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 has featured interviews from all three major parties on transportation issues in the GTA. Earlier we featured Liberal Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne and NDP Transportation Critic Cheri DiNovo.
Today we turn to PC Transportation Critic Frank Klees for our final edition.
In their platform the PCs promise to invest $35 billion in infrastructure, with much of that going to transit. Projects will be selected if they will get goods and people moving more quickly and if they’re a good deal for taxpayers. The PCs also promise to stop the “war on the car” by bringing back balance to transportation infrastructure investment that they feel has been tilted too far toward transit.
How would you describe the Liberal government’s record on transit?
I think we have to look at the facts: traffic in the GTA has become the worst in North America and we’re spending far too much time in traffic and not with our families. The traffic congestion is only getting worse.
There’s a great deal of evidence that this file is one that has not been well-managed at all. The single biggest issue when we look at the McGuinty government’s track record is the cancelation of $4 billion out of government’s commitment to public transit at a time when they should have tripled the investment. There was a need for infrastructure investment in the province and the funds to invest in that infrastructure were available.
We have pension funds that invest in infrastructure projects in other jurisdictions. We have to ask why Ontario hasn’t made it attractive for our own pension funds to invest here and ensure that our transit and transportation plans move ahead rather than continuing to be stalled.
What would you do differently?
We are committing to invest more than $35 billion in infrastructure. Much of that will go transit and transportation projects. Our timing on that is the first three years of our mandate. That has all been costed in our plan. It’s a priority not just for quality of life reasons but economic reasons.
Your platform promises to ensure all road and transit projects are a “good deal.” What projects on the books in Ontario are or aren’t a good deal for Ontarians?
Whenever there’s a lack of transparency a project can’t be a good deal for Ontarians. In our opinion the way that contracts are being handled by this government is highly questionable. There is not an opportunity for transparent and open bidding on projects, be that for rail cars or the 400 series service centres, where there were very questionable bidding practices. I believe that the taxpayer in all of those circumstances is quite frankly being cheated.
We will ensure that there is a fair, open and transparent bidding process for all infrastructure projects and that Ontario companies will have a fair and equal opportunity to bid for those contracts.
Currently the practice of infrastructure Ontario to pool projects is closing out Ontario-based contractors from even bidding on those contracts and we’re now at the point where international companies headquartered in Spain and other jurisdictions are taking over these contracts and essentially holding Ontario contractors up for ransom when they approach them to become part of their consortium. That’s unacceptable. It’s one more example of the McGuinty government handing business over to foreign companies without even offering Ontario-based companies an opportunity to participate.
What public transit projects would you scrap?
We would meet with the local governments. We want to ensure that whatever projects are in the priority list are there because the local municipal government believes that they are a priority and that they are based on good planning principles, not just good political justifications.
Just this morning we see an example of how this government goes about setting its transit priorities. In the city of Hamilton, City Council has one set of priorities (for LRT construction) and Dalton McGuinty has made it very clear that he has set his all-day GO train service priority based on discussions with the mayor behind closed doors. This is a good example of how so many of the McGuinty government’s transportation, transit and other infrastructure projects are not based on an asset management plan or planning principles. They’re based on political bias and I think that’s why people are so frustrated.
Infrastructure projects should be beneath the reach of the political winds of change. They should be based on sound planning principles. Political involvement should be such that they are given appropriate priority within an infrastructure plan and appropriate funding should be made available. Implementation of plans should be left to professionals. The start and stop that we continue to see whenever there’s a change of political administration adds to the cost of infrastructure projects and it makes a significant contribution to decision gridlock in the province regarding important projects.
How has the province been waging a “war on the car” as your platform indicates?
By not following through on projects that were planned under the previous government. When we left government in 2003 there were a number of major road projects that were priorities. It took just a few weeks for those to fall off [after the Liberals were elected].
The extension of 407 east should be completed today. It was shelved. It was clearly not a priority [for the government]. The extension of the 404 north, the extension of the 427 north and the east-west Bradford bypass all fell off that priority list. The Mid-Peninsula corridor was shelved notwithstanding local support for that. Notwithstanding studies that indicated how important that corridor was to the GTA.
It’s clear these were major projects that would accommodate the movement of cars, trucks and buses were not a priority for the McGuinty government. Some have termed that the war on the car because there’s been an over-emphasis on transit. We think the government of Ontario should have a balanced approach to transport that includes the appropriate approach to transit. Some people make the choice to be in the car and some people have no choice but to be in their car and we have to make sure that we accommodate and plan for that.
You promise to increase the revenue distributed under the gas tax. Will Toronto receive more or will its share remain the same?
What we’re specifically committing to is extending the gas tax to all municipalities in the province. That doesn’t mean Toronto will get any less. It does mean revenue flowing to all municipalities notwithstanding that they don’t have a formal transit system. We recognize that many municipalities that may not have a transit system have roads and bridges and they need support to ensure that infrastructure is maintained and expanded as needed.
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?
We feel that Ontario families and businesses are already overtaxed and over-feed. So we have no plans to implement tolls on existing roadways. That would just add more cost to people and that additional burden would not be appropriate.
What is the PC policy on active transportation?
We’re very supportive and I as transport critic have called on the government to ensure appropriate incentives are put in place to focus on active transportation. As you’re aware [PC MPP] Norm Miller introduced a private members bill to pave the shoulders in the course of all new roadway construction. That’s certainly something we’d support as government. When we can encourage people to walk and bike it’s not only good for transportation, it’s also very good for people’s health and builds stronger communities.
We also think there should also be an emphasis on our urban planning to ensure we encourage and support our communities to build live-work-play communities. That way we can ensure housing is integrated appropriately with places to work and play, which further enables people to get out of their cars and go shopping or get to work through alternative methods.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My major concern that we’ve had stalling and seeming unwillingness to proceed with bold infrastructure plans. The McGuinty government charged Metrolinx with the responsibility to come forward with a funding plan and threw the deadline four years into the future. It seems to indicate that this government just does not understand the importance and the urgency of getting on with bold transit and transportation plans.
In fact I met with the Metrolinx board, and a number of them work in the financial services sector. When I interviewed them before they were confirmed as board members I asked “if you were asked to come up with a funding proposal within your own companies how long would it take you?”
Their answer was a matter of months. We know that the funding can in fact be found, it just needs leadership. We need to engage the private sector. Public-private partnerships are the only way we can ensure that these major infrastructure projects can be completed. The government doesn’t understand that and it hasn’t shown the leadership that’s necessary to get the job done.