Gary McNeil suggested that all the agencies promote the sustainable transportation approach to the public. “In transit, most of us are really ready to take some pretty progressive leaps. In the Canadian Urban Transit Association, you have access to something in the order of about 5 to 10 million voters. We can help get the message out, link to the Foundation Web site, provide pamphlets to our riders. And even if only a small percentage of those people vote but vote the right way, that can start the change.”
Vicky Sharpe welcomed transit agencies to take advantage of her organization’s programs. Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is a not-for-profit foundation with a $550 million investment fund, which finances and supports the development and demonstration of clean technologies that deliver economic, environmental and health benefits to Canadians. “We produce technologies that need to host demonstration sites to prove out their performance in real-world situations.”
She also encouraged the group to develop an economics-driven advocacy platform. “The way that you make a change is to do a complete analysis of the impact of what you are suggesting on the current system — a solid economic impact analysis that goes with the Sustainability in a Generation indicators the Suzuki Foundation has developed. On the other side, you must combine this approach with societal or public influence because without winning the electorate, nothing happens. With those two sides working you can enable politicians and bureaucrats to move. Together, the technical economic answer and the public’s societal values shift will be very powerful; you can enable politicians and bureaucrats to move.” Dr. Suzuki suggested that the group appoint a cross-agency committee to work with the Foundation economist and Climate Change Group on such an analysis. “I think this challenge is perfect for us. It would be great project.”
Doug Kelsey was quick to respond. “Sign me up right now, I’d be glad to help. I think there’s no single answer, but that there’s a whole palette of things that have to be developed. I think there are things that we, as the agencies, have to sign up for, too. Maybe we open up to things we’ve never considered in how we run or don’t run our business.” Montreal’s Joel Gauthier agreed, “So many studies have been done, on the cost of congestion, the effect of the quality of air on public health, the environmental cost. So why don’t we talk to each other and put all those pieces together?”
Expanding the Suzuki Nation
Dr. Suzuki volunteered to lend his personal branding to any transit industry efforts to increase transit use. That’s no small offer.
A recent government research report named as ‘the Suzuki Nation,’ the 20 percent of the Canadian population discovered to find the negative state of the environment in conflict with their values, to express high environmental concern and to be extremely motivated to take action. According to the Toronto Star, the report found another 43 percent of the population will “act if given the right reason,” such as a greater understanding about environmental risks and pollution levels, economic incentives or enhanced social prestige — all key points for advocacy efforts.
Dr. Suzuki told the Roundtable participants, “Transit is one of the things I’d like to work on. And if there is this Suzuki Nation, I want to find a way to use that to really get some big movement now.”
“I believe that Dr. Suzuki is attempting to incite an intellectual revolution whereby Ontario, as the economic center of Canada, can take a leadership position in driving a new environmental agenda, much as California is attempting to do in the United States,” said Ingenium CEO, Victor Smith. “Our company is committed to collaborate with the transit industry in the advocacy efforts sparked by this discussion.” In addition to a communications strategy and the ‘eco-nomics’ project, one of the first tactics that the Roundtable group has undertaken is the development of a segment on transit and the environment for television program Dr. Suzuki hosts. The Nature of Things is Canada’s public broadcaster’s longest-running television program, seen weekly by an average of 400,000 viewers of all ages in more than 80 countries. It will be a highly effective vehicle for getting the transit story out front and exploring solutions that will bring Canada one step closer to that goal of sustainability within one generation.