Ontario voters go to the polls next week and their choice for the next provincial government will have a big impact on how Torontonians get around. This week Urban Toronto intended to feature interviews from all three major parties on transportation issues in the GTA.
Yesterday the focus was on Liberal Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne. Unfortunately, after expressing interest initially, staff for PC Transportation Critic Frank Klees did not respond to our requests to schedule an interview.
Today we’re featuring the NDP’s Transportation Critic Cheri DiNovo.
The NDP’s transit platform promises to restore the 50/50 share of transit subsidies with Ontario municipalities that the Mike Harris PC government eliminated in 1998. In exchange for restoring the subsidy municipalities would have to agree to implement a fare freeze for four years. The NDP also promises to invest in new transit projects while pushing a “buy Ontario” policy when purchasing transit vehicles.
How would you describe the Liberal government’s record on transit?
I’d say it’s very sad. As a result of eight years of inaction we have the worst gridlock in North America in Toronto. That says volumes in itself. It’s not left wing ideologues saying it, the Toronto Board of Trade has identified it as a major problem. We have a “20 years behind the times” transit system.
In my own riding, the biggest issue in this campaign is about transit. The government plans to run 450 diesel trains running through [Parkdale-High Park] each day rather than using electric trains like everyone else in the world.
I’m also hearing from environmentalists about the lack of cycling infrastructure. We’re way behind Europe on that. We need segregated lanes because the main reason people don’t cycle is because of fear. And they have every reason to fear.
What would you do differently?
Our first and largest promise is 50/50 funding for transit, in exchange for asking municipalities to freeze transit fares. More people are using transit and it needs to be affordable. The province provided 50/50 funding until 1998. Since then funding has been ad-hoc and that’s the basic problem.
Your platform describes transit as “expensive and time-consuming” and promises to “expand transit options.” What exactly does that entail?
We’re big fans of Transit City. It’s important to remember that even before Mayor Ford was elected Dalton McGuinty pulled $4 billion out of the original plan. There were even ads placed by David Miller saying the province destroyed Transit City.
Ford has just solidified that by cancelling the lines on Finch West and Sheppard. Essentially Dalton McGuinty is putting money into subways carrying fewer people than the Transit City model would have.
We did a series of roundtables with transit experts and environmentalists and with one voice they said “build Transit City.” We were fans of doing that. The first body blow was the $4 billion that was taken out. [Transportation Minister] Wynne said it wasn’t moved, that the money was just taken out for now and would have come back in future. Whatever language you use the money’s not there.
It seems like with transportation planning in the GTA, "tolls" are a dirty word that we dare not speak. Do you see a role for tolls to bring in revenue for transit expansion?
I think there’s a conversation to be had down the road. When I lived in Richmond Hill I would’ve taken GO if it was available off-hours. Before penalizing people for driving we have to offer them options and give them a transit system that will get them where they want to go. So we’re not close to be being able to talk about tolls. People don’t drive because they want to, but because they have to. We have to recognize that reality and change it.
What is your policy on road-building and new expressway construction?
Mainly we focus on alternatives to that, and the 50/50 operating subsidy promise for the TTC is a major part of that. We’ve also promised $60 million for bike infrastructure. Road maintenance and repair needs to be done, but roads are not our priority. Our priority is expanding green transportation options.
How would an NDP government approach active transportation?
We don’t want to be top-down, we need to develop a bike plan. We need a bike strategy. Then the money has to be spent according to that strategy. Other jurisdictions have done this and there’s no reason we can’t.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
When we procure anything we should be looking to buy Ontario first. Why weren’t Ontario Northland or Bombardier or another Ontario company involved in the bid to purchase tier 4 diesel trains for GO Transit? The truth is that Bombardier didn’t bid because the technology is so retrograde. If we’re going to buy trains, we should buy electric ones now. We need to electrify the Weston corridor.
And we should always be in-sourcing in Ontario if at all possible because that’s how we produce.