By Alexa Briggs
With the upcoming Federal election, I’ve started thinking about issues that are important to me and researching what the parties have on offer. Municipal issues are always important and, in particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about transit and active transportation. Since becoming a mom about 7 months ago, I’ve relied far more on my vehicle. This isn’t necessarily my first choice, just the easiest choice. Any new parent can likely tell you that roads and sidewalks aren’t necessarily pedestrian-friendly and challenges increase when you’ve got an infant. We’ve only got so many options for transporting our daughter around with us, and all options limit mobility, making me long for more accessible sidewalks, more pedestrian and bike friendly routes, more easily accessible transit, and places where I could maybe just put her down safely for a few minutes while out and about.
I know that I want a city better designed for the kind of lifestyle I want, but who’s responsible for helping me get it? What can we really expect from the Federal government in active transportation? The feds are, of course, often major funding partners, but should we expect or even want more from them? If we thought about active transportation as a health issue, then certainly the feds have a role to play, but does their involvement extend beyond that of a funder into a true partner that has a say in how cities are designed? I couldn’t help but be reminded of Participaction, a federal initiative encouraging us all to be active – who could forget Hal and Joanne’s Body Break? In any case, that kind of initiative focuses on a campaign to get people active but should we expect more than that? Should we be looking to the Federal government for vision on the kinds of cities we want in Canada and real investments to help us get there?
Cities Matter is an interesting resource for thinking about these questions. Brought to you by Calgary City Council, the site offers a survey that asks the Federal parties about their commitments to cities including funding for public transit and public infrastructure. You can assess the parties’ answers to issues of particular interest to urban dwellers and compare with your values and beliefs about how the Federal government should support cities. The site is very user-friendly; I found it easy to navigate with clear survey categories so you can narrow in on different party positions and issues of particular interest without needing to read every question and answer. It is heartening to see Calgary take such a proactive opportunity to get urban issues on the radar for the Federal government. They are not only promoting party commitments publicly but are also raising our expectations for federal attention to cities. After all, we get exactly the government that we demand, and if issues like active transportation and transit are important to us, then it’s our job to push these issues to the forefront. There’s no better time than an election to get the attention of politicians!
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is a ‘go to’ source on municipal issues with helpful resources for parsing out party policy and commitments on active transportation and transit (as well as other municipal issues). Of particular interest is the ‘hometown proud’ campaign, which encourages the Federal government to be an active partner in strengthening Canada’s cities. They’ve developed a ‘roadmap for strong cities and communities’, which you can read about and endorse here if it resonates: http://hometownproud.fcm.ca/roadmap. You can check out the ‘policy tracker‘ to see where the parties stand on a range of issues , use the ‘party checker‘ to see how many candidates from each party have committed to the roadmap and check to see if specific candidates have committed to the roadmap.
In researching the party platforms for commitments to active transportation and transit, you certainly can sift through their entire party policy documents, or, using FCM’s handy ‘policy tracker’ you can find a summary: http://www.citiescan.ca/policy_tracker. The spoiler alert is that commitments from all parties are pretty thin on active transportation but all parties make some transit infrastructure promises.
In casting my vote, like everyone else, I’ve always got issues of particular interest to me in mind. This election, I’ve been thinking not just about what kind of commitments each party is making for active transportation and transit but also what kind of partners they’ll be for my city in realizing the kind of infrastructure I’d like. This year as I vote, I’ll have my daughter with me to remind me that I’m voting for me now and for her future. We spend a lot of time getting from one place to another, and it would be so nice to have those times in transit spent with anticipation not dread, with pleasure not frustration, and with activity not passivity. My kind of city has this kind of infrastructure, and that’s one of the things I’ll be voting for this year.
Remember to vote on October 19th, and see you at the polls!