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.