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Moving toward sustainable transportation

Petition: No. 22

Issue(s): Biological diversity and transport

Petitioner(s): The Society for Conservation Biology, Kingston Chapter

Date Received: 18 April 2000

Status: Completed

Summary: The Society expressed concern about transportation policy in Canada. Members were particularly alarmed by the accelerating rate at which highways and urban sprawl are paving over natural habitats. They strongly believe the government must take a more active role in promoting and supporting environmentally sound modes of transportation before further environmental, health, and economic damage occurs. The Society outlined six recommendations for federal action in the petition.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Transport Canada


March 24, 2000

The Honourable Mr. David Collenette
Transport Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H6

Dear Mr. Collenette,

We are writing to express our concern over current transportation policy in Canada. In particular, we are alarmed by the accelerating rate at which highways and urban sprawl are paving over natural habitats across the country. Although the federal government claims to support "sustainable development", the widespread subsidization of motor vehicle transportation has led to devastating ecological as well as economic and social costs. We believe the federal government has the responsibility to actively promote and support alternative, more environmentally sound modes of transportation. This is a voting issue for many members of our organization.

Motor vehicles are far more damaging to the environment than any other form of transport. For example, scientists estimate that, compared to trains, cars and trucks use three times more land, consume up to eight times more energy, and produce nine times more pollution. Our over-reliance on automobiles has led to the large-scale destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat, damage to ecosystems from acid rain and smog, and rising emissions of greenhouse gases. All this has occurred despite the federal government's commitment to the protection of biodiversity (U. N. Convention on Biological Diversity) and the fight against climate change (Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change). If Canada is to live up to these international agreements, and not lose its international credibility, we must act now to curb the negative impacts of our current transportation practices.

Many countries have already recognized the environmental costs associated with the "car culture" and have invested instead in the development of economically efficient public transportation systems. In contrast, Canada has gradually dismantled infrastructure for rail travel in recent decades, while encouraging the expansion of highways and the dependence on trucking as the primary mode of shipping goods. While we applaud Transport Canada's establishment of the Moving on Sustainable Transportation Program, we strongly believe the government must take a more active role in shifting our transportation focus, before further environmental, health, and economic damage occurs. We therefore urge the federal government to initiate the following actions:

  1. subsidize sustainable instead of unsustainable transportation (e.g., rail vs. truck for intercity transport of goods, public transit vs. private motor vehicle)
  2. levy a gas tax to fund public transportation infrastructure
  3. establish a user-pay system for those using private instead of public transit (e.g., tolls for cars and trucks but not intercity bus)
  4. recognize employer-provided transit passes as non-taxable employee benefits
  5. strengthen rail and bus services between cities
  6. ban multiple trailer trucks from all highways and limit truck driver work hours to a maximum of 10 per 24 hours
  7. fund research into the maintenance of ecological connectivity in highway-dominated landscapes.

We realize that many of these steps will be unpopular in the short term (as is evident from current public opposition to rising oil prices). However, because our current transportation system is heavily subsidized, the negative impacts on the environment, economy, and society are largely hidden from the public. It is time to acknowledge these impacts and work toward a more environmentally sustainable, economically efficient mode of transport. We hope your government will show strong leadership by acting in the best interest of Canadians and the environment to initiate these changes to our transportation policy.

We are members of the SCB [Society for Conservation Biology, Kingston Chapter] and other concerned citizens of Kingston who believe the federal government should actively promote and support alternative, more environmentally sound modes of transportation.

[The original petition was signed by 35 Canadian residents]

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Minister's Response: Transport Canada

October 18, 2000

Dr. Vicki Friesen
The Society for Conservation Biology, Kingston Chapter
Biosciences Complex, Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario
K7L 3N6

Dear Dr. Friesen:

Further to my acknowledgment letter of July 5, 2000, thank you for your letter and petition of March 24, 2000 on behalf of the Kingston Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology regarding current transportation policies in Canada.

In your letter, you urged the federal government to promote sustainable transportation and you made several specific recommendations. Let me assure you that promoting sustainable transportation remains one of Transport Canada's top priorities. It is the department's goal to achieve a transportation system that is safe, efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible.

To this end, I tabled the department's first sustainable development strategy in Parliament in December 1997. That Strategy contained eight challenges and forty-seven specific commitments. We are currently updating this strategy for tabling in Parliament. As part of this process, we held stakeholder consultations across Canada in June. These consultations were extremely valuable for the development of our Strategy. Should you be interested in viewing our consultation documents, as well as the final Strategy once tabled in Parliament, please consult our internet site at:

An important component of our Sustainable Development Strategy is addressing climate change. As I am sure you are aware, transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Canada. This being the case, the department, along with the provinces and territories, sponsored a Transportation Table as part of a national process to develop a climate change strategy in response to the Kyoto Protocol. The Table's objective was to identify specific measures to mitigate GHG in the transportation sector. However, many of their proposals will have other benefits as well, such as improving air quality and reducing congestion.

In November 1999, the Table submitted its Options Paper, Transportation and Climate Change: Options for Action, to federal and provincial Ministers of Transport and the National Climate Change Secretariat. This document assessed the costs, benefits and impacts associated with over 100 measures. In February 2000, workshops were held in eight cities across Canada to gather feedback from close to 400 stakeholders on these measures. The results of these . workshops were presented in a companion report to federal and provincial Ministers of Transport and the National Climate Change Secretariat in May.

Details on the Transportation Table's findings, including its Options Paper and analytical studies, are available on the Internet at: change/ttable/.

On October 6, 2000, Ministers Anderson and Goodale announced the Government of Canada Action Plan 2000 on Climate Change. The Action Plan 2000 is based on coordinated, sustained and informed action by governments, industry, interest groups and individual Canadians and it considers all sectors of the economy, including transportation.

The transportation sector component of the Action Plan is built on five pillars: increasing fuel efficiency of new vehicles; increasing the use of environmentally friendly fuels such as ethanol and fuel cells; reducing emissions from the freight sector; and, supporting innovative approaches in urban transportation.

At their October 16-17 meeting, federal, provincial and territorial Energy and Environment Ministers agreed on a national implementation strategy and a first national business plan. The national business plan includes the actions described in the Government of Canada Action Plan 2000 on Climate Change, as well as actions forwarded by individual provinces.

I would now like to address the specific recommendations in your letter:


Subsidize sustainable instead of unsustainable transportation

In recent years, Transport Canada has been moving away from subsidization of the transportation sector, and from operating transportation facilities to overseeing them. We have been divesting ports and airports to local organizations and shifting the costs to users. We have done so not only to relieve the burden on tax payers, but also to facilitate local ownership, which we believe will be more effective and responsive to local needs.


Levy a gas tax to fund public transportation infrastructure

Taxation issues fall within the purview of the Minister of Finance. Several provinces have recently allocated a share of their provincial fuel taxes to municipalities for transportation purposes. In general, the federal government does not support dedicated taxes - all taxes are directed to a single revenue fund to be allocated by Parliament to the nation's priorities. For example, in the 2000 Budget, the federal government announced a $2 billion municipal infrastructure program to be matched by the provinces and municipalities. The focus is on green infrastructure, and investments in public transit are eligible for support.


Establish a user-pay system for those using private instead of public transit

As I mentioned earlier, Transport Canada has been divesting itself of major parts of its infrastructure, such as ports and airports. Users now pay the costs of these facilities, rather than general taxpayers. For the most part, provincial fuel taxes paid by motorists go towards the costs of building and maintaining roads. More recently, the construction of highway 407 in Ontario is an innovative approach of having users pay the costs of new infrastructure. The Transportation Climate Change Table studied a number of options to introduce pricing mechanisms, such as road and parking pricing. They concluded that while promising, further work is needed before their wide-spread application.


Recognize employer-provided transit passes as non-taxable employee benefits

The Transportation Table studied a tax exemption for employer-provided transit passes as an early action to reduce emissions. They felt that the measure would be a useful tool in marketing transit to large employers. As I mentioned, taxation issues fall within the responsibility of the Minister of Finance who has been reviewing such a measure.


Strengthen rail and bus services between cities

On April 12, 2000, I announced an additional $400 million would be provided in capital funding to VIA Rail to address key pressures in its existing system. These funds are to be targeted to renewing the system fleet; to modernize signaling on VIA-owned track; for strategic improvements in the Quebec-Windsor Corridor; for station refurbishment; and for environmental waste management improvements.

I also announced that I asked VIA Rail to prepare an "outer" commuter strategy for the Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal areas to complement the services offered by GO Transit and l'Agence métropolitaine de transport in Montreal.

In the case of the GTA, this strategy will examine the extension of existing services and increasing capacity in peak hours to carry commuters and will explore arrangements with GO Transit to offer seamless transfers, ticketing and pricing. It will see if there is a business case for the restoration of services terminated ten years ago to Barrie and Peterborough, as well as possible summer and ski-season weekend peak services to relieve congestion on the highway system. The strategy will also examine the possibility of partnerships with municipalities and the provinces to assist the development of new services and enhancements of stations.

This means that VIA Rail services into Toronto and Montreal could be expanded under a new initiative aimed at cutting pollution. Therefore, VIA Rail will look at all the options and will explore possible partnerships with local-regional transportation authorities, including GO Transit. VIA's commuter strategy is in its early stages and will need some further studies and to explore arrangements with agencies/corporations such as GO Transit before being implemented.


Ban multiple trailer trucks from all highways and limit truck driver work hours to a maximum of 10 per 24 hours.

In Canada, the responsibility for commercial vehicle safety is shared between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. The federal government, under the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, has jurisdiction over the safe movement of carriers between provinces/territories. The Ministries of Transportation for each of the provinces and territories, along with the municipalities in their areas, are responsible for highway design, construction and maintenance, and driver, vehicle and traffic regulations and enforcement.

A review is being conducted under the auspices of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) and specifically addresses proposed changes to the National Safety Code (NSC) Standard #9 - Hours of Service. The CCMTA was created by the provinces/territories and the federal government as the official organization in Canada for coordinating matters dealing with the administration, regulation, and control of motor vehicle transportation and highway safety. The CCMTA serves as the forum to harmonize regulations and policies and to develop national models for programs.

It is only after these consultations that Transport Canada and the provinces/territories will consider revising their own regulations. The intent is that all Canadian hours of service regulations will be based on a common standard and will, therefore, be consistent.

The changes proposed by the CCMTA would see maximum on-duty time reduced to 14 hours daily, from the current 16, and minimum off-duty time increased to 10 hours, from the current eight. In addition, the proposals would restrict the maximum on-duty work period to 70 hours, after which a minimum off-duty period of 36 hours would be required before a driver could return to duty.

The use of multiple trailer trucks on highways falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of the provinces.


Fund research into the maintenance of ecological connectivity in highway-dominated landscapes.

As I noted, jurisdiction for highways falls with the provinces. Where funding is provided by the federal government for highway construction, these projects are subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and are therefore required to undergo an environmental assessment to minimize the impacts on natural ecosystems.

Thank you for your interest in these very important issues.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by David M. Collenette, Minister of Transport]

Hon. David M. Collenette, P.C., M.P.