From public transit, to a city by design, to soup

A couple of weeks ago, Olivia Chow’s Private Member’s Bill calling for a national public transit strategy – which I was proud to second – was rejected by Conservative Members of Parliament.  The bill was a very popular initiative here in Beaches/ East York.  Although held on a rainy, foggy night and confounded by a subway breakdown, our Public Transit Forum in early January was by far the best and most enthusiastically attended of all the town halls I’ve hosted over the last 17 months.

The Conservatives’ rejection of a national public transit strategy seemed to centre around the criticism that public transit is not properly a matter of federal jurisdiction.  Pretty much nothing is, according to this government – including healthcare.  (I say that as a member of the Standing Health Committee since last April – not a long time but long enough to go from perplexed to frustrated and finally weary of the Conservative claim that healthcare is, simply, a matter of provincial jurisdiction.)  Never mind that the bill focused on consultation and coordination with the other orders of government.

The Conservatives’ strict constitutionalism flows from their desire to reduce the role of the federal government to little more than oversight of military forces and procurement  (if only they could do that much competently!) and serves as a convenient excuse for their failure to show leadership on matters of importance to the vast majority of Canadians. And let us not forget that 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban communities.

But there are, of course, no bright lines distinguishing the jurisdictions of different orders of government in this country.  Our permeable federalism calls for a cooperative federalism and national leadership.  So, of course, the story of public transit doesn’t, and can’t, end there. As I write, Olivia, as our Transportation Critic, is launching a national public transit campaign around the slogan “I ™ public transit.” It should be noted that we have also just initiated a national healthcare campaign as well. A public consultation, with our Health Critic Libby Davies, will be held on October 28 at 7 p.m. at Hope United Church.

Like so many issues impacting urban communities across this country, public transit is not just about moving people around a city efficiently.  It is an environmental issue.  Thirty-five per cent of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.  It is about our economy.  Estimates of the cost to productivity, due to traffic congestion in and around our city, range from $4 to 6 billion.  It is about our health – and not just in the form of cleaner air.  Public transit enables access to a broad range of determinants of good health such as jobs, education, recreation and healthy food.

Perhaps most importantly, public transit is about the transformation of the built form of our cities.  Investment in public transit holds out the promise of more complete neighbourhoods and more compact cities.

As the Melancthon Township mega-quarry illustrates, we’ve arrived at the limits of sustainable development in this city, at least.  When our growth means the destruction of our local food source, therein lies a clear symbol that we have to grow differently.

On the matter of the mega-quarry, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to drop by my office, 155 Main Street, on October 9th between 7 and 9 for the opening of a display of mega-quarry posters by OCADU students; the show will be up for the remainder of the month. Also, on October 21, between 11am to 4pm, bring a bowl, a spoon, an appetite and a few bucks down to Soupstock, organized by the Canadian Chefs’ Congress and the David Suzuki Foundation, in support of the fight against the mega-quarry. Over 120 professional chefs will be making and serving soup from locally grown produce at Woodbine Park; and remember to walk, bike or use the TTC!

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