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The new Metrolinx chairman is promising unbiased advice to his political masters at Queen’s Park, but he acknowledges that the government can ignore the agency’s expertise if it chooses.

Donald Wright’s appointment last month by the recently elected Progressive Conservatives came at a time of major change for the transit agency. Metrolinx, which had previously existed only under Liberal governments, is in the midst of a big GO rail expansion and could end up taking over Toronto’s subway lines if the Tories carry through with a campaign promise to upload the service.

A veteran financial services executive, Mr. Wright has served as chairman of the board at VIA Rail. His first job with a railroad was a half-century ago, when he spent time as a teenager making up sleeping compartments on the passenger service CN Rail ran at the time.

He sat down with The Globe and Mail Monday afternoon at Union Station.

The new government has been reticent about some of their plans. How have you been assured that what you see happening with Metrolinx is in line with their vision? What have they told you they plan to do?

When I was talking to the Premier about this, was talking to the minister, both of them think transportation is incredibly important. The Premier told me that he personally feels very involved in all decisions made on the transportation side. It gave me great comfort that right from the very top this is important to this government.

In a subway upload scenario, is there a need for beefing up the democratic legitimacy of the board?

The government is still trying to make the decision on whether there’ll be an uploading, so we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. If we have to make any changes to our board we’ll seriously consider that. But the processes we have, I don’t think the processes would be different.

A process at city hall is that a member of the public can make a deputation. Do you see any value in having public input like that?

To me it seems more [logical] to make their cases to the political side, as opposed to the board of an operating company.

How, under your chairmanship, would the board prevent the sort of situation we saw with the Kirby GO train station, where the Liberal government interfered to push a station the evidence didn’t support?

We’re going to give our best advice. If the government wants to do something that’s different, they can explain why they want to do it differently than we’ve suggested.

Would you feel comfortable stating publicly that your advice had been different from what the government did or do you give that advice behind closed doors?

You know, I’m not really sure. It would have to be something really, really huge to sort of publicly, I mean, I don’t think our position is to debate the government on what’s right and wrong.

Even if behind closed doors, would you be comfortable saying to the Premier that, you know, the Scarborough subway is not a good idea or a subway to Richmond Hill is not a good idea?

Would I be comfortable? Sure I would, if those were the facts. We’ll have opinions based on research. You can’t just tell somebody what they want to hear, right?

What you put into a study often affects what comes out of it.

As far as I’m concerned, we won’t be slanting anything. If you’re asking me: Are we going to come up with advice that fits what the government wants? The answer is no.

This interview has been edited for length.

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