Bloor West Villager
Departing Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty did act positively to improve transit over his time in office, said the former head of the TTC.
But Adam Giambrone, responding to the premier’s Monday night resignation announcement, said McGuinty’s inability to provide stronger leadership on transit ultimately casts a long shadow over his successes.
“From a transit perspective, he could have been firmer,” said Giambrone, who worked with McGuinty on the Transit City light rail plan, in an interview Tuesday, Oct. 16.
“He did champion good public policy, he did move the (transit) file forward. But he didn’t always follow through, and it’s unfortunate he didn’t show more leadership.”
Giambrone, who chaired the TTC from 2006 until 2010, was critical of McGuinty’s decision to not restore provincial operational funding to the TTC - which was scrapped by Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris back in 1995 - and for allowing Mayor Rob Ford to scrap Transit City following his 2010 election victory.
“He backed away from Transit City,” said Giambrone.
The project was ultimately restored by Toronto council this year, but the delay has pushed back the completion of the lines to 2020 at the earliest.
While praising McGuinty for his sincere desire to improve transit, Giambrone said the premier failed to come up with a sustainable funding strategy for the ambitious Big Move plan, which was adopted in 2008 and promised $50-billion worth of transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) over the next 25 years.
But with funding questions still unresolved, the plan is in danger of never being fully realized, said Giambrone.
“There’s no real Big Move as long as there is no long term funding plan,” he said.
Metrolinx, the transit planning agency created under McGuinty, was expected to report back to the premier for June 2013 on an investment strategy to fund the Big Move.
A spokesperson for the agency had no comment on McGuinty’s departure, but did say in a written statement that work on the plan was proceeding without interruption.
“We don’t have a statement regarding the premier’s resignation. It’s business as usual for Metrolinx. We have $16 billion worth of projects with shovels in the ground,” wrote Malon Edwards, a media relations specialist for the agency.
Mitzie Hunter from the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, a group calling for full funding of the Big Move, said McGuinty was pivotal in bringing about transit improvements set to be completed in the next few years, including the revitalization of Union Station and the Toronto-York Spadina Subway extension.
“We’re pleased to see investments being made,” said Hunter, CEO for CivicAction.
She said she was confident work would continue on the Big Move, regardless of who McGuinty’s successor is.
“I have not spoken with a single politician who has said there’s no need to improve transit in the region,” she said. “People are fed up with gridlock.”
One of Mcguinty’s political opponents had few kind words for McGuinty’s transit achievements.
Provincial NDP member Jonah Schein was especially critical of the decision by the Liberals to build an air rail link between Union Station and Pearson International Airport in time for the Toronto Pan American Games, which would see a sizeable increase in GO diesel train traffic running along the Georgetown South rail corridor.
The plan has been widely opposed by residents living along the corridor, who fear the increase in carcinogenic diesel fumes will lead to significant long term health issues and want the line electrified.
Metrolinx is currently studying the feasibility of electrifying the air rail link, but the provincial government has already announced no decision will be made until after the line opens.
Schein had introduced a private member’s bill calling for electric trains to run on the air rail link immediately upon its opening in 2015, and a debate was scheduled in the legislature at Queen’s Park this week.
But the decision by the premier to prorogue the legislature - which accompanied his resignation announcement - has shelved the matter indefinitely.
“We were quite optimistic that we were going to get support from a majority of members,” said Schein of his bill.
He said that decision and others show McGuinty has failed to improve transit over the course of his three terms as premier.
“We’re 20 years behind, and the government has had 10 years to work on it,” said Schein, who represents Davenport.