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Evidence of meeting #10 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was area.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bruce McCuaig  President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

No, no, that's not the question I asked. You can sell me on what this might mean to the Canadian economy and all those other things. Public transit is not in our jurisdiction, and the only role that we're being asked to take on, by witness after witness, is to let everybody else make the decisions--let everybody do whatever--but in exchange, pay more money than we're contributing now. That's really all I'm hearing.

4:30 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

First of all, I would offer that what's in it for the federal government is the positioning of the economy to prosper in the future. I think that's what's in it for the federal government.

In terms of the role of the federal government in these processes, yes, obviously a funding role is seen as an important one on the capital side of the equation. I don't know what your previous witnesses have said, but when I look back on the past generation of cost-shared programs with federal, provincial, and municipal governments, I see outcomes that have been less than optimal. It takes a long time: we can't align different mandates and different terms of governments to make effective decision-making.

So some of the principles I've outlined are really to try to drive, in a more effective fashion going forward, how we deliver the infrastructure that is important to these regions in a more efficient fashion.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Am I out of time?

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

You have 20 seconds.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

All right.

So we're the silent partner who cuts the cheque--that's all.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you.

I'll now go to Mr. Cash.

Welcome to our committee.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

It's a pleasure to be here, Mr. Chair, and thank you.

It's wonderful to see our friends from Metrolinx.

My first comment is that we know the GTA is losing about $6 billion annually right now due to lost productivity due to gridlock. This is a huge economic issue of concern for the region. It should be a concern for our federal government, because if the federal government doesn't have its eyes trained on the economy, then it's not doing its job.

I want you to talk a little bit about that gridlock and the economic costs, because too often our friends on the other side of the room here want to talk about the upfront costs. They don't want to think about the costs down the road. If we're losing $6 billion in lost productivity, well, that's revenue for the federal government right there.

I want you to talk a little bit about what gridlock does to the economy. What's our problem here with gridlock and why is it so crucial for Canadians to understand the importance of getting people moving?

4:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

Thank you for the question.

I would say that fundamentally from an economic perspective it's about two things.

One is that it's about keeping goods and services moving. I mentioned in my presentation that the Toronto region is a funnel through which the central and eastern Canadian economy flows as it approaches the United States.

Whether it's rail-based or road-based, the implications of congestion in places such as Montreal or Toronto and what happens at the 401 and 400 interchanges impact the ability of Oshawa to get just-in-time delivery of its goods. So I think the first thing I would say is that it has a very immediate impact in terms of the productivity of our trading economy.

In terms of the quality-of-life side, which I think is an important part of global cities as well, impacting millions of our citizens, the productivity impact of time not spent at work—or of not spending time with your family, on the other side of the equation—is significant as well. Moving towards being an 82-minute-a-day jurisdiction for the average commute time leaves us in a worse case than Los Angeles, worse than New York, and worse than Chicago. I don't think it's what we want our global cities to be known for.

When we do surveys through the Toronto Board of Trade of both local and international businesses as to what they see as the benefits and the issues with locating in the Toronto region, transportation is always one of the top issues identified. The Toronto region used to be known as “the city that works”, the city with an efficient transportation system. At Metrolinx, we see our object over the next years being to try to get back our reputation, so that transportation would be something you talk about as a reason to come to the region, rather than a barrier. Right now, it's a barrier.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you for that.

As you probably know, there are more high-rise residential buildings--12 storeys and higher--being built in Toronto than in any other city in North America right now. Those people are going to have to move around, and yet, when you talk about coordinating the Big Move.... I mean, we had Transit City funded, but then it disappeared, and we have a crosstown line that's going to serve one-tenth of what Transit City would have served, and now we're going to have this massive influx of new people.

I've listened to you very carefully, and again, for some of the members on the other side who may have a rose-coloured view about the perfect system we have in the GTA, you know that this is very complicated and that there have been some difficulties.

But I wanted to talk about transparency. You talked about how, for a couple of years there, Metrolinx did some fantastic things and, coincidentally, elected officials were on the board at that time. Now, they were all punted off, and many of those elected officials had specific expertise in transit. I wonder if there is a correlation today between the loss of a comprehensive light rail system in Toronto and the fact that elected officials with transparency as part of their mandate are not on the board of Metrolinx.

4:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

I don't see that correlation. What I see, in terms of some of the challenges we've had in continuing to deliver elements of the plan in the city of Toronto, was the election of a new mayor who has priorities that are different from those of the former mayor.

It doesn't matter, I don't think, whether the new mayor was or was not going to be on Metrolinx. I think we needed to be responsive to the community. I guess it's one of the challenges that all transportation agencies face across the country: you need to be responsive to the mandates of the individuals who get elected. That sometimes means that you have to look at adjustments to your plans in the short and the medium term.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

I have to end it there.

Mr. Merrifield.

November 2nd, 2011 / 4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

As a new member, I find this very interesting. It's a sort of blast from the past from the last government, but none the less, transportation is near and dear to my heart and my interests.

When it comes to railway, I know a little bit about moving people and railways, as the minister in charge of VIA, and I do know that if you want to save money, you'll stop running trains; they usually don't make money.

The issue on this one...and I don't think anyone is opposed to doing everything we possibly can to move people by rail, it's certainly efficient.... As the previous questioner, Mr. Cash, has suggested, the development of the GDP and of the community, particularly in high-density areas such as Toronto, is absolutely critical.

The first question I have is about the $15 billion in the first phase; that was $14 billion from the province and $1 billion from the federal government and municipalities. How much of that $1 billion was from the federal government?

4:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

It's $14 billion dollars approximately from the provincial government, and about $1 billion from each of the municipal and the federal governments.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

How much was federal?

4:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

I think it was $1.1 billion.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Okay. And your municipality gave how much, then?

4:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

I believe it was $1.4 billion.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Do you know whether they use the gas tax money as money for that?

4:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

The gas tax money has been a great success story in terms of investment in local infrastructure. I think the municipalities have been using their gas tax money for a variety of different purposes; part of it has been going to transit, part of it to roads, and part of it to other infrastructure needs.

In the City of Toronto, they have directed their gas tax money largely to transit. As to whether it goes specifically to a cross-town project or they put it into other transit projects that the Toronto Transit Commission is pursuing, I don't have that level of detail about how they disburse the funds.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I guess the point is that there's a fair amount of federal money going to the municipality.

That leads to the question of the polling you did--which I find interesting--showing that mobility was the number one issue, above education and health care, until you took education and health care away, and then all of a sudden it would change.... Nonetheless, it's very valid in that polling.

The question is, when you're looking at a long-term strategy--and this gets back to a long-term strategy in transit--did you, in the poll, ask the question whether, if it was their number one issue, it was enough of a number one interest for them to be able to support it financially as well?

4:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

What we've learned through our research is that, as you would expect, there is a reluctance on the part of the public to provide additional income or revenue to any level of government. At the same time, we see that it differs according to how the revenue is collected and how it is disbursed.

For example, if you ask the public the question, “Do you support additional revenue generally...?”, the answer is no, but if it's dedicated to transportation and transit, it goes up quite significantly. This is an indication that if the public has some idea of specifically where the investment is going, they have a greater level of support for it.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Okay.

Let's take your airport link to downtown Toronto. It's a tremendous advantage economically to get a link like that there. I don't know the economics of how it would work. I'm sure you do. But one question would be, would you put a vehicle tax on downtown vehicles to reduce congestion and apply that to the link to the rail? Would that be acceptable? Have you any research or any polling that would suggest that they would be open to that sort of thing?

4:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

We haven't done any research with that specific kind of question. The Air Rail Link is a unique kind of service, because it's not really positioned as a commuter aid for your trip from home to work and back again. It's more a premium-level service to deliver people to the airport as an alternative to a $50 cab ride.

We actually have a mandate to recover all of our operating costs--and hopefully some of our capital costs--from the fare box on this project, which is quite different from your typical transit service. We're looking at more of a cost-recovery model.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

You talked about electric versus diesel on that route. Is that going to be electric?

4:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Metrolinx

Bruce McCuaig

We will be launching the service in 2015 with tier 4 diesel locomotives. That's the highest quality of emissions control. We're in a process to see whether or not we electrify that service in the future.