The Green Party caucuses in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick called for the premiers of the Atlantic provinces to focus on renewable energy and accessible public transportation. David Coon, the MLA for Fredericton-South and leader of the N.B. Green Party, said both issues are “imperative given the climate emergency.”
Coon and the Green Party brought legislation to the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly to increase the renewable energy infrastructure in the province, but it didn’t pass.
“Blaine Higgs seems hostile to developing more renewable energy and N.B. power also seems hostile to generating a lot more renewable energy, because essentially their choice is to generate more power from nuclear power,” said Coon.
Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the Green Party on P.E.I., said they now have two bills on the table – the Electricity Act and the Renewable Energy Act. Both would mandate that, by 2030, all their energy is renewable and clean.
“We’re still reliant on N.B. Power for a lot of our electricity needs,” said Bevan-Baker. “We’ve been pushing for a distributed grid which means … that we moved to a more distributed or decentralized energy production system with smaller wind turbines, solar panels in farms and in domestic situations.”
Bevan-Baker also said although the technology for a transition to renewable energy is available, political barriers prevent them.
“There’s a lot of resistance in certain areas of the country where traditionally they have relied economically on fossil fuel production for a large part of their provincial economy,” said Bevan-Baker.
Coon recognizes that public transportation in the Atlantic provinces is inefficient, with the train from Campbellton to Halifax only working once a week and the bus system missing locations. For that reason, the Green Party proposed the creation of a regional Crown Corporation, which would be called the Maritime Transportation Corporation.
“[The Maritime Transportation Corporation’s] goal would be to help develop and oversee the operation of [a] comprehensive public transportation network across the Maritimes,” said Coon. “Part of that would be to develop a regional rail system, which doesn’t exist. It would connect the major centres, as well as connect the current passenger rail system that runs through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.”
Bevan-Baker said P.E.I has a rudimentary public transit system. The public transit system is restricted to larger centres of the island, such as Charlottetown and the capital regions of Cornwall and Stratford. These areas have a reasonably established public transit system, he said.
“But beyond there, there’s either a complete absence or a very limited public transit system,” said Bevan-Baker.
He said there are buses to Summerside but only a few and it’s not a convenient service. It doesn’t serve large parts of the island where a large portion of the islanders live.
Bevan-Baker said islanders who live outside the capital region need to rely on having their own vehicles. Public transportation interprovincially is far from being convenient and accessible for everyone.
“There’s the obvious problem of not having a public transit system here in Prince Edward Island that connects to a more centralized public transit system,” said Bevan-Baker. “Then we have the problem when you get to the other side of the bridge, or you get off the ferry that there is no integration to either a regional rail transit system or a regional bus system.”
He said it’s a local problem, but also a regional problem.
Public transportation is needed not only for reducing the carbon footprint but also to make healthcare more accessible. Mammograms, vascular surgery, heart surgery and neurology are not available on P.E.I., forcing islanders to travel to the mainland.
“If you’re going from Charlottetown to Moncton … which is common, you’ve got to have some way of getting there. And right now, there’s very limited means for accessing public transportation,” said Coon.
P.E.I. has an out-of-province travel support program that pays full coverage for bridge passes and bus tickets for households with incomes under $35,000 and half coverage for those between $35,000 and $50,000. Still, Bevan-Baker said the limits are too reductive.
“Then [there’s] no help at all if your household income was about 50 something [thousand]. That means a very large number of islanders are on their own when it comes to funding, travel to and from the mainland for services,” said Bevan-Baker.
The program also only covers the patient, even if many require a companion due to their health conditions.
“A much more robust and integrated public transit system would allow islanders a much more equitable and full access to healthcare services in the region,” Bevan-Baker added.
The Green Party expects more commitment from Atlantic premiers after discussing at their bi-annual meeting last Monday.
“I believe that climate change was very much front and centre [at that meeting],” said Bevan-Baker. “Energy production and public transit are intimately linked to that.”