Reflections on 10 years as western Mississauga’s MPP
On the evening of October 2, 2003, our western Mississauga neighbours challenged me to go to Queen’s Park and help make our neighbourhoods better places to live as Ontario’s new government tackled a hidden $5.6 billion deficit, and a host of challenges.
Ten years ago, I had pledged four things to the residents of Lisgar, Meadowvale and Streetsville (and at the time before redistribution, western and central Erin Mills):
- Get a new GO Train station built at Lisgar;
- Get approval for a Phase II expansion at Credit Valley Hospital;
- Get better and fairer access to regulated professions in Ontario;
- Expand capacity on the Milton GO train line.
Lisgar GO Station: Promise Kept!
Bottom line: promise made and promise kept. Ward 9 Mississauga City Councillor Pat Saito and I worked as a team, and the new Lisgar GO station was announced on a freezing cold January 2005 morning, a day almost as cold as the morning that ground first broke later that year. I read petitions to the Legislature so often that other MPPs could lip-synch them by the time the station received its approval. The Lisgar GO station opened on September 4, 2007, seven weeks early and under budget. It was designed from the outset to handle the longer trains (12 cars) subsequently introduced to increase carrying capacity, and was the first new GO train station in 25 years in Mississauga.
Credit Valley Hospital Phase II: Promise Kept!
The wind on that spring day in 2007 made it a bad hair day all round, though then CVH President Wayne Fyffe, then foundation head Norma Bandler, I and then Health Minister David Caplan did not mind. We were getting started early on a new hospital wing. It was a wonderful day to keep a promise.
People told me ten years ago of how they would go to the Milton hospital rather than face the waits at Credit Valley Hospital, which they liked nonetheless. Of course, that was before waves of new subdivisions began to fill Milton, and tax the capacity of the Milton hospital. I wasn’t sure how to get a hospital expansion approved and built, but it was something we clearly needed, so I said we’d get it done. The nurses and management at CVH helped me learn the business and art of how a hospital wing gets approved and built. Everyone helped with many, many signed petitions.
On a May Saturday morning in 2005, the Ministry of Health admitted there was no reason that construction could not start. After some back-and-forth on dates, and before about 400 + staff at CVH, I got to announce the new wing on my birthday (I didn’t tell anybody about that until long afterward). Construction got started ahead of schedule in 2007, and Phase II opened ahead of schedule and under budget, doubling the maternity ward, adding 140 beds and a new complex care unit, as well as numerous other hospital upgrades. Today, people come to CVH (now Trillium Health Partners) from Milton.
Fair Access to Regulated Professions: Promise Kept!
Many of the newcomers to Canada were attracted by the obvious need for their skills, training and experience acquired in their countries of origin. Then they would hit a brick wall with some of Ontario’s professions and the foolish hurdles they would have to clear. Together, we did petitions and worked on the government for action that resulted in Bill 124, the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, 2006.
At its final reading, the bill passed unanimously. In its committee hearings, deputations from passionate individuals overcame all opposition objections and reservations, and its successful third reading was greeted across Ontario with celebrations. It’s made a difference as many of 2003′s shortages of qualified professionals were swiftly overcome as eager and talented people received their ability to practice their professions in Ontario as the various professional colleges and organizations revised their often arbitrary and restrictive practices to make them fair, transparent, timely and cost-efficient.
More Capacity on the Milton GO Line: Promise Kept!
By 2003, there were fewer GO trains on the Milton GO line than there were in the early 1990s. Ontario again invested in public transit after 2003. Milton’s constraint is that as far back as the early 20th century, the line had had only two tracks. Being part of CP Rail’s main east-west line, and linking into the USA, CP uses the Milton tracks (which it owns) to haul freight at about 100 percent of the line’s capacity.
All the GO stations had to be upgraded to 21st century standards. Lisgar was built correctly from the outset. Meadowvale had parking added; a new elevator for proper disabled access; a cover over the platform for those many freezing and/or wet days seven months of the year and more parking spaces. Streetsville get a long-needed second access tunnel to the platform, more parking spaces and a completely revised station entrance and kiss-and-ride. Erindale got a new multi-level parking garage and platform extensions.
In 2003, there were five trains each morning, and five trains each afternoon, with each train hauling ten double-decker cars. Today, we have eight trains each way, with each train pulling 12 cars. The new MD-40 locomotives made their very first appearance on our Milton line, as did the 12-car trains. For every seat on the trains in 2003, we have two seats today. And those seats are still full, as I see personally when I ride the GO train to work. We still need that extra track capacity Pat Saito and I have been talking about for ten years.
Ontario has listened, and we have a commitment for all-day, two-way GO train service, which means building two extra tracks on the Milton Line. It’s a firm commitment, and The Big Move is all about the ‘when’ of the build. The money is firm, as is the commitment to build those two extra tracks. It’s a three-year project once construction starts. The next step is to issue the calls for tender. Phase One of the extra Milton Line tracks, (called capacity expansion in train-speak) will take the project as far as Meadowvale. That also likely involves a completely new bridge over the Humber River east of the Kipling station.
Oh yeah, and about that hidden deficit…
Even before the government was sworn in during October of 2003, a report by Ontario’s former Auditor General confirmed the new government would inherit a $5.6 billion deficit. Premier McGuinty had held a photo opportunity for journalists before the first cabinet was sworn in that sunny late October day, and then asked everyone except MPPs to leave the room. You could hear a pin drop as he laid the number on us.
By 2007, a year ahead of schedule, Ontario was running a budget surplus. Until the recession hit in the fall of 2008, our government ran three budget surpluses in a row, using the surpluses to pay down long-term debt, fund municipal infrastructure, and restore services cut in the 1990s. Tax reform has made Ontario’s income and sales taxes much more fair. For example, while they chide the richest one percent in the USA for not paying its way, in Ontario, the richest one percent pay 15 percent of the bills.
For Mr. and Mrs. Ontario, however, their tax ‘burden’ (as the pundits like to call it) is lower now than it was ten years ago, and for moderate-income seniors, the disadvantaged and the poor, they are effectively either not taxed at all, or have their sales taxes and energy costs rebated through such programs as the Ontario Trillium Benefit.
The federal government has not been able to adhere to its own timetable to get back to a balanced budget. Neither has Alberta. But Ontario has exceeded its recession deficit reduction targets each year, and is on track to a balanced budget in 2018. Our Province is the only place in Canada that can make that claim.
It has been a wonderful, challenging, fulfilling ten years working for western Mississauga in Queen’s Park.