End Gridlock, Get Canada Moving: Olivia on Transit

Olivia Chow Speaks at York University: A New Federal Commitment to Transit

January 31, 2013

TORONTO – Let’s end the gridlock that’s chocking Toronto and cities across Canada. With $10 billion in economic damages every year countrywide, it’s time for the federal government to act.

NDP Transport Critic Olivia Chow laid out her transit plan in a speech at York University.


Prepared Remarks: 

Thank you so much for inviting me here tonight. This is such a great university – and I always love being here. But I have to admit, while I love BEING here, it was tough GETTING here.

Getting here is always a challenge. And I can’t always rely on transit to get me here on time.

Actually – these days, it’s hard to rely on ANY kind of transportation to get you here on time – here, or anywhere else in the city. Traffic and gridlock at all times of day are getting worse in Toronto. It’s getting harder and harder to get around.

We now have gridlock both on our roads and on our transit system. Gridlock is a universal term here in Toronto.

I don’t need to convince you of that because you live it every day. Everyone who is a student or a member of faculty or staff member at York knows this all too well.

To state the obvious, it takes dedication to get here. I salute you all for being here today – and for bringing such a strong and positive focus to this vital issue. I also thank you creating a format that will allow for dialogue later.

Of course, gridlock is on everyone’s mind in Toronto these days. I am sure everyone in this room has their own horror stories – that is, gridlock stories… all the missed opportunities — missing a class, being late for work, having to reschedule a dinner, missing a movie downtown, or a hockey game, or a date….

All those missed opportunities. Lost time – time you can never get back. Those missed opportunities make a difference in our daily lives. They make a difference to our wellbeing, our quality of life, and our pocketbooks.

And just multiply those missed opportunities by all the students at York, and all the staff… and all your families, and everyone in Toronto – and people across the country…

In lost productivity alone, gridlock here in the GTA is costing us $6 billion – and across Canada, it adds up to over $10 billion dollars a year – out the window – up in smoke! Or should I say “up in smog.”

We are missing the bus. Gridlock is costing our urban economies dearly. That adds up to real financial, social and personal loss… for every person in this city, for businesses large and small, for the economy and for the country.

And that’s not even counting the environmental cost – the carbon emissions… it’s not counting the health cost – the stress cost, the road rage, the traffic accidents, the frustration and disappointment.

It’s not counting the human cost – the burden on families, who just don’t get enough time together – because people have to spend so much time on the commute…

And just think what a difference it could make if we had fast, reliable and accessible public transit – think what a difference it could make to your quality of life, to your academic life, to your social life.

Think what a difference it could make to your weekly budget… to the air you breathe… to the stress you feel.

Think what a difference it could make to York University. Think what a difference it could make to your families – to the economy, and the environment.

And the cost will not just be carried by your generation. The lack of investment today, and the pollution created today, will cost dearly the generations to come – your kids and your grandkids.

I love the Your 32 Minutes campaign – all those great stories about what people would do with that extra 32 minutes a day they would have if we could break the gridlock, and get moving.

But it’s getting worse. Here in Toronto, we have the worst traffic gridlock in North America — worse than Los Angeles, worse than New York, worse than Vancouver, worse than Montreal.

And for a city our size, we have a sadly inadequate transit system. I had a graphic on my facebook page a while ago with the maps of the subway systems in New York London, Paris and Toronto – and it told a very powerful story.

Compared to the others, Toronto is not even on the map! We outgrew our system years ago – when our population was just half our size… This is hurting everyone – business and industry, families and seniors and students. It is hurting Toronto. It is hurting Canada.

This is a local issue – but it is also regional, and national. And we need more than local solutions — it will take solutions at all levels. It will take cooperation at all levels. It will take leadership at all levels. But the missing link has been national leadership. This is a national crisis and it is a national issue, and we need national leadership.

It is so fundamental and so important. Yet here, in this great university, in this great city of Toronto – in this great country, we are mired in gridlock. Political gridlock.

We are missing the bus! We are falling behind. We are falling behind the rest of the world. And yet, despite the fact that this is a serious national issue that has become critical – we still have no national transit strategy – no plan.

All other G8 countries have a national transit strategy. Not Canada. Most have predictable and long term capital funding. Not Canada. Most have transit- related research and development funding. Not Canada. Most have recognized the central importance of transit in this day and age as a national priority. Not Canada.

We are failing to invest where it counts. And it is costing us dearly.

Everyone here knows that we can do better. We must do better. What we need is resolve and leadership.

What we need is planning – long term planning. Because major transit projects require major funding and they take years to complete.

And Toronto does not have the funding capacity. Nor do other municipalities. The municipal share of taxes is just eight cents of every dollar. Eight cents! Not enough to fund major capital programs.

The federal government collects almost half of all the taxes – and then doles it out piecemeal – without an overall vision, and sometimes in a partisian way.

In the last go-round, Toronto did not get anything remotely approaching a fair share of desperately needed federal infrastructure funding. Why?

Because the infrastructure funding from the federal government was based on a two-year cycle – and was very susceptible to political influence.

Only the short term projects got funding – that’s why the request for new street cars was rejected. And Toronto got left out in the cold.

So without a national transit strategy, what do we get? We dig a hole for the Eglinton subway. Then we fill it in – more millions. Then we start digging again…

I believe we need a five point plan:

  1. A plan that makes funding long term and predictable. We need better than a two year cycle. We need a twenty-year cycle. That’s how long it takes to develop and maintain and build transit systems!
  2. We need a plan that has clear criteria and sets clear targets – targets like cutting specific commute times. And then specific action planning to achieve those targets. What gets measured, gets managed, gets results, gets built.
  3. We need a plan where funding grows with non-political measures such as economic, population and ridership growth forecasts.
  4. We need a plan based on partnerships among jurisdictions – so funding can lever provincial, municipal and private sector funding – including various revenue tools such as road pricing.
  5. We need a plan that encourages innovation, efficiency and sustainability.

We need ALL these elements in a national plan, with national partnership and national leadership.

To end the gridlock in Toronto – and Vancouver, and Montreal – and across the country – we have to end the gridlock on Parliament Hill.

To get Canada moving, to get the country moving – we have to get Parliament moving – we have to get Mr. Harper and the Conservatives moving.

A major reason I ran as an MP and went to Ottawa was to get the issues of our city – and of all cities – onto the national agenda… To work on national solutions to urban issues.

In the last two years, I’ve met with Mayors and Councillors from big cities and small towns. I am grateful the national transit strategy bill I introduced in Parliament gained support from chambers of commerce and unions and business groups and environmental groups, from different political parties, from city councils, town councils and village councils, from first nations – in the east and west and north and center – and from big city mayors from coast to coast to coast – as well as from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

We also gained support from different political parties: the Liberals, Bloq, the Greens. So there was widespread support – except from Mr. Harper and the Conservatives. They weren’t ready.

But the good news is – it’s a new year, with a new opportunity – and more public pressure than ever for action to end the gridlock and get Canada moving.

The next opportunity is in the government’s hands. They can take the lead themselves – and meet the needs of Canadians – by addressing this vital national issue. The 2013 budget is coming up.

And I am pleased to say that working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Big City Mayors, we were able to persuade the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure to commit to announcing a new infrastructure plan in the upcoming budget.

This is incredibly important, because the existing program is expiring and municipalities will miss a construction season if the new program is not in place.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is pushing for a long term and predictable funding program that would set us on the right track.

We need to assure that the Minister’s commitment turns into real allocation and real action.

For Canadian families, this is more than time lost. In addition to addressing gridlock – let’s remember that every billion dollars of infrastructure investments creates 11,000 jobs. So there are major economic benefits to a well-designed plan.

This week, I wrote to Mayor Ford and Toronto’s City councillors, as well as mayors and councils across Canada, asking them to join FCM and us in pushing for this funding.

I am encouraged to hear Premier-elect Kathleen Wynne talking about investing in transit in her first week on the job. That is a very encouraging sign.

Tonight – I am asking you to help ensure that your voices are heard – and that Canada’s needs are met – I am asking you to keep the pressure on.

We need all of you to take action – show your support – sign a pledge on “I heart public transit .ca” or on my website, go to public meetings, talk to your neibours and friends, write to your MP, write to the Prime Minister and send copies to me so I can gage the strength of our movement.

Spread the word – mobilize! Get moving! It can be done. Together, we can move Canada forward with fast, reliable, accessible transit. We can end the gridlock – we can get moving. And don’t ever let them tell you it can’t be done!

Thank you all so much.

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