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Gerard Kennedy resigns from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet at a Toronto news conference on April 5, 2006. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Gerard Kennedy resigns from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet at a Toronto news conference on April 5, 2006. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Adam Radwanski

With friends like Kennedy, McGuinty needs no enemies Add to ...

It was only a matter of time.

Even when he's in your caucus, it's hard to keep Gerard Kennedy on message. Michael Ignatieff, who recently watched the Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park call for a debate on raising the GST, could attest to that much.

So it was all but inevitable that Mr. Kennedy would eventually run afoul of his former colleagues in Dalton McGuinty's provincial government, where he served for three years as education minister. And he's now done so in fairly spectacular fashion - stepping all over the Liberals' signature transportation policy.

The expansion of GO Transit train service along the Georgetown Corridor, which most notably includes a long-anticipated rail link between Toronto's Union Station and Pearson International Airport, has provoked vocal opposition from the outset. But for all the community activists who've complained about the noise from construction or pollution from the diesel trains that will go by, nobody has caused the government quite as much headache as Mr. Kennedy.

Unlike most of the activists, he doesn't live alongside the tracks. But he does have a well-earned reputation as a strong constituency MP. He knows how to work the system on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Kennedy's specific complaint is about the egregiously noisy pile-driving at a railway crossing in the Junction neighbourhood. There's little dispute - even from executives at Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority which has absorbed GO - that the construction was launched in needlessly disruptive fashion. But there are plenty of fireworks over the process that Mr. Kennedy set in motion to challenge Metrolinx, and the precedent it will set for construction along the rest of the line.

Finding officials with the provincial transit agency to be "very, very unco-operative, to a startling degree," Mr. Kennedy went over their heads to the Canadian Transportation Agency, a federal regulator.

"It's a provincial issue in most of its aspects," Mr. Kennedy says. "But it was done so badly that it became a federal issue."

Metrolinx officials complain that the CTA wildly overstepped in its ruling, which found in favour of the complainants. Their argument is that by repeatedly dictating that workers must avoid using noisier methods "wherever possible," the agency set a standard that will be impossible to meet. (Mr. Kennedy calls that interpretation "a complete misreading.") Not having expected to be monitored by a federal watchdog, particularly since Ottawa is partly funding the project, Metrolinx is fretting that residents in other neighbourhoods will be able to halt construction at the first sign of inconvenience. If that happens, officials say, the costs could go through the roof; they also caution that they might not be able to meet their goal of completing construction by 2015, when the region will host the Pan-Am Games.

What's ensued is a protracted battle over the CTA's authority.

Metrolinx has attempted to have the Federal Court of Appeal set aside the agency's ruling. Mr. Kennedy, meanwhile, has petitioned the federal and provincial transportation ministers (the latter of whom, Kathleen Wynne, was once his parliamentary assistant) to "direct Metrolinx to withdraw its application for a stay and appeal."

Flexing his organizational muscle, Mr. Kennedy managed to get 11 other Toronto-area Liberal MPs - including some whose constituents would benefit from expanded rail service, without suffering the construction headaches - to sign his letter. (New Democrat Cheri DiNovo, who replaced Mr. Kennedy as Parkdale-High Park's provincial representative, continues to raise the issue in the legislature.) If it runs out of other options, Metrolinx may yet appeal to the federal cabinet, which has the ability to overrule the CTA's decision. The irony of the provincial Liberal government asking the federal Conservatives to intervene in a process launched by one of Ontario's most prominent Liberals would be hard to miss.

Mr. Kennedy insists it needn't come to that, and distances himself from those community activists who oppose the whole rail expansion unless it involves only electric trains. The issue, he says, is forcing Metrolinx to better engage the neighbourhoods affected by its project.

His admirers contend that if Mr. Kennedy were still at Ontario's cabinet table, the whole matter probably would have been worked out by now. But that argument does not exactly elicit a charitable reaction from provincial Liberals.

Mr. Kennedy left their ranks to pursue his federal ambitions. Now, he's busy telling a provincial agency what it should be doing better.

It's far from the first time his independent-mindedness and his penchant for taking up causes has gotten in the way of Mr. McGuinty's plans. It hasn't gotten any easier for his former allies now that he has to worry only about his constituents' interests, not the government's.

Follow on Twitter: @aradwanski

 

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