Canadian Astronaut speaks Rotary Club – Marc Garneau, the Member of Parliament for Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Westmount spoke at a Rotary Club function in Montreal West on Friday, Dec. 1st. Garneau also so happens to be a former astronaut (the first Canadian in space) and the current federal Transport Minister. In a wide-ranging discourse without notes, Garneau spoke about fast passenger train service from Windsor to Quebec City, train safety, a passenger’s bill of rights, social housing, public transit, climate change, and self-driving cars.
Garneau said that the Trudeau government is investing a lot in infrastructure, joking that “we are responsible for many of the orange cones you see.” Infrastructure planning typically involves planning 10 years or so in advance; Garneau said that he hoped the Liberals will still form the government then.
The federal government favours a faster and high frequency VIA Rail passenger train service between Windsor and Quebec City. “maybe there will be a train every hour. And with with dedicated tracks, we would have more frequent on-time arrivals,” he said. Presently most of the train tracks belong to CN or CP, which both give priority to freight trains. Consequently, VIA Rail trains often have to pull off onto a siding.
Also regarding freight trains, Canada has to “up its game” on rail safety since the Lac Megantic disaster Garneau said, referring to how much dangerous cargo is currently shipped by rail.
Ottawa is making some $5 billion available for public transit in Quebec over next 5 years, presumably including the proposed REM train. Questioned earlier by The Times about controversies with the REM, Garneau responded that this is “up to Quebec and the municipalities to decide which projects move forward.” He thus avoided answering about a federal climate test for the REM.
Garneau grouped the public transit in with “green infrastructure” spending that will help mitigate climate change. There is also money coming for social housing, “and Quebec–with 25,000 families waiting–will get its fair share.”
His ministry is working on a “passenger’s bill of rights” that could become law in 2018. This is in response to a few highly publicized events where passengers were poorly treated. “But airlines do good job most of the time,” he continued.
On the topic of driverless cars, Garneau spoke of car manufacturers being in a “frenzy to develop” this technology, allowing passengers to simply punch in their destination, then sit back to enjoy the ride. He suggested that Uber might be using such driverless car technology in 3 years from now and it could become commonplace in 15 years.
The Free Trade (NAFTA) negotiations also came up, with Garneau suggesting might “hear a lot of things publicly” about President Trump getting tough, “but we have very good negotiators.” He also stressed that Canada is a very important economic partner for the USA with 30,000 trucks crossing the border daily. “And we will not accept a deal that is not good for Canada.”
Garneau also spoke of his own involvement with the Rotary Club; the Minister, now 68, had his initiation to public speaking at a Rotary contest at age 15. “I was supposed to only speak for only 5 minutes, but spoke for eight and was penalized for going overtime. So I am going to stop talking now,” he said to chuckles from his audience. Montreal West Mayor Beny Masella then thanked Garneau for the talk.
Feature image: Marc Garneau (centre) together with Rotarians and Montreal West politicians. Mayor Masella is second from left and Councillor Dino Mazzone is on far right ©John Symon
By: John Symon – firstname.lastname@example.org