Friday, May 21, 2010
Transport: Gerard Kennedy on Metrolinx
Member of Parliament Gerard Kennedy and the Clean Trains Coalition's Mike Sullivan both addressed a question at a community meeting on 19-May-2010
TORONTO, ONTARIO - For his latest community meeting held last Wednesday at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario, Gerard Kennedy chose as his topic the federal role in public transportation. This might seem an odd selection in many ways, as really the only role of the federal government in local transportation is funding, and as a member of the opposition Kennedy has little influence on that. However, the meeting still had a number of remarkable moments rather revealing of both the MP and his audience.
Kennedy is the infrastructure critic in parliament, so he presented developed opinions about transportation-related topics. There seems to be a general consensus on the political left that Metrolinx's plans for a line to the airport are not to be stopped entirely, but should include electrification (for noise and pollution benefits, as well as lower operating cost) from the beginning, and that the line should be public, rather than run by a private operator. Kennedy expressed no deviation from that consensus.
His critique largely focused on two areas. First, he emphasized that the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a federal organization, needed to be pushed to be involved in Metrolinx projects from the beginning, rather than an agency of last appeal when Metrolinx's obligations to the community were not met. He pointed that the CTA had been ruled to have jurisdiction over rail projects, and thus all Metrolinx/GO Transit commuter rail projects. The experience in the Junction over pile driving in 2009 may have gone on too long, but at least the court cases surrounding it made this clear, and Kennedy wants to leverage the ruling to make Metrolinx address issues before construction starts on other projects.
The second thing is that Kennedy wants a body of all levels of government jointly having responsibility for political oversight of these projects, so that the various levels cannot just claim that others are responsible. This might seem like a typical politician's proposal with little chance of becoming reality, but Kennedy genuinely has a point. Since (to cite Parkdale as an example) Gord Perks at the city council level, Cheri DiNovo at the provincial level, and Kennedy at the federal level do largely see eye-to-eye about what should happen with the corridor despite their different party identities, it would make sense to have a body in which they could wield their various powers to ensure the end they would like to see would be met.
This proposal provoked a great deal of discussion from the audience, with a lot of discontent expressed at the lack of coordination between DiNovo (from the NDP) and Kennedy (a Liberal) in particular. At some level, if Kennedy was telling the truth that he would have attended last month's public meeting put on by DiNovo (covered here) had he not been traveling, it's really a shame that he was traveling, since that would have changed the whole tone of the accusations from activists in the audience who are never seeing the two of them in the same place.
The harshest words from the public were aimed at Metrolinx, with one person accusing the provincial agency of being "diabolical." Kennedy did not exactly defend them, saying "they are not necessarily diabolical... they haven't behaved in way that is very responsible." Anyone who lives within earshot of the Junction--which means even me--would call that an understatement.
As for the broader picture beyond Metrolinx, Kennedy called for a national public transit policy for all cities, saying that the federal government "needs to be more than a funder--we must bring something more to the table." Sharing standards and expertise were suggested as part of that formula, and Kennedy reminded the audience that the Liberals have called for more of the gas tax revenue to be directed to municipalities.
Kennedy always seems to have a out-of-the-blue remark that I find interesting in his meetings. This time, it was in response to a question about climate change. "It looks to me like the Obama administration is going to use the EPA to regulate carbon," he said, "We may have a price for carbon by the new year in Canada as a result." We shall see.