Conference Delegates Launch Sustainable Transportation Plan

September 29, 2011, 2:00 PM EST

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Transportation workers, local union leadership and staff gathered from right across the country for the first ever CAW Transportation Conference, to plan for and discuss a sustainable national transportation strategy.

The weekend conference brought together workers involved in the manufacturing and production of transportation vehicles and those working in transporting people and goods by rail, air, road and water. The conference took place at the CAW Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario September 23-25.

CAW President Ken Lewenza opened the conference with an address encouraging workers to build alliances across sectors, across unions and across geographic boundaries.

"Can you imagine if all the transportation workers in the country decide one day that they're not going to work, in protest?" asked Lewenza. "Things just wouldn't move.  We need to build bonds of solidarity right across the transportation sectors to take on this federal government."

Lewenza said that for the past 20 years, the federal government has downloaded costs associated with transportation onto the provincial governments. In turn, the provinces downloaded those costs onto the municipalities and now the municipalities are responding with cuts to services and maintenance.

In his address, CAW National Secretary-Treasurer Peter Kennedy deplored Canada's lack of vision on transportation issues and infrastructure. "Among the OECD countries, Canada is the only one that doesn't have a strategy for public transit," said Kennedy. He said that Canada still does not have a high-speed rail service, despite the idea being discussed since the 1960s. "Had we dealt with this issue back when people realized it was something we needed, we'd be enjoying these benefits today, at a substantially reduced cost."

The conference included an appearance, via Skype, by opposition transportation critic NDP MP Olivia Chow and a number of panel discussions on challenges in the various sectors and changes experienced over the last twenty years.

Chow commended the union on prioritizing the creation of a sustainable and made-in-Canada transportation system. As transportation critic she lamented Canada's lack of foresight on public transit.

"We have fallen so far behind on public transit," said Chow. She said that developing countries are far outpacing Canada on this front. The federal government of India has plans to pick up the tab for 100 per cent of the cost of urban transportation, while China will be spending $100 billion on urban transportation corridors. Chow spoke about the need to re-regulate the airline industry and the private sector rail companies.

Chow said she would be tabling a number of private members bills related to transportation, including the upcoming national transit strategy.

A cornerstone of the conference was the We Make it Move document, which outlines four key principles underlying the creation of a made-in-Canada efficient and green transportation plan.

  • Environmental sustainability, where Canadian society moves away from its dependence on oil and toward renewable energy sources, as well as more efficient and sustainable modes of transportation.
  • Recognizing transportation is essential to our social and economic well-being. The transportation needs of citizens and communities must be prioritized over the profit-motive -through public transit agencies, crown corporations and the strong regulation of private sector firms.
  • Supporting local manufacturing, building to the highest environmental standards. When public investments are made in urban transit, passenger rail, ships and aircraft, there must be buy-Canadian and domestic content rules.
  • The promotion of good jobs that deliver a fair standard of living, provide safe working conditions, and the ability to organize into unions.

The document is also full of facts about the various transportation sectors as well as  transportation use and employment in Canada. It was presented by CAW Research Director Bill Murnighan.

Both the document and the action plan will be discussed and voted on by the National Executive Board, and CAW and Quebec Councils.

To read the draft document, please visit:

For photos from the conference, please visit:

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