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Klein and Eves stumble in haze of own making

JOHN BARBER

Anyone who thought all the turkeys disappeared at Thanksgiving hasn’t been paying attention to the deep thoughts of various bigwig Tories heard clucking around town this week.

Here is Alberta Premier Ralph Klein telling us we can easily solve global warming without international protocols, citing the Harris government’s smog plan as a purely made-in-Ontario “solution” to our region’s chronic air pollution.

“You didn’t need an international protocol to do that,” the Premier said.

Doesn’t anybody brief this guy? At least half the air pollution that afflicts Ontario drifts up here from south of the border, and there is nothing a purely Ontarian plan can do to fix it. Anybody who knows the first thing about smog in Ontario knows that; even local Tories agree the problem will never be solved without determined cross-border diplomacy.

Rather than proving the irrelevancy of international protocols on the environment, the Albertan highlighted the one local issue that most clearly proves their necessity. Way to go, Ralph.

But it isn’t just the Alberta government that has outsourced its brains. Here is our own Premier, Ernie Eves, strictly off the top of his head, recommending the Australian-style privatization of the Toronto Transit Commission.

“In one case, I forget whether it’s Adelaide or Melbourne,” Mr. Eves told the legislature Tuesday, “they actually have 52 different entities contributing to the overall mass-transit system in that city, and it functions a heck of a lot better than the TTC does here in Toronto.”

I’ll let hard-headed TTC boss Rick Ducharme slam that lazy lob out of the park — a task he performed with some style and relish yesterday.

“I take this very personally,” Mr. Ducharme said, recalling his experience as the keynote speaker at an Australian rail conference in 1997, when he warned his antipodean colleagues about the perils of privatization. They didn’t like the message and went ahead with it anyway. Next slide.

“Melbourne bailout”: A newspaper story describing the roughly $100-million the Victoria state government just threw at Melbourne’s four private rail lines to forestall their bankruptcy, including about $40-million “to encourage the companies to stay in business.”

Part of the bailout, the story added, involves the reintroduction of uniform signage, colours and timetables. “Thus the dangers of disaggregation are proved yet again.”

Didn’t catch that one in the clipping file, eh, Ernie? Next slide.

“Rescue to cost $1.2-B for embattled British rail network.” Another news story from last June, describing the impressive wreckage of Railtrack, the private-sector rail giant that cut costs until passengers died — five fatal crashes occurred subsequent to privatization, with deferred maintenance implicated in at least one — then went broke trying to catch up (but not before paying out Pound Sterling300-million, the equivalent of nearly $730-million, to shareholders).

The British government was forced to pay Railtrack Pound Sterling1.2-billion — nearly $3-billion — “just to go away,” according to Mr. Ducharme, and the cost of rebuilding the system is estimated at Pound Sterling8-billion, more than $19-billion.

“How efficient is that?”

In the realm of facts, as opposed to whatever zone our Premier inhabits, there is no transit system anywhere in the developed world that operates more efficiently, at less cost to the public purse, than the TTC.

Every private and public operator in Australia and the United States receives greater subsidies than it.

Most of the heralded private-sector systems in the United States recover less than half their costs through revenues from paying passengers, according to Mr. Ducharme. The TTC’s 81-per-cent cost-recovery rate is virtually unique in the world.

A fact the TTC, world-famous for its operational efficiency, continues to prove to anyone capable of reading a briefing note — presuming, of course, that such geniuses exist in the halls of our governments.

jbarber@globeandmail.ca




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