NDP MP Olivia Chow says Canada needs to join other G8 and leading industrial nations and adopt a national transit strategy.

Chow, the NDP's transport and infrastructure critic, introduced a private member's bill Friday calling for the federal government to show leadership in co-ordinating a national transit strategy and to work with the provinces and territories to come up with a permanent, stable source of funding for transit.

Chow said the lack of a public transit strategy hurts the economy, the environment and the country.

"We are falling behind in public transit and it doesn't have to be that way," Chow said at an earlier press conference in Ottawa to discuss the bill Friday.

"Federal leadership and investment in transit is vital to a healthier economy and a healthier environment. It’s vital to our cities large and small and everyone who lives in them," Chow said.

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Olivia Chow, the NDP's transport and infrastructure critic, says the lack of a national public transit strategy is hurting Canada's economy and environment, and putting pressure on big cities. (Canadian Press)

Chow said her bill is supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Urban Transit Assocation, Canadian Construction Association and the Chamber of Commerce.

"Canada's big city mayors have been pushing for a national transit strategy since 2007. Business groups have been pushing for a national transit strategy," she said.

In the House of Commons Friday, Transport Minister Denis Lebel said Ottawa has invested $5 billion into public transit since 2006.

"The Conservative government recognizes the value of modern and efficient urban transit. We have been a strong partner with our provinces and municipalities, to help them build some of the best transit systems in the world. But it's not the role of the federal government to tell cities how to run their transit systems," Lebel told MPs in response to a question from Chow.

Ottawa city Coun. Marianne Wilkinson, who sits on the FCM's transit and infrastructure committee, joined Chow at her press conference and said cities need help to improve overcrowded, stressed transit systems.

"We are stretched to the limit," she said.

Chow said she will present the bill for first reading Friday and hopes to have second reading two weeks after the Thanksgiving break. She called on all parties to support it, noting that the bill does not compel the government to spend money specifically, so does not require official government endorsement to become law.

The bill contains an exemption for Quebec, Chow said, but added that many Quebec mayors support the intent of the bill.

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