Ont. plans to merge GO Transit with Metrolinx
TORONTO - Ontario is looking to merge regional transit agency Metrolinx with GO Transit in a bid to move transit projects forward more quickly and remove sitting politicians from the proposed new agency's board.
Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said the merger will allow the province to begin projects sooner, improve service for millions of commuters, and create thousands of construction jobs over the next several years.
"There's been some good planning done already by the Metrolinx board," Bradley said after introducing a bill in the legislature. "We now have to implement those plans, and the people that we have chosen we believe will be able to do that effectively."
Under the proposed legislation, the government would appoint a new board for the merged company, made up of 15 members.
Outgoing Torstar Corp. chief executive Robert Prichard will be the transition adviser for the deal, while Metrolinx chairman Rob MacIsaac and Go Transit chairman Peter Smith will round off the transition advisory board.
Members of Parliament, the Legislative Assembly and municipal councils, and government employees at all levels will all be excluded.
The board is currently comprised of several elected officials, including the mayors of Hamilton, Mississauga and Toronto.
Bradley wouldn't comment Monday on the move away from politicians, saying only that the province is following the lead of other cities that have efficient transit models.
"We looked at areas such as Chicago, New York, and they have this kind of authority, people who are experts in the field," Bradley said.
"They wanted to make it a concise board, a board geared strictly to the implementation of the various projects that are out there."
He denied the current system slowed down projects because of politicians protecting local interests, though he did say he was initially worried about that possibility.
"Those folks were very good at checking their parochial hats at the door," he said.
"This doesn't mean there was unanimity on everything; there never is."
Progressive Conservative critic Frank Klees said in the legislature he supports the move, and is in favour of keeping politicians off the new board.
"As much as I have the highest regard for elected officials, being one myself, I believe that this board should in fact have exclusively professionals who know what they're doing when it comes to planning important things such as transit and transportation," Klees said.
The changes are important, he added, because billions of dollars earmarked for transit projects have yet to flow out the door.
New Democrat Peter Tabuns said the bill will do little to address that problem.
"The Metrolinx regional transportation plan is slated to cost $55 billion," Tabuns said. "There's no indication where that money will come from.
"If you are standing on a GO platform somewhere waiting for a train, don't expect it to come faster based on this bill."
Prichard, who will earn $215,000 a year while he heads the board, said he expects to stay on "more than three months and less than a year," and said he will work quickly to recruit a permanent CEO.
"My job is to be the transition adviser and to try to build as strong an organization as we can," he said.
Metrolinx is a provincial Crown corporation assigned to improve and integrate transit in the Toronto-Hamilton region.