Yesterday’s Auditor-General report really took Metrolinx to the woodshed, showing once again that political interference with Metrolinx has had a profoundly bad impact on the agency, to the determent of everyone who travels in the Greater Toronto Area.
The AG recounted various Metrolinx failings, but perhaps none is easier to grasp than Metrolinx’s decision to build the $100 million Kirby GO station in Vaughan, on the Toronto-Barrie line.
A Metrolinx staff report recommended against the station, arguing that additional stops would slow the service, actually encouraging people to take their car. The Kirby station, however, was in the riding of the Liberal Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, and it is going ahead.
But the most egregious display of political interference in Metrolinx was the deal between the Wynne Liberals and then-Mayor Rob Ford to cancel a Scarborough LRT plan and replace it with a $3.5 billion, ones-top subway extension.
In spring 2013 Kathleen Wynne became Ontario Premier, replacing Dalton McGunity, who was deep in scandal over the cancellation of two power plants, the purpose of which appeared to be to aid Liberal fortunes in byelections. Rob Ford was already Toronto’s Mayor, expressing his opinion that Scarborough “deserves” a subway.
Just months before, in late 2012, the Toronto and Ontario governments had signed a master agreement for transit construction, including the Scarborough LRT.
But now there was a byelection in Scarborough. And if there was one thing the Ontario Liberals really excelled at, it was doing anything at any cost to the public purse to aid a Liberal byelection candidate.
Liberal MPP Margaret Best was dropped as a Minister from Wynne’s new Cabinet in February for undisclosed reasons. On June 27, 2013, she quit as an MPP, creating a vacancy.
Within days of the vacancy occurring, the chair of Metrolinx, in a letter approved by Wynne’s office, took the initiative to ask city council to reconfirm its preference for an LRT or subway — to reconfirm a deal they had signed less than a year before.
Wynne knew her preference. Within days, Liberal candidate Mitzi Hunter’s campaign launched, branding her the “subway champion.” Transportation Minister Glen Murray was sent to meet with Mayor Rob Ford to say that, despite the master agreement, funding for an LRT could be switched to a subway.
And in mid-July 2013, Ford and Wynne’s city council allies voted together. On September 9, the Liberal Subway Champion won her byelection.
If you want to know why transit development in Toronto is so far behind, start with political interference in Metrolinx. And as bad as it was under the Wynne Liberals, expect it to get worse under the Ford Conservatives. Because, in just a short few months, if there is one thing Doug Ford is proving to be good at — at Ontario Power Generation, at Ontario Place, at Ontario Provincial Police — it’s political interference.
And now the Ford Conservatives want to seize Toronto’s subway system from the TTC, split it off to be operated by this broken agency, Metrolinx.
Progressives at City Council and the NDP opposition at Queen’s Park need to put the problem of political interference in Metrolinx at the top of their priorities. Torontonians will continue to suffer with bad traffic and transit until integrity is restored to transit planning. And with the parties of bad and worse up to their elbows in interference, the progressives and NDP appear to be the last hope for actually putting people first in transit planning.