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Eight questions for the man behind Ontario's $15-billion plan
July 11, 2014
Oliver Moore

Less than two years after first winning office, Steven Del Duca was handed one of the hottest portfolios in the Ontario government in a cabinet shuffle after the Liberals won their majority. The newly minted Minister of Transportation is responsible for stick-handling a plan for $15-billion in transit expansion over 10 years in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. The ambitious plan included full electrification of GO rail, along with more frequent service across the network, and was a centrepiece of the Liberals’ winning campaign. Funding remains a question, though, with large sums required from Ottawa and through new provincial borrowing and “asset optimization.” His ministry will also have to deal with the fallout of this year’s municipal election in Toronto, in which two of the five leading candidates are determined to change transit plans in Scarborough. Mr. Del Duca spoke with The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore on Thursday.

The transit plan was brought in during a weaker position for the government, now you’re much stronger. Given that, and given that some of the money remains to be found, can you rule out additional revenue tools?

When you go into an election campaign, put a plan in front of people and are provided with a clear and strong mandate to deliver; I think you have the responsibility to do exactly that.

Should I take that as a no, that there won’t be additional revenue tools?

My focus here exclusively is to take the mandate that the premier has given me and that the people have given all of us, to get on with that plan.

The freight companies own about one-third of the corridors that GO uses, they have legitimate and real concerns about expansion. How do you convince them it’s worth their while to go along?

Convince is a good word, I think. But it’s also a question of bringing them into the dialogue, making sure that those companies understand that the plan benefits them too.

Metrolinx pegged the price of GO electrification at as much as $12-billion. Can you do that without pushing something like the downtown relief line, which the TTC views as its top priority, quite a bit farther down the list?

I’m not in a position to say that anyone has landed on a final price-tag. But I know that when you earmark $15-billion, there is a significant amount of good that can flow from that. There are a number of projects. I look forward to working with everybody involved to make sure that we implement a plan that makes sense.

How do you sell that kind of a scale of project – whether it’s $12-billion or whatever it turns out to be – when it has the appearance of primarily benefiting one kind of commuter, the suburban commuter?

The rail plan formed a pretty crucial element of what we talked to the people of Ontario about during the election campaign. And we were given a mandate to come back and get the job done.

The scale of the price of that project relative to the total amount of money that would be available was not known until after the election.

Frankly, a final number is still not known. So it’s premature, I think, for anybody to say, well, what are we going to cherry-pick in terms of not doing because we think one particular aspect, albeit a very important transformational aspect, of our plan may ultimately cost X.

Is the provincial government’s financial commitment to a Scarborough subway extension available for other transit if the city wants to do something different?

My perspective on that is that we just ran through a campaign where we had a very clear plan, and part and parcel of that plan includes the subway to Scarborough.

The city obviously has to come up with about a billion dollars itself. This is still a debate at the city level. The province can’t go ahead without the city, practically speaking. The city’s role in this is crucial, is that fair to say?

We will, as we always have, work as closely as we can with all of our municipal partners. But, you know, what I do hear loud and clear is that there does come a point at which time for seemingly endless debate and discussion needs to move to getting the work done. At a certain point, a plan is only as good as its implementation.