[Some historical information here has been corrected with thanks to an anonymous reader.]
Recently we have seen a lot of media coverage of the political fallout from the proposed subway car purchase. For those unfamiliar with it, here are the high points:
- Canadian Car & Foundry in Montreal produced most of the Peter Witts and all of the PCCs for Toronto (only the second-hand cars were built elsewhere).
- The plant in Thunder Bay has supplied all of the subway cars since about 1965, and all of the CLRV/ALRVs except the prototypes built in Europe. (They also supplied early buses and trolley coaches.)
- Ownership passed via Hawker-Siddeley (hence the “H” series subway cars), through the Urban Transportation Development Corporation to Bombardier.
- As part of the deal selling the UTDC’s assets to Bombardier, Ontario entered into an agreement to source all rail orders from them. According to a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation reported in the Globe, this expired in 1997.
- The TTC is a major customer for this plant, and their importance has increased as other cities’ orders for rail vehicles went to other manufacturers. If the TTC stops ordering cars from the plant, it will close.
- The TTC (without going into the politics) is planning to sole-source its newest subway cars from Bombardier. Premier McGuinty has written to Howard Moscoe saying that Queen’s Park would not object to such an arrangement, but he neither directs the TTC to make such a purchase or offers any inducement such as enhanced subsidy arrangements.
- Siemens, Bombardier’s competitor, is lobbying several members of Council to have this deal opened up for bidding, and Rick Ducharme’s resignation turned on Moscoe’s interference in this bid, among other things.
Late last week, we learned that an Ontario Vice-President of Bombardier had the brilliant idea of sending out invitations to a fundraiser for Adam Giambrone, a member of Council and Vice-Chair of the TTC. Giambrone disavowed any connection to this move, and Bombardier’s Quebec office quickly went into damage control mode.
Wonderful though it would be for the offending VP to be shown the door, any casual observer has no way of knowing whether this was the act of a ham-handed local or business as usual for the company as a whole.
Coming in the midst of the controversy about the subway car order, and with the memory of Liberal leadership candidate Joe Volpe’s would-be underage campaign contributors still fresh in everyone’s mind, this is a huge black eye for Bombardier. They hoped to land not only the subway car order but also a possible order for new streetcars. The contracts may still go their way, but they will have to fight to get the work. All thanks to an official who doesn’t understand that voters are tired of sleazy politicians who are bought and sold with election contributions.
Where should we go from here?
The TTC (the entire Commission, not just Howard Moscoe), City Council, the Mayor and Premier McGuinty all need to decide whether this is a transit purchase, a regional development issue, or a combination of both.
If Queen’s Park has an interest in preserving the second-largest employer in Thunder Bay, then say so and belly up to the bar. Why can we give $100-million grants to auto manufacturers to build in southern Ontario, but we want to be o-so-coy about supporting a rail car plant in the north?
If City Hall, collectively, wants to keep this work in Ontario, they should say so. Yes, lobby for extra funding from Queen’s Park if necessary, but don’t hang your hat on a long-expired agreement or a vague letter of support.
Is it too much to ask that politicians take some responsibility for their policies?
Bombardier, meanwhile, needs to learn that there’s a right way and a wrong way to lobby, and turf people who don’t understand the difference. The plant in Thunder Bay deserves a fair chance to survive, not a loss-by-default through stupid, misplaced efforts at political manipulation.