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Transit plans stall in traffic jam of bureaucracy

Mar 07, 2008 04:30 AM
Christopher Hume

Talk about gridlock. It was a year ago yesterday that the Prime Minister himself, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, stood in front of a TTC bus in Downsview and promised almost $1 billion to help fund regional transit.

Since then, nothing has happened: zilch, zero, zippo. Except for the energy spent bickering, our elected “leaders” have failed to advance the file one iota. Not a penny has flowed.

This should not be surprising; back in 2000, Ottawa promised $25 million for the revitalization of Union Station - that hasn’t been delivered, either.

Federal transportation, infrastructure and communities minister Lawrence Cannon, a nice man who does what he’s told, has variously blamed the city, the province, the mayor, the premier . ..

The city has likewise blamed Ottawa and the province; the province has blamed, well, you get it.

As a result, the long-planned subway extension to York Region has been delayed at least another year because of political foot-dragging. Indeed, TTC engineers, not celebrated for their speed, were ordered to slow down.

The best example of official dysfunctionality came last year when the city’s new “urban beach,” H{-T}O, opened on the waterfront. It was paid for with money promised 30 years ago, when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to write off the Tories, they pledged unspecified millions in last week’s budget to run a new rail line from Toronto to Peterborough. Everybody who would normally have been involved in such a decision - politicians and bureaucrats - was taken by surprise; none of them had been consulted.

That was extraordinary, even unbelievable. Do the different levels of government ever communicate except to argue?

The easiest way to understand the pledge is that it’s like so many others made by government, especially the federal government, which never had a chance. On the other hand, perhaps it’s possible it really does take government years to write a cheque. Hard to understand, and if true, even more worrisome than the delay-by-bickering we’re used to.

Timeliness has never been one of government’s strengths, but the lack thereof has now become the unspoken truth that underlies - and undermines - all others.

We have reached the point where few observers seem to take official announcements such as transit funding seriously. Besides, as often as not, they are re-releases of earlier statements. Who can keep track of it all? A promise delayed may well be a promise broken, but in an age of short attention spans, does anyone remember?

Perhaps such announcements really are about nothing more than the photo-op. Perhaps Harper was right to assume we’re that stupid and would forget anyway.

Certainly, his finance minister and designated pit bull, Jim Flaherty, seems to think so. It’s Flaherty’s job to snarl on cue and warn city-dwellers to stop “whining” when they complain about his government’s broken promises.

Though Flaherty has always had a chip on his shoulder about Toronto, it’s now balanced with another about all of Ontario.

Just listen to Mississauga’s long-time mayor Hazel McCallion, on the subject of Flaherty, Harper and the gang. Even mild-mannered Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has been reduced to calling the PM a “bastard” in public.

Clearly, the urban agenda continues to elude the Tory regime. Little wonder they haven’t a single seat in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. Their frustration with cities is understandable, but given the uncomfortable fact that Canada has turned into an overwhelmingly urban nation, it doesn’t bode well for the Harperites.

Or for the rest of us, the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in towns and cities.




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