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Supporting public transit in Manitoba

Thursday June 7th, in the Manitoba Legislature, we debated a resolution dealing with public transit and its funding.   The Conservatives and NDP spent much of the time trying to argue that the other party was worse than they were when it came to public transit.   My comments (from Hansard) are below:

Mr. Gerrard: Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to this important resolution.
      We've seen, in the last few days and now, today, NDP and Tories arguing in one way or another. Today, it's about who's done worse when it comes to public transit in Winnipeg and in Manitoba. But what is lacking is the broader perspective of why public transit is so critical and what the vision and the planning is for public transit for Winnipeg and for Manitoba.
      Public transit and its support are really vital and central to our future as Winnipeggers and as Manitobans. Rapid transit is especially important. And public transit is important particularly to students, to low-income families, to seniors, to people with disabilities, to those who are unable to drive. For example, I was talking recently with people who are concerned about those with epilepsy and seizures and who are unable to drive a car.  People who can't drive a car need to have access to really good public transit.
      Tourism–to have a top-notch tourist location in Winnipeg. We have many wonderful attractions, but you compare us to other major cities, we don't have the kind of rapid transit that's available to people coming to most major cities in the world - that gets tourists to where they need to go to, or want to go to, very quickly.
      Certainly, they're opportunities that we need to embrace and to work toward. Getting access to health care, to jobs, to services [is important]   The current government is closing emergency rooms, but they forgot that the cities that they compared Winnipeg to,  like Vancouver, who have fewer emergency rooms, have a rapid transit system that people can get access to places like emergency rooms very quickly, whereas here, there is not that same rapid transit where you can get to where you need to go for health care very quickly if you're sick.
      And so we have a different circumstance [in Winnipeg]. The government should have been putting in place the rapid transit system before doing this sort of fast closure of emergency rooms. It [closing the ERs] certainly created a lot of chaos and a lot of problems, and this aspect wasn't adequately considered.
      We need a city where it's much easier to live without a car and, you know, more possible, and more people do it. I remember going to school–medical school at McGill University. I was there for four years in Montreal, and it was very easy to get around because they had a rapid transit system built and developed. Quite frankly, a person didn't need a car. And it's hard to say the same thing in the same way about Winnipeg because there's not the adequate, city-wide rapid transit system that other large cities have.
      We need to recognize that rapid transit, fully developed and fully city-wide, is, in fact, the backbone for people travelling in large cities in today's world.
      And it is not only the backbone for how people travel; it's also the backbone for how the city develops, how planning happens for a city. You would put in place, normally, the backbone and then have a development plan. Successive NDP and Conservative governments have failed to make sure that that city-wide rapid transit system was in place, and so we don't have the backbone and it makes it more difficult to have a Winnipeg plan–a plan Winnipeg, which is based on a strong backbone to start with.
      The backbone provides, as I've already talked, much easier access and much easier visiting for people who are from outside of Winnipeg, and that would apply to people who come from rural areas. Somebody who comes from rural areas will now, if they have a car, automatically take a car and drive it all over Winnipeg. If there was rapid transit what happens in other jurisdictions is that people park on the outskirts of the city, get into rapid transit and they don't need to be tied up in traffic jams and things like that. They have easy access all over the city.
      This is what's happening elsewhere, but it's not happening here because we don't have that fully completed and functional rapid transit system for Winnipeg. It is important for people who are flying in from the North. As an option, it makes it a lot easier to get all over the city very quickly to where you need to go. It would be a big difference. It makes a big difference for people coming in from outside of Winnipeg. It makes a big difference because all of a sudden it's very easy for people to get to the Museum for Human Rights or other attractions–the Convention Centre, wherever people want to go and particularly for meetings, and experience the wonderful things that we have in Winnipeg and in Manitoba.
      Winnipeg can be even more of a hub with this sort of development than it is now, and I should add that having adequate public transit in communities around Manitoba is also important. Being connected and having the public transit so that you can get where you need to go in communities like Brandon and many other communities in Manitoba would be and is very, very important.
      In the development of the plan, we need to consider many things and make sure that we are consulting and talking with people who will be involved from all perspectives in the changes that will occur. But I don't see that happening with this government or the previous government. We need to take hold of this concept and make sure that the vision and the plan for rapid transit are there for people in Winnipeg and for the people in Manitoba so that whether you're a senior, whether you're a student, whether you're a tourist, whether you're a developer, you have an understanding of what's going to be happening in Winnipeg and Manitoba in the future.
      We've debated rapid transit for 30 or 40 years in Winnipeg and we still haven't got it. We need action; we need a plan. We think that the current government in their activities in cutting transit is taking us backward instead of taking us forward. We think we need to go forward, Mr. Speaker, and make sure that we are thinking about what the future will be, what we can do in our wonderful city and our wonderful province. We need to be acting and planning and talking with people about what the vision for the future is and what the plan for the future is.
      And so debating about who is the worst in rapid transit is–shouldn't be on the agenda. What should be on the agenda today is talking about what we really need in terms of a better world for Winnipeg and for Manitoba in terms of better public support and provincial support for rapid transit, a vision that will help all of us and create a better, more equitable and healthier society.
      Thank you.


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