Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Ontario's new transportation minister needs to be prepared to make tough decisions

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Feb 15 2013

An open letter to Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray, who this week was sworn in as Ontario's new Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure under Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Hey Glen,

Congratulations on the new job. It's going to be really hard and a lot of people will probably hate you.

But you have to be okay with that. The reality of your position is that if a significant percentage of the public isn't mad at you at any given moment, then you're probably not doing your job right; because you're set to be the person making the hard decisions.

As people slowly wake up to the fact that congestion has reached its tipping point, your office needs to be ready to seize an opportunity to empower Metrolinx to build the infrastructure we need to keep things moving — now and into the future.

That also means that you're going to be the guy pressing the button on implementing new taxes, tolls and/or fees. There's no way around that. Ontario's transportation future costs more money than the government has got.

Some people won't like to hear that. The opposition is already lining up to say as much. On Wednesday, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak stood up at a meeting of the Toronto Board of Trade and gave us a preview of the kind of tactics you should expect.

While Hudak did pay lip service to the idea of building transit — subways, he said, because the superiority of subways have been co-opted into a weird right-wing talking point — he also indirectly pointed to a long list of reasons for why we can't have transit now.

Expect a lot of that. More studies, they'll demand. More consultation! More surveys and interactive online tools and roundtable discussions! More things that'll just result in giant 1,000-page reports that no one will ever read.

More things that will never result in actual progress.

Then there's the other tack.

Here, those opposed will point to government waste, both real and imagined, and say that all that waste must be tagged and catalogued before we can even think about implementing new taxes to build transit. It'll be a fairly effective argument, actually — between canceled gas plants, ORNGE and eHealth, the Liberal government has enough black marks on their résumé to make that narrative work. But you can't succumb to that kind of thinking.

This is a new government and a new era. And as the long, strange story of Mayor Rob Ford has taught us, claims that right-wing politicians can root out billions in government savings never amount to much.

So what we need from our new Minister of Transportation is vigilance. You need to be willing to take a big picture approach, even if it means sacrificing short-term popularity. As Toronto's Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat is doing with her work on the transit file, think most about legacy.

Because — trust me — fifty years from now, no one will look at infrastructure like a downtown relief subway, electrified more-frequent GO service or sensible transit options to Pearson Airport and think, “Hey, I wish they hadn't done that.” Even if they did have to pay tolls on 400-series highways, higher parking costs or a new sales tax to get those things built.

Remember that. Just as no one today would trade the mobility improvements brought by our existing transit system for fifty years of slightly lower taxes, time — and results — will prove you right.

This post was originally published at on 2013-02-15T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments