Council supports Chow’s national transit strategy

Chow's bill is designed to ensure fast, accessible and affordable public transit in cities across the country

Nanaimo joined other Canadian municipalities, business and industry groups Monday by unanimously endorsing a National Public Transit Strategy.

NPD Trinity-Spidina MP Olivia Chow introduced the strategy as a private member’s bill last session before the federal election and again in September.

Chow’s bill is designed to ensure fast, accessible and affordable public transit in cities across the country, and it calls for an investment plan for transit systems and transit related innovations. It also calls on all three levels of government to work together to ensure quality transit for all Canadians.

“Canada has been falling behind and that is holding us back,” wrote Chow on her website. “We are the only country in the G8 without a national transit strategy. Federal leadership and investment in transit is vital to a healthier economy and healthier environment. It’s vital to our cities large and small and everyone who lives in them.”

Canadian mayors have called for such a strategy since 2007 and Chow’s bill is supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Urban Transit Association, Canadian Construction Association and Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Bill Holdom, chairman of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s transit committee, said with increasing ridership in many municipalities – including Nanaimo which saw a 6.4-per cent jump to 2.62 million riders in 2010 – a national strategy to assist in funding and planning transit projects is welcome.

“The bill is an expression of hope at least in the federal government achieving its goal of climate objectives to support local transit systems across the country,” said Holdom. “If this project got going it would probably mean somewhere down the road we would have a quick link to Victoria, and having the feds participate in funding for a transit system would certainly be welcome. How can you refuse?”

The bill was tabled Tuesday and is waiting to be called for second reading, which will trigger a debate and determine whether the bill goes to committee.

A private member’s bill requires royal assent where funding is involved, a step that will determine the Conservative majority’s appetite for the proposal.

“We’re hoping it receives enough support for it to go to committee so we can have a full debate on it,” said Jean Crowder, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan. “The problem Canada faces, in part, is provincial and federal jurisdictional issues so that makes it more complicated, but there still is a federal role. Whether it’s looking at the gas tax or looking at tax credit programs, we know that tax policy shapes behaviour, so if we want to improve public transit the federal government certainly has a role to play in it.”

In this province, B.C. Transit has a goal of doubling ridership by 2012, but the organization is under review  following more than 40 complaints from B.C. municipalities. Representatives from the RDN, Union of British Columbia Municipalities and B.C. Transit will take part in the review.