Metrolinx Loves its Secrecy (Updated)

Updated September 30 at 4:30 pm:

This afternoon I received a note from the Project Director of the Electrification Study, Karen Pitre.  She concurs that the confidentiality agreement goes beyond what is necessary, and is preparing a revised version.

I hope to be free to report on the dialog at the workshop.

Original post:

Today, I received the agenda for an upcoming “stakeholders’ workshop” regarding the GO electrification study.  In the same email, there was a gentle reminder that I must sign a Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement to participate. 

(The term “reminder” is amusing, but condescending, considering that this is the first time I have received this document.)

Metrolinx wants to make sure that I don’t tell you anything that has not already been released to the general public unless they authorize such release, and that if I do tell you, then they can come after me legally, although with unspecified effect.  Also, I agree not to create a conflict of interest by being involved in some work that may benefit from the outcome of this study.

This is obviously a boilerplate agreement used for all sorts of consultation with external bodies, but it is entirely inappropriate here.  This is, for all practical purposes, a public consultation session not unlike many that Metrolinx has conducted for individual projects and for “The Big Move”.  Indeed, this exercise is so far removed from real policy and budgetary decisionmaking as to be laughable.  Is this the same organization that commissioned the creation of the Metronauts?

  • The stakeholders will make suggestions to the advisory committee.
  • The advisory committee may or may not heed our advice, and will write terms of reference for the study as they see fit.
  • Metrolinx consultants and staff will conduct the study.  I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they will actually follow the terms of reference faithfully, without omission or artificial misconstruction of their intent.
  • A report will be prepared for the Board.
  • The Board will make recommendations to the Government of Ontario.
  • An announcement may, or may not, be forthcoming.
  • The study may, or may not, be published in whole or in part.

This entire study arose in response to strong community and political pressure in favour of electrification.  Leaving aside the specifics of that debate, it is a travesty that Metrolinx would consult with representatives of the broader community but wouldn’t allow them to actually tell people what was discussed.  This reinforces the impression that Metrolinx does not want real debate, real input, because whatever is discussed can be denied or represented as Metrolinx sees fit.

Maybe we will spend a few hours in what diplomats call “full and frank” discussions, only to read in The Star that we all happily ate our cookies and drank our tea and went home satisfied.

This is no way to build trust with communities and faith in the results of the study.

13 thoughts on “Metrolinx Loves its Secrecy (Updated)

  1. Ah geez, can’t you keep any secrets? Metrolinx isn’t going to let you in on the good stuff if you keep spilling the beans.

    Steve: The place leaks like a sieve anyhow, but it would be nice to be trusted.


  2. NOW we know the truth! TC does not really stand for Transit City. It stands for Tea and Cookies!! Secrets?!? This is community transit planning, not the Normandy Invasion!!!


  3. What happens if you don’t sign the agreement, but turn up anyway?

    Steve: I wouldn’t get in. However, I can sign the agreement and incorporate whatever pearls of wisdom I might learn into background for future activities.


  4. I’m inclined to say that you should sign the agreement and spill the beans anyway. Imagine the outrage if Metrolinx sent their lawyers after a local transit advocate who exposed information about their plans for electrification, a matter that affects the health of thousands of Toronto residents. I doubt even Metrolinx would be silly enough to do that. Then again, you probably wouldn’t be invited to the next consultation!


  5. What happens if you take a video camera with you? I feel like these meetings should be broadcast on the web anyways…

    By stakeholders do they mean everyone with a stake in this? I think that might be a lot more people than can fit in that room, given the ridership projections…

    I would hope that the meeting be devided in to two parts, so that the “in camera” information (contracts etc.) is seperated from the public information. This helps those who are reporting on it to at least give a gyst of what is being talked about at the meeting … rather than shutting the whole meeting in such a way that it looks like we are trying to convict terrorists or something…


  6. Have you signed it yet? How about making some reasonable amendments to the form and then sign it? I suppose they could refuse you entry the same as if you never signed one, but then the publicity from that could blow up in their faces.

    Just because something is printed on a ‘standard’ form is no reason to accept it as-is. I once made my own amendments to a hospital admission form I had to sign. The clerk reacted like I made amendments to the Holy Bible, but I stood my ground!


  7. I feel that after the Province of Ontario merged GO with Metrolinx, there’s been a lot of secrecy and hiding of information from Metrolinx. Just take a look at the board meeting agenda and minutes on The Feb 20, 2009 minutes are not posted. The Jul 13, 2009 meeting was the last meeting documented on the site. There’s no board meeting schedule. There’s been no progress updates on the quick-win items. Seems to me that this agency is losing it’s touch.

    Steve: The board schedule is in the “Events” section, but they don’t meet again publicly until November.


  8. We really did need a senior transit planning and coordinating agency in the GTA. Unfortunately, we got Metrolinx, which wants to rigidly control everything down to what the public knows or says about them. It would be easy to pass them off as young and inexperienced, but they’ve been at it long enough now that this argument no longer holds. There is a streak of public contempt that runs through their so-called consultation process that should concern every transit user and taxpayer.

    Seven years ago, I organized and moderated a roundtable session for the Government of Ontario on potential “new directions” in transit for the region. Everyone there — including some who are now Metrolinx senior staffers — agreed the last thing we needed was an all-new agency that would become yet another bureaucratic empire looking to build its own power base, but delivering little of value. It was also agreed that the way to get things moving was to broaden GO’s responsibilities to include a regional transportation planning and coordination role on top of its service delivery manadate.

    Whenever this issue of unprofessional and disrespectful conduct by Metrolinx arises, I think of that roundtable session and wonder what the hell went wrong. How did we get a new agency filled with contempt for the public it was created to serve?

    Steve: As I mentioned in the update, a new and much simplified confidentiality and conflict of interest agreement was prepared for the stakeholders’ meeting. Basically, it prevents participants from revealing information about the draft terms of reference until they are published to avoid giving any bidders on the study advance information about the requirements.

    You will be amused to know that my post on this subject generated a flurry of emails to the project manager shortly after I published it.


  9. I have great difficulty navigating their website at since it has started up and now. Even their site map I find useless. Try to find Transit City information, they seem to give it a different name, or the documents are located elsewhere.

    Steve: Metrolinx doesn’t actually have much info on Transit City as it was considered a Toronto project. You can find a few Benefits Case Analyses on the Projects page, but that’s about it. Indeed, there isn’t very much project-specific information on many things, not just Transit City.


  10. I live in the Junction, and I am wondering how many monitoring stations will be set up in my area … how many will the Ministry of the Enviroment place these stations … and what will be the acceptable levels of pollution. As for the T4 Diesl engines they have not even been invented as of yet so the Ministry of the Enviroment has lied to the public with a straight face. Our health is at issue here and I do not see our goverment protecting us as it should.


  11. Unlike many of the commenters above, I have no objection to a confidentiality agreement per se as long as it is limited in time and/or scope. It would be ridiculous if Steve were to be gone after for noting that the coffee served at meetings was cold, but the commercial concerns participating in processes such as these may be divulging information that would impede their ability to bid competitively in projects elsewhere. Confidentiality should not also extend to Metrolinx misrepresenting the discussions that take place in their public releases.


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