Jennifer Saltman Jul 08, 2020
Municipal politicians say federal and provincial stimulus money should be spent on transportation projects that reduce pollution, not highway and airport expansions.
More than 250 local government leaders, who are members of a national network called the Climate Caucus, have penned an open letter calling for economic-recovery cash — and other infrastructure funding — to be used to improve transit service and create opportunities for walking and cycling.
The letter is endorsed by a long list of organizations, including Abundant Transit B.C., the Council of Canadians, David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club B.C., Wilderness Committee, and Transport Action Canada.
“We have this great opportunity right now to build back better and more resilient,” said Nelson Coun. Rik Logtenberg, who founded the Climate Caucus. “We’re arguing that more of our focus needs to be around shoring up transit and building out our inter-city transportation networks.”
Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna has said she is looking to spend billions of federal dollars on “shovel-ready” projects that could create new jobs and stimulate the economy in the wake of the pandemic.
B.C.’s finance minister has said infrastructure will be part of the province’s recovery plan, but the focus will be on directly supporting workers.
The Climate Caucus wants to make sure the money supports federal, provincial and local climate goals, and is asking for the federal and provincial governments to keep their commitment in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to shift investment to “lower-emitting types of transportation.”
The caucus is promoting transportation initiatives because, after the oil and gas sector, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. In B.C., the sector accounts for about 37 per cent of emissions. Members believe ending highway and airport expansion projects in and near urban areas is a step in the right direction.
“It’s an opportunity and a threat, because if it goes to the wrong things it will put us going another five years heading in the wrong direction. But if there’s a real change of direction, it’s a huge opportunity to get going down the better path, the path that leads toward some hope for the younger generation,” transportation planner Eric Doherty, who is with the Better Transit Alliance of Greater Victoria and on the Climate Caucus transportation working group, said of post-pandemic stimulus funding.
Caucus members believe government money could support a wide variety of initiatives.
Doherty said good investments would include infrastructure, such as lanes and special signals that makes bus travel more efficient, or expanding transit fleets. He said Victoria has long needed a new bus depot with equipment to charge and maintain electric buses.
Logtenberg suggested subsidies for electric bicycle purchases or inter-city bus routes.
“In the case of Interior B.C., we lost the Greyhound service and that’s put a real burden on a lot of people who don’t have a vehicle or can’t afford one. You’re isolating people from getting to the neighbouring community,” he said.
Richmond councillor and caucus member Kelly Greene said she would like to see rapid transit build-outs funded by stimulus money.
“That’s something that would be very helpful for us, both in the short and long term,” Greene said. “Whether you’re looking at it from an economic, or a social, or an environmental viewpoint, building rapid transit capacity is the smartest thing you can possibly do — and in the short term, you’re creating jobs for people that are out of work.”