Here’s a question: Why is Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath totally missing in action when it comes to transit?
Think about it: when was the last time you saw the populist progressive from Hamilton talking about the TTC, Metrolinx and the GTA’s $6 billion gridlock crisis?
I know the last time I saw Tim Hudak, Niagara’s smooth-cheeked son, taking on this whale of a topic: It was last Tuesday, on the cat walk across from City Hall, where he was flanked by two senior critics and a gaggle of Toronto councillors, all revved up to talk up his party’s new platform piece about transit. Unlike Mayor Rob Ford, he was also prepared to field tough questions from the media.
Hudak, for those who missed the presser, is proposing to upload the TTC’s rail-based operations and turn Metrolinx into a more muscular organization with additional power to drive regional transit planning. He wants to fold in the GTHA’s big highways, consolidate capital planning, and talk about new subways.
The proposal has some merits and some problems. In terms of the former, there are many other city-regions that practice regional transit/transportation planning in recognition of the fact the municipal boundaries are meaningless. What Hudak has suggested, structurally, bears some resemblance to Greater Vancouver’s Translink, the brainchild of one Mike Harcourt, an NDP premier.
On the con side, Hudak has said nothing of substance about money, and seems to be threatening to re-kindle the subway-vs-LRT battle, although his party’s policy paper contains several weasel words that would suggest he might not.
But here’s my point: Hudak has shown up and seems keen to play ball. He’s put a handful of policy ideas out there well ahead of a vote, and has done so in a timely way, given the debate about revenue tools.
And for all that, he deserves credit.
After all, if the Tories want to put themselves in contention in Toronto and the 905 in the next election, they’d better have something relevant to say about the region’s top-of-mind concern.
One would think that Horwath also wants to be competitive on this issue, especially given the NDP’s existing Toronto base and their recent win in Kitchener.
But is there an NDP policy paper on GTA gridlock? No.
Anything on how to pay for Metrolinx’s Big Move? No.
A statement of intent about the province’s role in financing ongoing capital requirements of large transit agencies like the TTC?
Well, you get the picture.
In the last election, the NDP platform called for freezing TTC fares (which put them, oddly, in the same policy space as our chief magistrate). And they talked a bit about splitting the TTC’s operating shortfall.
Since then, Horwath has devoted no small amount of time and political attention to the fate of Ontario’s northern railways. But congestion in the GTA? She doesn’t go there.
The NDP’s GTA and environment critic Jonah Schein (Davenport) gamely defends his party’s record, noting that his own attempts to promote a clean train solution for the air-rail link died on the order paper when the Liberals prorogued the legislature. He dismisses Hudak’s Metrolinx plan (“hard to take seriously”) and say the revenue tools required to pay for transit expansion in the GTHA have to be equitable. On the Downtown Relief Line: “We need to listen to the TTC.”
As for the NDP’s own vision for Metrolinx, regional transit and revenue tools, it all appears to be a work in progress. “We will be having a consultation to get buy-in around how we’re going to do this,” states Schein. But he doesn’t say when.
It’s tough not to wonder whether Horwath has decided to blow off this file and all the votes that go with it. Maybe the NDP wants only to be the party of the public sector unions and the remote hinterland, content to leave the messy business of urban affairs to the Tories.
That would be a shame. If the Ontario NDP aspires to follow its federal brethren and present themselves as a viable governing alternative, they’ve got to come forward with policies that address the province’s largest urban region.
And that means talking (seriously) about transit.
photo by David Sherrit