Mike Sullivan painted a sorry picture of the Canadian political process in his latest Town Hall meeting held in Mount Dennis last night. He outlined the origins of the Airport Rail Link from its conception as a Federal project under David Collenette that was going to be fully paid for by private interests. There was only one bidder for the job (quelle surprise), SNC Lavalin. In 2005, when 2600 people showed up in Weston to protest the noise and pollution, an environmental assessment was promised. Weston was also added as a second stop along the way probably as a result of strong public concern. SNC Lavalin then dropped out and the province was given federal money to finish the project under Metrolinx.
According to Sullivan, the cost has ballooned from an original estimate of $300m to the current one of $1.2B. In January 2009, Metrolinx announced that it was adding 28km of new track to upgrade GO train service to all-day. As Adam has pointed out, Metrolinx has reversed itself by quietly announcing that all-day service will not happen – according to Mike Sullivan, the government’s rationale is that the tracks are needed for the ARL. So it looks as if the plan all along was to built track for the airport link and use the all day GO service as a cover.
In February 2011, our Liberal MPP Laura Albanese co-moved the following motion:
I move that, in the opinion of this House, the province embrace electrification as a strategy for powering commuter rail by:-acknowledging that the Georgetown South corridor be declared a priority corridor for electrification of commuter trains, recognizing its high residential density;-ensuring that the environmental assessment for electrification become consistent with current timelines of the six-month transit environmental assessment;-including human health and property impacts in the environmental assessment for electrification;-completing the electrification of the air-rail link by 2015; and-calling on all levels of government to partner in funding electrification infrastructure improvements.
Private members’ House opinion motions have no force in law. The 33 MPPs present at the time voted unanimously in favour although MPP Frank Klees saw through the motion,
I don’t want to discourage the member, but I have to be truthful. I believe that this bill before us is simply an opportunity for the member to say to her constituents and other Liberal members, “Look, the government passed a resolution that calls for electrification. The election is eight months from now. For the next eight months, we can use this bill”-which will be passed by this Legislature, no doubt-“as evidence that we’re on your side.”
Ms Albanese may have used this motion to help in her recent election victory but now needs to publicly and forcefully raise the issue with the Premier.
As Mike Sullivan points out, the Airport link will be used by very few people and will be too expensive for the rest of us (Metrolinx has said that fares will be competitive with the same journey in a taxi or limo). Can you imagine captains of industry schlepping their own bags along miles of platform at either end and onto a train? This train will be a gigantic drag on taxpayers and is being rushed to completion to provide transportation during the 2015 Pan Am Games. According to Mr. Sullivan, the ARL will be ready 90 days before the games. Any hiccups causing delays along the way and the whole fake rationale will be lost. If implemented properly, the train could be the answer to several problems including shortening travel time to and from Kitchener (currently a tedious 2 hours) as well as being an above-ground subway and a true downtown relief line at a much lower cost.
NDP Environment Critic Jonah Schein also spoke at the meeting and emphasized the need for political pressure, ‘Being right doesn’t mean that we will win’. Currently the NDP is the third party with only 17 members in the Legislature. He pointed out that in Toronto, people thought subways were a done deal until political pressure was applied. He is circulating an electrification petition and along with MP Andrew Cash will be co-hosting a Clean Train Festival on April 28 in his Davenport Riding. Jonah feels that it is important for everyone along the line to lend their support. Also present at the meeting was recent provincial NDP candidate Paul Ferreira.
Sullivan stresses the need to contact your elected representatives and let them know that your vote at the next election is contingent on creating meaningful transportation for Weston.
For years, the Provincial Liberals have misled the public through their bait and switch tactics surrounding GO service and the ARL. The government clings to the artificial timeline claim that the ARL has to be ready for the 2015 Pan Am Games or else they would have embraced electrification, competitive bidding and other such niceties. We are represented at Queens Park by Laura Albanese, a government member who has been unable to generate any significant movement on this issue. She becomes a fiery orator during election campaigns and then reverts to a Clark Kent persona. Here in Weston, we like our politicians mouthy and opinionated with the ability to generate a headline. Perhaps she can take lessons from the style of Frances Nunziata. We may not agree with Frances’ every move but at least she isn’t afraid of confrontation.
We have an opportunity to shape the future by saying no to dirty air, lower property values and a billion dollar white elephant that the rich won’t use and the rest of us can’t afford. Politicians worry about only one thing; the loss of your vote. We need to make it clear that votes will go to people loudly advocating for an electric rail link that will be an asset to everyone in the community.