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”.