Markham-Stouffville is a beautiful community, with the Rouge National Urban Park at our doorstep, charming neighbourhoods and farmland all around us. But when it comes to public transit, the options are limited. Many residents commute to work, sometimes driving up to three hours per day. Better transit infrastructure would enhance our quality of life.
One new opportunity has emerged that could expand transit options, support growth in the regional economy and even help combat climate change. Last month, the federal government announced funding to support a plan for high frequency VIA Rail service in Ontario and Quebec. The new funding will support feasibility studies and environmental assessment. As part of the studies VIA Rail is looking to create additional routes along lesser-used tracks including a possible new route between Toronto and Ottawa via Peterborough. A passenger service on this line would go right through Markham-Stouffville on an existing track. A consultation process will launch soon and the people of our community need to be heard. The VIA Rail announcement offers positive potential for Markham-Stouffville. It is possible that such a dedicated transportation line would have up to 15 trains a day on a Toronto - Peterborough - Ottawa line. Early information suggests these trains could be servicing the region as soon as 2024.
VIA Rail will be studying routes and stops for the potential new passenger lines. Currently there is no planned stop to pick up and drop off passengers in our community. I want to hear your perspective. I believe many residents would benefit from such a service and as your Member of Parliament, I would work to ensure that your concerns and preferences are well represented.
The move towards high frequency rail travel is consistent with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the need to transition to a low-carbon economy. While I recognize passenger rail options may not benefit everyone in the community, we need to make public transit an easier choice and encourage its use if we are to reduce traffic congestion and protect the environment. A passenger rail stop in Markham-Stouffville could encourage residents to take reliable public transport for their business and recreational travel. It could open economic opportunities, bring visitors to the Rouge National Urban Park and contribute to the creation of new jobs.
The VIA announcement is one more reason why I do not support the development of a Pickering airport. There is no good evidence of a sound business case demonstrating a need for an airport in the Pickering Lands. The 2017 - 2037 Master Plan for Pearson Airport indicates enough capacity over the next two decades to meet the growing demand for air travel.
Building another large airport is inconsistent with the crucial transition of our nation to a low-carbon economy. Many residents tell me their concerns about the impact an airport would have on our local environment, farmlands and local wildlife, including the Rouge National Urban Park. Investing in more environmentally friendly infrastructure like high-frequency passenger rail makes more sense than spending billions of public dollars on an airport.
Transport Canada has conducted an Aviation Sector Analysis for the Pickering Lands. The final phase was completed in spring 2019 but no report has been released publicly. As we await this report, I am prepared to confirm that I do not support moving ahead with an airport because of the need to protect our environment and some of the finest agricultural land in the country. I also note that any decision regarding the future of the Pickering Lands must be done in consultation with the community, including farmers and Indigenous peoples in the region.
Alternative transportation solutions, including high-frequency passenger rail service, could help improve the quality of life in our community and address some of the causes of climate change. We must invest in sustainable infrastructure to protect our environment and grow our local economy. Together, we can make Markham-Stouffville a leader in healthy living and significantly contribute towards Canada’s important transition to a prosperous clean economy.