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Premier's Remarks to the Toronto Region Board of Trade

Archived Speech

Premier's Remarks to the Toronto Region Board of Trade

Office of the Premier

Good afternoon.

Thank you Carol, for that introduction.

It's always great to address this group.

We are gathering on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of New Credit and on the shores of one of the great transportation networks of the world.

And that is what I want to talk about today -- our transportation.

I want to thank you and the Toronto Region Board of Trade for the leadership you have shown on the issue of transit and transportation infrastructure.

Last month, you released a report outlining your ideas to move this region forward.

And when that happened, Carol, you were quoted by the CBC.

You said that in the GTHA, "Talking about our congestion has become a regional obsession."

And then you added: "So too, has avoiding real solutions."

Well, I want you to know that I share the GTHA's obsession with thinking about congestion.

But I am determined to find solutions.

The first subway line in this city opened in 1954, the year after I was born.

I still remember riding the subway for the first time as a little girl, with my grandmother when I was five or six.

I was wearing my white gloves because it was a special occasion.

Everyone was so excited, so proud.

Today, around the world and right across Ontario, communities are confronting their aging infrastructure; their congested roads, their overburdened transit systems and the need for repairs to their bridges and underpasses.

In this region, the average commute time has been pegged at 82 minutes a day.

Toronto's congestion is a major issue affecting its reputation and its productivity.

There is a pressing need for change, for new investment.

That is not up for debate.

But when I listen to some of the rhetoric around transit investment, I agree with Carol. I believe that some politicians have made a short-sighted decision to avoid real solutions.

Parties do their polling and they don't see easy answers; they don't see easy wins.

But I know that improving our infrastructure deficit is not about scoring political points.

It's about ensuring Ontario's success.

And that is my core responsibility as the Premier of this province.

I believe that the people of this region want to end the bickering on this issue; that they are ready to get moving.

And joining them is actually a very practical move for a politician at this moment.

Although I believe passionately that building transit is great public policy, I am also motivated because I know that people feel the need acutely -- that indeed good policy and public opinion are intersecting.

But to develop real momentum, we have to change the way we talk about these investments.

We have to get excited about transit again, and where it can take us.

We have to talk about what we DO want.

We want to get to work on time in the morning.

We want to get home to our families quickly at the end of the day.

We want to be able to drive up the DVP or the 400 on the weekend, west or east on the 401, without sitting in endless traffic.

As Premier, I have a responsibility to ensure that Ontario's largest city can move with ease.

It's important to businesses and industries based here in Toronto, because it will help their employees be more productive and have a better standard of living.

And it will help companies outside of Toronto as well; businesses that need their products to move efficiently from one side of this region to the other on a regular basis.

It will have a positive impact on our tourism, on our culture and on the health of the millions of people who call the GTHA home.

It will help minimize the impact on Ontario's natural environment and it will help encourage smart growth and sustainable development.

The ripple effect of these improvements will be felt far and wide.

Investing in transit in this region is going to pay off for the whole province.

It will contribute to a better future for us all.

Now, people have been asking me: How are you going to do this if people disagree?

Well first of all, I won't be doing anything alone.

Many of you in this room are part of groups and networks that are building and fostering support for this kind of progress.

We all have to focus on uniting people in a sense of optimism around infrastructure investment.

Because this is not a dark tale of taxes and tolls; it's a story about laying the groundwork for our own success, and the success of our children and grandchildren.

There are other jurisdictions where this story has been told effectively, and it has resulted in a major culture shift.

Take Los Angeles, for example, the place where traffic jams were practically invented - or at least perfected.

Congestion there was so bad that when L.A. closed a section of its commuter highway for repair, the media called it: "Carmageddon."

But a group of community and business leaders mobilized around the desire to fix the city's gridlock, and the Los Angeles mayor campaigned on a commitment to making major transit investments.

In 2008, the city voted on a dedicated, 30-year, 0.5-per cent regional sales tax, which is expected to pour approximately $40-billion into their transit expansion effort.

They recognized the problem, they came up with a plan that was right for them and they took action.

In Stockholm, Sweden, the national parliament conducted a fascinating public experiment in 2006.

The city is actually located on a series of islands and, as you can imagine, traffic in and out of the downtown core each day was terrible.

And so they did a six-month trial using congestions tolls, charging people according to the time of day they came in and out of the city.

During that same period, they increased the availability of public transit.

Six months later, the improvements to commuter travel times were even better than expected.

There was a measurable, positive impact on Stockholm's air quality and on the downtown economy.

The trial also had a positive impact on traffic in the whole region, not just within the city limits.

And Stockholm citizens overwhelmingly supported keeping the toll.

The result was described by one research institute as a "land-slide change of opinion within the general public."

We see this kind of culture shift is already happening in Ontario.

And I believe that people will support this investment if they can see what the measurable result will be.

As we speak, Metrolinx is engaged in ongoing public consultations, and groups like the Toronto Region Board of Trade and the CivicAction Alliance are getting people excited about how their daily commute could be improved.

In June, Metrolinx will also release its investment strategy, zeroing in on the shortlist of potential revenue tools it released last week.

As Premier of Ontario, I can't pre-empt their strategy by talking about what tools they might choose to put forward to the government.

But I can tell you generally about what I think needs to happen when it comes to transit investment in the GTHA.

And I hope that it will do a lot to show the public that this process will be fair and transparent and -- outside of all the unhelpful rhetoric -- that it's necessary, too.

So:

I believe that any investments from new revenue must be entirely and transparently dedicated to transportation projects, so that the cost is directly tied to a measurable result.

People need to know what they are paying for; they need to see where the money is going.

I also know that this cannot just be about one group of commuters.

Contrary to what some people will have you believe, there is no war on cars, or cyclists or transit.

We are all fighting for a better way forward.

And so any new tool cannot disproportionately impact one type of commute, but must recognize the strains across the system.

Some of the tools that are used must encourage choice and be designed to have a positive impact on people's behaviour.

They must be tied to smart city building and efficient land use planning, and endeavour to accommodate this region's growing population in the most efficient way possible.

We also have to give some context to the investment that is required in this case.

I don't want anyone to think that transit or the GTHA is getting unfair attention or disproportionate investment.

And so it's important to note that for the past 20 years, transit investment in Ontario has lagged well behind the funding we have put into the province's road network, our bridges and underpasses; that part of our transportation puzzle has received hundreds of millions a year; and in the past nine years, billions.

In contrast, there have been several years in that time period when the provincial government's capital expenditure on transit was exactly zero.

Despite the fact that our government has tried to make up for lost time by investing steadily in transit over the last 10 years - putting $13.4-billion into public transit and committing $9-billion to the Big Move - there are also some people who will have you believe that the money needed for this investment can be found within our current financial framework.

Well, as someone who has looked at the books, I want you to know that this is just not the case.

Transit in the GTHA needs tens of billions of dollars over the next twenty years.

Our whole provincial budget each year is about $125B.

Ontario's spending on programs is already tightly constrained compared to other jurisdictions.

Last year, our per capita spending was 11 per cent lower than the other 9 provinces, on average, even as we protect our important achievements in our health care and education systems.

And our public service is relatively much more efficient.

We deliver those same provincial services with fewer personnel: just 7.4 for every 1,000 people in Ontario.

The average across all the provinces is 10.4.

Ontario's public service is 14 per cent smaller than it was in 1995.

The federal public service has grown by 9 per cent in that same time.

We need to find dedicated revenue for these projects because the money will not and cannot be found elsewhere.

I studied history in university and I love learning about the history of this city and this province.

Some people have mentioned in the press that heated debate over transit planning in Toronto has been going on for a century.

It's incredible, if you think about it.

Not that we have been arguing about this for that long...

But imagine the vision it required to build a subway network in the first half of the 20thcentury.

In 1910, more than 100 years ago, the citizens of Toronto voted in favour of a subway plan that would spread to the corners of a city that they could only begin to imagine.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Toronto didn't actually get its subway until 1954.

There was a change of administration. They scrapped one plan in favour of another.

There were public debates and doubts about escalating costs.

Sound familiar?

When the subway finally opened, people came out in droves for the occasion.

They wore their Sunday best.

But think about the time that was lost to that debate.

Think about what the city might look like if that subway had been built in 1910, and not forty years later.

Think about what our region would look like if our transit funding hadn't lagged behind until ten years ago.

If some government hadn't opted to invest exactly zero dollars into transit.

I don't want some future Premier to stand here in 50 years talking about how great it would have been if only someone had taken action in 2013.

And so I am focused on getting people excited about transit and transportation infrastructure again.

I will keep talking about what we can achieve for this city, this region and this great province.

I will focus on the positive impact we can make through smart, fair investment.

But I need your help.

Many of you are already leaders on this issue, so keep leading.

Talk to your friends and colleagues about the positive impact transit investment will have on their lives and on Ontario's economic well-being.

We have to keep building wide-spread public support.

If we don't, the Toronto region will remain mired in gridlock, both on its roads and in its politics.

So let's get excited: let's tap into the desire for a better commute, cleaner air, a stronger economy.

I know the will is there.

I know the support exists.

And progress will be made.

Together we can get this done.

Thank you.

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