Updated: Michael Ignatieff was on CBC’s Metro Morning yesterday (March 23) but, alas, the interview was not deemed worthy of a podcast. Please see the comment from “Ed” dated today for a precis. It appears that Ignatieff is still out of touch with the details of what Toronto actually needs.
Over the weekend, I received news from Michael Ignatieff’s “Town Hall” meeting in Halifax. (For the benefit of foreign readers, Ignatieff is now the Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, the Liberal Party.)
Marcus Garnet sent an email to a Transport 2000 list, and this found its way to me. Below are extracts.
Here in Halifax, his short introductory speech emphasized the “infrastructure deficit”, citing highways and bridges as well as an “energy corridor”, tidal power, university facilities, childcare and other priorities. An earlier CBC item also mentioned electric cars. Neither CBC nor Mr. Ignatieff’s introductory speech mentioned public transit or rail infrastructure.
Mr. Ignatieff cited three key criteria for infrastructure funding for which his party plans to hold the government responsible: (1) Does it protect the vulnerable? (2) How fast can we get the infrastructure in the ground to create jobs? (3) Will it lead to a more productive and competitive position after the economic crisis has passed? He especially emphasized the last point, and said that private entrepreneurs are the real risk-takers and drive the economy.
Several questions later, someone from the Ecology Action Centre asked how public transit, railways and other environmental concepts like community agriculture would fit in with his priorities. The question also specifically asked about shifting freight from trucks to rail.
At this point, Mr. Ignatieff seemed to change his tone from an upbeat, together-we-can-do-it mood to a cautious, fiscally conservative stance. He reminded us all that we are in a deficit and must watch our spending. He said that he must be careful not to agree to everything people suggest, and that his group must make some “tough choices”, be honest and keep focused. He said he likes trains and uses them, and that his grandfather worked for the railway, but that we must choose between things like trains and childcare.
Natalie Litwin, President of T2000 Ontario, sent an email to the Liberal Party including:
Mr. Ignatieff appears to be unaware that transportation contributes one-third of our greenhouse gases. Also, does he know that traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area (Canada’s growth engine) causes losses of $2 billion a year to the province’s economy?
Ontario is in desparate need of federal funding to get the Greater Toronto/Hamilton regional transportation plan started – the plans are there and funding from the province has started, but federal money is badly needed.
All across our country as well as in the U.S., it is widely recognized that urban and regional transit is desparately needed to help urban economies and environments and that investing in that infrastructure is one of the best investments to make at a time of economic crisis.
I’m glad to hear that Ignatieff’s grandfather worked for the railway, but that’s hardly a basis for public policy. The distinction that seems to be missing in all of this is between two fundamentally different types of spending.
- Short-term spending as an economic stimulus during the recession.
- Long-term, ongoing spending built into every year’s budget on various forms of public transportation including both capital and operating support.
Today’s Globe and Mail included an editorial Long term value, not make-work which argues that money spent on economic stimulus must yield lasting, valuable results. In that vein, the Globe cautioned against investing in megaprojects such as the proposed high-speed rail corridor when there are so many other crying needs for investment in rail passenger facilities that could benefit the whole country. High-speed rail is a long-term project with benefits, to be sure, but it won’t do anything for short-term stimulus, and it will do nothing for people who don’t travel between the handful of cities it will serve.
Ignatieff’s contrast of trains and child care is totally off base. Much of the call for increased support of passsenger rail (high speed or otherwise) addresses capital costs be they for increased line capacity (more track, better signals) and vehicles. The same applies to urban systems where infrastructure and vehicles are at the top of many shopping lists.
Child care is overwhelmingly an ongoing operating budget question. Can we pay enough money to attract child care workers? Will a centre opened with much fanfare by one government be closed by the next?
On environmental issues, Ignatieff seems unwilling to grasp the link between increased travel by public transit, especially surface systems (bus, LRT, commuter and intercity rail) and energy savings. Moreover, better transit reduces the need for cars, improves mobility and allows access to jobs, shopping and recreation for a broad population.
I am particularly distressed by Ignatieff’s comments about “risk taking” in the private sector. What this usually means is that the public sector backs any investment and guarantees a return. In the worst case scenario, the private sector gets to control the asset and its revenue stream. We have seen this on highway 407 where, just recently, tolls were raised to discourage traffic so that remaining users wouldn’t be stuck in traffic jams. This is certainly a novel approach to demand management, but it works only because there are other alternative routes.
The Liberal Party is not known for having a coherent platform, but if they are going to exploit their newfound popularity, they need to learn how policies in various areas fit together. They need to talk about prudence in spending stimulus dollars on megaprojects that won’t bear fruit for years, but remember the huge infrastructure deficit that needs to be addressed across the country.
Part of that deficit is in public transit, broadly speaking, and we deserve better from the Liberals than an ill-informed dismissal of the issue.
[Postscript: Lest you think I am enamoured of the other parties, well the Tories to me don’t even care if cities exist, except possibly in Alberta; the NDP always manages to propose spending that, at the end of the day, doesn’t begin to address the real needs of transit systems; the Greens simply dilute the left wing vote, wherever it may go, and help keep the Tories in power. There, I am sure that should drive the comment rate through the roof for a week or so!]