EDITORIAL: Transit plan on rough road

Proposed National Public Transit Strategy has a long road in front of it.

Trinity-Spidina NDP MP Olivia Chow’s proposed National Public Transit Strategy, or Bill C-615, is a good idea in theory but has a long road in front of it before it ever becomes a reality.

Chow’s idea proposes introducing a federal voice, the Ministry of Transportation, to the transit conversation in an attempt to align public transit visions, planning goals and construction time frames and budgets across the country.

She notes that Canada is the only G8 country without such a plan, which is true. But how many countries are as vast and thinly populated as Canada in this group? None. A plan in Victoria may not work in St. John’s or Winnipeg, so having federal input would be mostly redundant.

Transit relies on population density and subsidies. We are far from meeting the density of other G8 countries, and the Conservatives aren’t big on subsidies.

What’s more, as a private member’s bill, Bill C-615 would require royal assent to allow for any funding mechanism, something the Conservative majority probably doesn’t have an appetite for.

So already the bill is in trouble on three fronts. The Ministry of Transportation is already stretched beyond its limit with its current workload, royal assent, and thus funding, is unlikely, and the proposal exempts Quebec, which would simply ask for the money instead of participating. Blair Lekstrom, B.C.’s transport minister, and other provincial transport ministers might have a hard time swallowing that idea.

The best approach would be to leave transit under its current authorities – provincial and regional governments – and let them compete for the funding that is available. If public transit is an important issue to citizens, then politicians who support the notion will be elected, and can improve transit from a local perspective.

A national strategy sounds like a noble idea but unfortunately in this country, the idea will probably run out of gas before it passes second reading in the House.

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