Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has taken the unusual step of dressing down Transportation Minister Glen Murray for publicly musing about revisiting a multibillion-dollar transit plan – something that is not, in fact, on the government’s agenda.
It was not just what Mr. Murray said that was “unfortunate,” said a senior government source, but also the timing of it. The day when all attention should have been on the government’s first budget, Ms. Wynne was forced to do damage control and make it clear to municipal leaders that she is not reopening debate on the so-called Big Move public transit plan for the Greater Toronto Area.
For his part, Mr. Murray retracted his initial comments, which were quoted on the front page of The Globe and Mail, after Ms. Wynne spoke to him first thing Thursday morning. Ms. Wynne put him on notice that she will not tolerate cabinet members freelancing and making arbitrary changes to government policy, the sources said.
“It’s very regrettable,” a source close to Ms. Wynne said. “The Premier’s doing clean up.”
The unspoken rule for politicians is that they do not make headline news on budget day. But that is precisely what Mr. Murray did. He told The Globe that he is not convinced the planning process for the Big Move has been rigorous enough to be final and considers proposed routes “placeholders.”
Mr. Murray is known around Queen’s Park as not shy about expressing his ideas. He once apologized for a tweet accusing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of bigotry.
This time the stakes are higher. Ms. Wynne has made transportation and grappling with traffic gridlock cornerstone policies of her government. There are multiple interests to balance, including Mr. Ford’s push for a subway and Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz’s desire to reopen existing transit agreements.
“If you start to say, 'We’re going to have a further consultation on what we’re going to do,' that will destabilize a very tricky file,” the source close to Ms. Wynne said.
Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion said in an interview that she was “rather shocked” at Mr. Murray’s comments about reopening the Metrolinx plan. She expressed “grave concern” to Ms. Wynne on Thursday and questioned whether Mr. Murray did his homework.
“It just seems delay, delay, delay and we’ve had too much delay already,” Ms. McCallion said. “Studying is over. Action is what’s required.”
Cities and the province’s transit agency, Metrolinx, have spent millions of dollars and several years designing the next phase of the Big Move plan – 10 big-ticket projects, including Toronto’s downtown relief line, the Yonge Street subway extension, and light-rail lines in Mississauga and Hamilton. “The plan may not be perfect,” Ms. McCallion said. “But we need to get on with it.” Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell countered that reopening the Metrolinx plan is a good idea.
She supports the need for improved transit infrastructure in the GTA but says she does not support taxes or tolls to finance it.
“I’m very pleased Glen Murray has made the observation that the plan was flawed and not supportable without the funds and he’s prepared to say, let’s relook at it,” she said.
Mr. Murray made it emphatically clear that will not be happening in a prepared statement on Thursday handed out to reporters in the budget lock-up.
Ms. Wynne was not available for comment. A spokeswoman in her office said, “The Premier and the minister have spoken and they are on the same page. He’s a great Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and he’s a strong advocate.”