In every community along the Island Corridor, I get stopped repeatedly by constituents who want to talk to me about the need for a revitalized rail line.
I agree with them. So do over 65 per cent of Canadians.
A recent poll by the Railway Association of Canada found that the majority of Canadians believe rail should be the highest transportation priority in Canada. Even more people — 87 per cent — believe that improving infrastructure for freight travelling by rail should also be a priority.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not agree.
It voted against a New Democrat private member’s bill that would have created a national transit strategy for Canada.
That makes Canada the only G-7 country without a national transit strategy and the resulting co-ordination of transportation priorities.
For example, the New Democrat strategy would have included the provision for the federal government to “provide a leadership role to align, on a national basis, public transit visions, planning goals, project justification, construction time frames and budgets.”
Of course, sustained, predictable funding would be part of the tools to bring that strategy to life.
But at the federal level, we also need research monies to identify innovation in sustainable transit and freight technologies and to facilitate the shift to new systems that are more efficient, cost-effective and pollute less.
The cost to Canada’s economy is great — nearly $10 billion in economic damages every year from traffic gridlock.
When you consider that while we are waiting for federal funding to repair the Island Corridor rail line, we are losing tourism revenue and companies are paying higher freight fees to move products by truck, it is easy to see how those economic damages can add up.
And with more freight travelling by rail, road accidents are reduced, which is also good for the economy and good for our communities.
New Democrats will continue to insist that investing in railways is good for the economy and that it will create jobs and enhance our communities’ quality of life while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Island Corridor Foundation is a great example of how a co-ordinated strategy can work to bring partners together — First Nations, regional districts, municipalities and the province are all working together to make it a success. I will continue to do my part as the federal representative for Nanaimo-Cowichan to get the federal government to the table.