Before a group of faculty and students at York University last week, federal MP Olivia Chow outlined her ideas for a national transit strategy.
Chow, the NDP’s official transportation critic, unveiled what she called a five-point plan for transit support and called on the federal government to heed the call of municipalities across the country to dedicate funding for transit over the long term.
Under Chow’s plan, the federal government would guarantee transit funding over 20-year cycles, set clear targets, issue money based on non-partisan measures, partner with municipalities and encourage sustainable and energy efficient policies.
She said urgent action was required by the Harper government, which is set to renew its infrastructure funding plan that expires in 2014, to address worsening congestion the Federation of Canadian Municipalities says costs the national economy an estimated $10 billion annually.
“Gridlock is costing our urban economies dearly,” said Chow to the audience gathered in a lecture hall at York’s Vanier College. “That adds up to real financial, social and personal loss for every person in this city and the country.”
Chow, who represents the downtown riding of Trinity-Spadina federally, said she enjoyed visiting York’s Keele campus, but increased congestion of late has made such trips more difficult.
“I don’t need to convince you of that because you live it every day,” she said of worsening gridlock during her approximately 30-minute speech. “Everyone who is a student or a member of faculty or staff member at York knows this all too well.”
Despite federal contributions to the ongoing Spadina subway extension – which includes a station under construction at the Keele campus – Chow dismissed such allocations as “piecemeal” and pointed to the Harper government’s refusal to pay for a share of new TTC streetcars costing nearly $2 billion as evidence transit funding for Canada’s largest city remains far below what it should be.
After then-federal transport minister John Baird rejected Toronto’s request to include the streetcars as part of a federal economic stimulus plan, the city ended up allocating funding it receives from the federal gas tax – around $110 million – toward the amount.
Chow, who recently authored a letter to Toronto City Council asking for support in her efforts to get the federal government to include dedicated transit funding in the spring budget, said students should contact their political representatives and demand better transit.
“We need all of you to take action,” she told the crowd of around 75. “Go to public meetings, write to your MP, write to the prime minister. Spread the word.”
Chow’s visit to campus was initiated by York University students enrolled in the Canadian studies program, according to co-ordinator Jon Sufrin, who said a group of dedicated students wrote a letter to the MP asking her to give a talk.
“The students brought their enthusiasm and passion to planning the event, and that’s something we want to encourage as much as possible,” said Sufrin before Chow’s speech.
He said the students plan to organize more talks by prominent political leaders in the future.
Following her remarks, Chow fended off repeated queries from the media on whether she would run against incumbent Rob Ford for mayor in the 2014 municipal election, saying she was examining her options.