New Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has repeatedly stressed the importance of reducing gridlock, welcome news to a Toronto region increasingly paralyzed by congestion. One day after a Throne Speech in which her government pledged serious infrastructure spending, newly minted Transportation Minister Glen Murray sat down with The Globe and Mail to discuss transit, road tolls and the fate of the Gardiner Expressway.
The revenue tools – including road tolls, sales-tax increases and higher property taxes – that have been mooted by Metrolinx and the City of Toronto, are they palatable in a minority legislature?
I would hope so. There are obviously proposals that involve new revenues and different sorts of fees. But there’s also a lot of stuff that we haven’t looked at. What are smarter investments? What are the right technologies? There’s a lot more creativity that we can look at in trying to get more innovative technologies. And then, if there are still gaps, and I imagine there will be, what are we ready to spend and how do we want to pay for that? And do we understand the alternative is increasing congestion, loss of investment and a much less positive future?
With both the opposition parties speaking out against them, are road tolls off the table?
I like evidence-based policy. We haven’t done the math on any kind of revenue tools at this point. I want to see what the costs and choices are. I want to present those to the people of Ontario. And I want to, with the Premier, present them to the legislature, and lay out the benefits and costs of each option. I haven’t seen the information, so I’m not going to jump to any conclusions. I don’t want to pre-empt the discussions that are going on. When we have the investment strategy on the table, then I will participate in that conversation with everyone else.
You think that you can go to the opposition and say, ‘Here, it makes sense,’ and maybe change their minds?
I think there are a lot of Ontarians who actually understand the gravity of the choices and what not having an adequate transportation and transit system will mean – 10, 15, 20 years from now. But I’m not sure everyone quite understands how serious that is. I think there are many people who say if we simply don’t make these investments, we’re going to save money. So I think we have some more work to do.
We want to get some bold ideas out there. The middle class has come out of this recession, all around the world, with greater struggles. So asking middle-class Ontario families for more money is pretty tough. They really need more help. So we have to make sure that we as elected leaders are going to the absolute edge of our abilities and creativity to find solutions that don’t involve increasing the burden, especially on middle-class families.
The Metrolinx investment strategy obviously is going to include a mix of revenue tools. That burden will fall, in large part, on middle-class families. Or do you think some of that can be ameliorated through other methods?
I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. I’m looking forward to some pretty vigorous conversations with Metrolinx. I think the community is having a very vigorous conversation about choices. But we have to design this not just to meet the transportation needs of Ontarians. That’s an essential component of it, but the other essential component is affordability for families and for middle-class families. So we have to maximize our creative options.
What do you think should be done with the Gardiner Expressway?
A few years after the Embarcadero elevated freeway collapsed in San Francisco, property values were up a couple of hundred per cent. It was such an ugly dysfunctional piece of infrastructure that it depressed the value of property and the livability of the city. Now there’s a greenway – it looks like the Champs Élysées – which carries almost as much traffic.
John Norquist, who was the mayor of Milwaukee, said, if I take our expressway down, what would that mean as far as the tax base downtown? He wrote a wonderful book about the experience called The Wealth of Cities, which I highly recommend. I have a copy of it in my office, so I may send it to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and see what he thinks of it.
The Gardiner is the City of Toronto’s asset. But if the city has some creative ideas, we’ll keep an open mind about some partnerships with them. As a former mayor, I would certainly like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Mayor Ford and say, what do you see as the future of the Gardiner?
The important thing is what does he and his council think about the Gardiner.