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Transit growth key for new regional board chair

WALLACE IMMEN

Saturday, January 13, 2001

The often squabbling leaders of cities and towns in the greater Toronto area displayed rare unanimity yesterday as a new chairman pledged to lead them into an era of free-moving highways and more effective transit.

Former Toronto councillor Gordon Chong was acclaimed to head the Greater Toronto Services Board and called for urban and rural areas to “dream big dreams” for transit as an alternative to highway gridlock.

“The congestion on roads is slowly paralyzing the GTA and slowly sucking the pleasure out of living,” Mr. Chong said.

He was handed the board’s gavel by outgoing chairman Alan Tonks, who promised to take the case for transit assistance to Ottawa in his new role as Liberal member of Parliament for York South-Weston.

Mr. Tonks wore a dark suit and a wide smile that camouflaged the bruises and frustrations of two years trying to mediate among the divergent agendas of 42 representatives of municipalities and regions.

The board was established by the province in 1999 to co-ordinate transit issues among the five regions in the Toronto and Hamilton areas. After two years, it is still working on a definition of its scope and trying to get the powers it needs to work effectively.

“I believe our similarities are stronger than our differences. Our country is wracked by regionalism. We don’t need to play out that regionalism here,” Mr. Chong told the board members, who responded with applause.

Mr. Chong tried to reassure regions and businesses that worry a more powerful GTSB will result in another layer of meddling bureaucracy.

“I see this as a special-purpose body, not a level of government,” he said.

He said the board could serve a role in helping regions develop “smart growth” strategies. “I realize that some areas of the GTA haven’t felt the impact of urban sprawl, but it is only a matter of time,” Mr. Chong said.

Although the GTSB has been developing guidelines for protecting the countryside from uncontrolled sprawl, the only clear mandate it has received from the province is to oversee operations of GO Transit, which crosses all the regions’ boundaries.

The board elected Eldred King yesterday as chairman of GO Transit, a position that had been a provincial appointment.

Mr. King, a former chairman of the York Regional Council, said he will work to persuade both the province and the federal government to provide up to $1-billion for additional trains and stations.

“The popular conception is the public must be persuaded to make the switch from car to transit,” Mr. King said.

But all the trains in the fleet are now standing-room-only, and many more people would use GO if more trains were available and operated all day long, he said.




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