Taking Transit to the Ballotboxes
There are lots of varying opinions about why Canadians need to elect another federal government for the 3rd time in 7 years. Amid all the waste, posturing and self-serving party politics there’s one thing that Canadians should keep in mind however…Once the parties start to present, and revise their platforms (depending on which way the breeze blows), this is pretty much the only time that we can convince ourselves into believing that we live in a truly responsive and representative democracy. So why not raise some of the important issues (like public transit!) that could make a real difference down the road, while the politicians are in that rare mode of thinking where they need to actually listen and act upon public opinion, or otherwise face the consequences at the polls.
So, if there’s indeed enough will to participate in the democratic process, let’s go ahead and raise the subject of crumbling infrastructure and Public Transit to our representatives during this brief window of opportunity. Let’s take this one issue as an example of laying down tracks to a better and more sustainable future, and try to see what required to get this issue onto the ballots.
The Whys and Wherefores
Transit is a complex issue, that takes years to address and resolve because of the bureaucratic and bargaining delays built into the planning and construction process. As most Torontonians can attest, it takes clear vision to enact such plans, and this work can be all too easily derailed for decades through the short term ideas of single-term politicians. Transit planning not only involves all levels of government, it requires a level of cooperation between between various Unions and Industrial partners as well. In short, timing is everything when it comes to improving Transit.
Some might ask why a national election should be run on issues that effect only city-dwelling Canadians? The truth is that public transit also has far reaching effects that extend into not only the health and quality of life of most urban Canadians, but also to the general productivity and competitiveness of Canada as a whole. We can witness this fact as we continue to see other countries develop technologies and expertise, that leave Canadians to become customers rather than builders and global suppliers in this market. Of course if we also factor in the shared environmental costs of letting transit infrastructure slide even further into the past, we can easily see that the time to act on this issue is now, not later.
In a recent article in the Globe & Mail, Michael Roschlau, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association said:
“We need to make this a significant election issue and it’s critical that parties develop a response. I just hope it doesn’t take a crisis to get there: that traffic congestion gets so bad, commute times get so long, that we have to react instead of being proactive.”
As we all very well know, there are very few good plans that get put together in a panicked haste to catchup with the effects of a crisis. The best laid plans are progressive and forward thinking, and this is an approach that any political candidate should be very eager to embrace in these jaded and cynical times.
So…Where Are We At ?
The Toronto Board of Trade has produced an annual “Scorecard on Prosperity”, which measures cities on a number of economic, social and structural indicators, and it clearly suggests that Canadian cities are already on heading towards a crisis.
Canadian cities have been in a steady state of decline in terms of meeting their needs for transit, and although Toronto and Calgary continue to rank high overall due to their labour market scores, any downturn in their economies would send the overall rank plummeting. For now, we can clearly see that not a single Canadian city actually managed to crack the top 10 on transportation issues, which measured such factors as commute times, transit ridership, kilometres of existing rail and vehicles per capita.
The Globe also points out that Toronto has already dropped from 4th to 8th place largely due to its crippling congestion and notoriously long commute times!
It’s clearly time for Canada to flex it’s manufacturing muscle in this area and create the political will to put in place a national strategy on transit.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at least took some steps in the last (defeated) budget to address transit and the $123-billion urban infrastructure deficit. But while Mr. Flaherty promised to develop an infrastructure plan and make the transit-funding gas tax permanent through legislation, no new money was actually designated.
So What’s a Poor Voter to Do ?
Although Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, has already urinated all over the fires that had been stoked by Metrolinx and their federally and provincially-backed “Big Move” plans, there’s still time to let your city councillors know that this is no time for caterign to Rob Fords personal agenda and short-sighted election promises. If the detrimental effects of party politics and bloc voting are ever to be curtailed in ths country, perhaps it needs to start by encouraging our municipal representatives to stand up for us in City Hall, despite what they fear might happen to their careers at the hands of the mayor.
Perhaps the Media could tone down their persuit of sensationalised stories long enough to do some investigative journalism as well, and show our representatives that they are willing to publicise and promote the small efforts being made as well, and hopefully help maintain a supportive public opinion on issues that revolve around something more than short-lived scandals, or incendiary sound-bites.
Better yet, we could see more signs of the Media showing us all how to participate in the democratic process at a more grass roots level. Perhaps starting with something as simple as a way to contact your local incumbent MP, or one of their political adversaries if it needs to come to that!
At issue here is that all parties should be able to figure out how to campaign on the fate of Public Transit in Canada. So long the Environment remains high on our list of priorities, and our precious time on earth (often spent waiting to move in traffic) remains a key concern to most urbanized Canadians, surely the politicians can be made aware of the desires of their Constituents on at least this one important issue.