New Ontario Conservative Government Worries Transit Watchers

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It has now been six weeks since the new Conservative government of Ontario was sworn into power. As detailed in Green Ontario Turns An Ugly Shade Of Brown, the new government has moved rapidly to implement bad ideas in haste. It has introduced legislation to cancel the cap-and-trade agreement, 758 green energy contracts, electric vehicle rebates, a universal basic income experiment, and home efficiency rebates.

The most recent governing-by-slogan effort was the widely maligned buck-a-beer announcement, in which the new Premier went to a US-owned brewpub in a wind-turbine hating rural area to announce that the minimum regulated price for a beer would shift from $1.25 to $1.00.

But one area that has not received any hasty action by the new government is transit. That’s good, as the only thing we could hope for out of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives is to leave the transit file entirely alone, paying for previous commitments but otherwise ignoring it. There is no possible way that this administration could improve transit based on who they are, their ideologies, and their track record so far.

The alternatives are horrific to imagine.

The last time the Conservatives took power they cancelled the Eglinton subway. That was in 1995, immediately after they took power and excavation had already begun. The new Eglinton Crosstown is now being constructed as a light-rail transit route with 10 of 19 kilometers underground. Ford and company hate light-rail. They hate any form of transit which takes up road space anywhere. It’s easy to see them deciding that it has to be underground its entire route, throwing the entire thing into question. It’s easy to see them saying its construction is disrupting traffic and forcing change. It’s easy to see them cutting its budget and saying, “Find the money elsewhere.” It’s easy to see them saying, “Make it a real, heavy-rail subway.” Nothing good could come of them paying an attention to this file.

I’ve advocated in the past for reduction of layers of governance for transit in the GTA and Golden Horseshoe, with Metrolinx in my crosshairs. But the Ontario Conservative Party approach to transformation is governing by slogan, legislation, and in foolish haste. Its assertion of vastly reducing representation of citizens on Toronto Council without consultation is a case in point. Its incredibly short-sighted use of legislation to remove contractual recourse from businesses small and large whose contracts they are terminating is another. Its use of the threat of legislation to force out the CEO of Hydro One is another. There is no change which this administration could make which would improve transit governance in Ontario and Toronto.

The party would probably try to insert itself into the Bombardier streetcar fiasco with ham-fisted support for scandal-ridden Bombardier, given Ford’s loss to current Mayor John Tory in the last Mayoral campaign. That company is a political third-rail and its rail division is a quality and cost failure. Ford and his administration have no competence to add value to this ugly mess. Ford’s business experience is in running his father’s tiny company into the ground and some pharmaceutical ‘entrepreneurialism’ in the ‘80s. He doesn’t understand big numbers such as those involved in transit-scale projects.

The last time a Conservative government was in power, it forced amalgamation down Toronto’s throat. It’s been a 20-year effort by city staff to try to standardize planning, zoning, and regulation across the massive city. This has been part of the reason why the transit file is such a mess: enormous amounts of time and effort were spent on the poorly thought through governance change from 1998. It’s hideously easy to imagine them shoving some combination of Mississauga, Pickering, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and Markham into a large amalgamated mess, for no reason. It’s less likely than quickly and badly merging Metrolinx and the TTC as there was a regional Metropolitan Toronto with the boundaries or the amalgamated Toronto at the time.

They could insert themselves into the Tory / Metrolinx Smart Track initiative. It’s adding stations to and electrifying existing GO Transit in the Toronto area. It’s doing what these things do which is turning into a pragmatic, incremental improvement. I support the Smart Track platform as a viable, supported mechanism to improve transit in the GTA. But it’s not subways, involves construction in neighborhoods with new stations and it’s supported by Ford’s political opponent. It’s easy to see the Ford Conservatives shutting down Smart Tracks and claiming that people really want subways.

Rob Ford was a hardcore bike lane hater while a Councillor and Mayor and his brother Doug, the new Premier, was with him every step of the way. Under the current Toronto Council, bike lanes and separated bike lanes — key initiatives to improve multiple aspects of the city — have grown, albeit slowly. It’s easy to see the Ford Conservatives introducing legislation that ham-fistedly crushes bike lanes based on spurious arguments, making it impossible to actually implement them in cities across Ontario, but mostly in Toronto.

The last thing that Ford’s Conservatives could very easily screw up is the King Streetcar Right-of-Way. That very successful initiative requires cars to turn right off of King St at pretty much every intersection through the central business district, giving streetcars, cyclists and pedestrians much more room and speed of commuting. It is, of course, considered a part of the war on cars by suburbanites. It’s once again trivially easy to imagine the Ford Conservatives legislating it out of existence.

Those of us who care about Ontario, its people, and its future are waiting for the heavy foot to fall in the wrong places with the wrong force. The energy, education, social safety net and alcohol files have already seen hasty, slogan-laden action. Transit in Toronto, perennially underfunded and challenged, is likely to see interventions from the provincial government which will set it back yet again.


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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast (https://shorturl.at/tuEF5) , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team.

Michael Barnard has 689 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Barnard