the bill deals with the conveyance of people on that infrastructure. It is about how we provide the means to convey people over an existing transportation network. It is the rail cars on the rail tracks. The transit portion would be the rail cars, the transportation infrastructure would be the rail tracks. The bill focuses in on the transit, on the conveyance of people and goods, but, most specifically, people.

It is worth pointing out that the needs of Canadians are ever evolving when it comes to transit, to transportation infrastructure, our cities modernized, but as well, the needs of our rural communities and our suburbs also change as well.

Often we look at public transit and we assume that it is necessarily a big city issue. In fairness, Bill C-305 does indeed seem to reflect that while there are notions or elements in which communities are invited to participate, generally speaking, this is about city transportation, city transit, intercity transit.

The needs are evolving because, as we know, the government of the day is not demanding the mass mobility of people in rural areas. With its employment insurance reform and conform requirements, it will be expecting citizens to travel up to one hour away from their principal homes to wherever employment may be. That may not seem such a daunting task for some, but when we consider that an hour's travel from a rural area could be over roads that are just not kept up, but, most important, from a transit point of view, travelling one hour's distance from one major city to the suburb of a city to inner city, s a transit system is available to convey those passengers.

For example, for the people of the lower north shore of Quebec to transit one hour's distance from their own community to where a potential job may be available, there is no transit system. It does not exist.

In my own home province and in my own riding, the community of Conche, for example, is a beautiful place, absolutely incredible in terms of not only the scenery but its people. Unfortunately, in the off-season and certain times of the year there are very few jobs. For them to transit just 28 kilometres away to the community of Roddington, for example, they would travel over a dirt road, but, most important, they are expected to do so with no transit system available.

For a single mother, a single person or for someone who is making a very small wage and does not have access to the means to buy a vehicle, that transit is not available to them and they do not have the means themselves.

If I were to make one point on this matter before moving on, it is absolutely essential that this Parliament be seized with understanding that the needs of not only transportation infrastructure but of transit requirements is constantly evolving and we are not keeping up.

While I applaud and will be supporting the private member's bill, I would implore that we look broader and deeper and think bigger when it comes to understanding exactly what the evolving transit needs are in our country. While this is a template and a blueprint for mapping out a strategy for larger cities and their suburbs, it is not an effective means or template for mapping out a strategy for the entire country.

I will also reflect on the fact that while transit is already in play, there are other types of transit systems in which the federal government has an active role. An example is the public transit between Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a small island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and a beautiful part of the province of Quebec, and the province of P.E.I. One of the most significant communication links is not to the St. Lawrence Seaway but to P.E.I. There are other links between Îles-de-la-Madeleine and the port of Montreal but one of its most significant major points of conveyance is between the island and P.E.I.

This bill is about transit. It is about the conveyance of people, goods and services via a mode of conveyance that is supported by the public interest. This bill does not necessarily contemplate the inclusion of those concerns and those needs in with a public transit strategy. I would ask for consideration that the notion of what public transit is all about be broadened from that point of view.

I will also reflect on what the government considers to be public transit. It considers public transit to be that which is available to larger urban centres. However, the provision of a strategy within the transit system is actually funded or encouraged through taxation policy. The government does not actually commit to any public transit strategy that uses the public interest and the public purse to establish the means and mechanisms to advance the strategy. The entire public transit strategy, in the government's point of view, is simply to offset some of the costs to the individual user of that transit system through the taxation system. Specifically, the government grants what I and the majority of people would consider to be a relatively nominal tax rebate on a portion of a limited element of the total fee paid for that transit by the individual. While it is not objectionable, it does not go far enough. It is a very minimalist response to the true needs of the transit and of a transit strategy in this country to offer a 10% or 15% tax credit on payments that are already offered or already provided from the user when the benefits of that tax credit are not realized by the user until as much as 12 to 14 months after the expense has occurred.

It is one thing to talk about a transportation infrastructure strategy but it is another thing to talk about a transit strategy. If we do not have the means to move people because a transit system does not exist, then the availability of a tax credit to individuals seeking work, with the requirements of the pending new EI regulations of having to move up to an hour's distance away from their home communities, is just not valuable. It may be valuable to those who could use it, even with all of its limitations and lack of completeness, what we need in this country is a true strategy and it is, sadly, missing.

National Public Transit Strategy Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The time provided for debate has expired. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?