Putting public transit on the electoral map

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A St. Albert councillor says enough with Mike Duffy; it’s time to ask federal election candidates tough questions on the real issues.

Before St. Albertans head to the polls on Oct. 19, Coun. Wes Brodhead, along with other members of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, wants to know where local candidates stand on a national transit strategy.

Although transit is the responsibility of municipal government, federal and provincial counterparts often invest just as many dollars into transit projects across the country.

Brodhead said a national strategy would set out a clear goal for these projects, such as reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, eliminating congestion to improve Canadians’ quality of life and investing in a growing industry, rather than providing ad hoc funding with no clear intended purpose.

In the spring 2015 budget, the Conservative government earmarked $750 million for large transit infrastructure projects in 2017-18 and an ongoing investment of up to $1 billion annually under the new Public Transit Fund.

To qualify for the Public Transit Fund, the project must have had a minimum of $1 billion in total estimated eligible costs.

Michael Cooper, the Conservative candidate for St. Albert-Edmonton, said this new fund would help free up Build Canada dollars for small- to medium-sized projects, such as those in St. Albert.

Cooper also points to the Conservative government’s “unprecedented commitment” to public transit, with an investment of $5 billion since 2006.

While that might satisfy transit associations’ request for “long-term, dedicated, indexed and recurrent funding,” Brodhead said that it’s not enough to simply inject funds into transit projects and infrastructure; there needs to be a goal.

“If you’re spending a billion dollars do you not think you should have a strategy on how you’re going to spend that money?” said Brodhead.

He said all three levels of government need to be clear on the desired outcomes of a modal shift in transportation – away from cars and roads and toward buses and LRT lines.

He also points out that Canada is one of the last countries in the developed world to adopt a national transit strategy.

Darlene Malayko, St. Albert-Edmonton New Democrat candidate and former transit operator, said that the NDP’s 15- to 20-year strategy would make it easier for municipalities to access federal monies and plan for future needs, by eliminating the annual “lottery-type” model and implementing predictable funding.

The Better Transit Plan commits to tackling gridlock and helping the environment in partnership with provinces by developing a strategy that meets their needs.

“We need more direction in leadership and investment,” said Malayko. “Now it’s random so the municipalities and provinces are all struggling to provide these essential services. It also solves an economical and environmental problem.”

The Liberals, who are still in the process of nominating a candidate for the riding, have recently promised to triple investment in public transit over the next four years and quadruple it over the next 10 – boosting investment by nearly $20 billion.

According to its platform, the Liberals also promise to be flexible to the requirements of municipalities so that “federal funding is no longer a roadblock to action.”

Incumbent Independent MP Brent Rathgeber said he supports the idea of a national transit strategy in theory.

“Representing North Edmonton and St. Albert – St. Albert especially – I represent commuters,” said Rathgeber. “Many, if not most, St. Albertans go in to Edmonton five days a week for work.”

But in practice, given the economic downturn, he said a massive investment in transit infrastructure should take place now to reinvigorate Canada’s labour market Ĺ• la Conservatives during the 2008 recession.

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Michelle Ferguson