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Jan 25, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Ontario Liberal leadership hopefuls talk transit prior to convention

City Centre Mirror

Ontario Liberal Party hopefuls taking part in this weekend’s leadership convention agree transit is a crucial issue facing residents of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

But Sandra Pupatello, Kathleen Wynne, Gerard Kennedy and Harinder Takhar differ on how they will improve public transit should they win the party’s nomination for leader and become the next premier of Ontario.

In separate interviews with Toronto Community News the four candidates detailed their plans for the transit file.

Pupatello, considered the frontrunner in the race after electing the most delegates for the leadership convention at Maple Leaf Gardens beginning Jan. 25, said she wants the federal government to take more of an interest in transit - starting with Toronto’s underfunded and overmatched system.

“Any other country with a global city like Toronto gets the annual support of their federal government when it comes to transit,” said Pupatello this week. “Toronto is the only one that doesn’t. I think that’s really telling.”

Pupatello, a former Windsor MPP who was out of politics before joining the race to replace Dalton McGuinty, said if elected leader she would spearhead a coalition of the country’s largest provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, and lobby Ottawa for dedicated transit funding.

Running a close second to Pupatello in the ongoing leadership race is former provincial transportation minister Kathleen Wynne.

She agreed the federal government should get more involved with transit issues but said taxpayers should also be responsible for covering the cost of new infrastructure.

“We’re at a point now if we want to continue to build the things we so desperately need we need to talk about finding new revenue, said Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West. “I believe people want enhancements or improvements and they want politicians to be honest about how to pay for them.”

Wynne declined comment on what type of revenue funding tools should be instituted to pay for transit, saying she would wait to hear advice from Metrolinx. The transit planning agency has already been tasked to report to the premier in June on an investment strategy to fund the Big Move transit plan for the GTHA.

Wynne said she also intended to incorporate some of former leadership candidate Glen Murray’s transit platform but declined to be more specific. Murray threw his support behind Wynne when he stepped down from the race Jan. 10.

Kennedy, currently running third in the polls, said he would look to reform poor land use within the region, which he said has resulted in 90 per cent of office developments being located at least a kilometre away from usable transit.

We have to untangle our development,” said Kennedy, who has in the past represented the riding of Parkdale-High Park at both the federal and provincial levels. “We can’t keep building where there’s no transportation infrastructure.”

Kennedy, who also ran for the provincial leadership of the Liberal party in 1996, losing to McGuinty, said he would consider issuing tax incentives to developers for building near transit hubs as well as amending provincial planning guidelines.

“There are ways to make effective development decisions and we need to look at those very quickly,” he said.

Takhar thinks money for new transit could be raised through an annual tax-free provincial savings bond which he believes will create a pool for long-term funding for infrastructure projects.

While he could not provide an precise estimate as to how much an annual bond issue would raise for transit and infrastructure, Takhar was confident his savings bonds proposal would be sufficient to pay for much of the Big Move, which will cost an estimated $40 billion to complete in full over the next 25 years.

“Ontarians will see their investment directly through improvements to the community,” said Takhar, who was provincial transportation minister during McGuinty’s first term in government.

He said his idea would reduce the need for regional levies, fees and tax increases such as Metrolinx is considering.

“People are already taxed to death,” said the Mississauga-Erindale MPP. “We want to provide an incentive to invest rather than penalize them for actually using the good infrastructure.”

Both Takhar and Pupatello said they intended to merge the region’s transit authorities - including the TTC - into one super-entity to eliminate overlap, reduce costs and improve service.

Pupatello also said she wanted to work toward establishing a high speed rail line traveling through the Windsor-Quebec City corridor – the country’s first.

Multiple studies have been authored for the project, including a 2011 report by the federal, Ontario and Quebec governments. But the project, which would include stops in Toronto and the rest of the GTHA, has never progressed beyond the planning stage due to its hefty price tag, estimated to be in the tens of billions.

Despite that, Pupatello said the project would be the region’s crowning achievement and strengthen links between Ontario and Quebec.

“I honestly believe building a high speed rail line is a nation-building exercise and would put Central Canada back on the map,” she said.

Charles Sousa and Eric Hoskins were not available for comment.

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