Monday, January 08, 2007

John Baird cannot be trusted

Apparently, back in October, John Baird, then President of the Treasury Board, went against the advice of his own staff and withheld federal funding for Ottawa's light-rail project for political purposes.

Baird's own professional staff reviewed the contract and the project and found it to be well justified, as did the staf of at least two other departments:

"Treasury Board and Finance officials did not request a value for money audit, and Transport and Infrastructure Canada officials and the Minister were satisfied enough with the project to sign off on it to go to TB," the briefing note said.

"He (Mr. Baird) is effectively saying that he is a better judge of value-for-money than the experts in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Department of Finance, and the Treasury Board Secretariat." - Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007 [emphasis mine]

The effect of his interference was twofold. First, it changed the debate of the Ottawa Mayoral race to light rail and taxes, boosting Baird's friend and fellow conservative Larry O'Brien, while damaging the campaign of Mayor Bob Chiarelli, a longtime Baird foe. Secondly, as a result of this battle, the entire light-rail project was killed by a vote of the new council and Mayor Larry O'Brien, who defeated Chairelli in November. Since a signed contract was already in place, the City has now been opened up to possible lawsuits from Siemens, the company that was to build the LRT, in the nieghbourhood of hundreds of millions.

In other words, our new Environment Minister is personally responsible for the destruction of an environmentally friendly public transit project that would have removed hundreds if not thousands of cars off of the streets of Ottawa (thus reducing pollution and green house gasses) in order to interfere in a municipal election to help elect a fellow conservative.

And now we are to trust him to handle what has become one of the most important issues for Canadians, the Environment.

And before the cat-calls of "partisanship" start howling in the comments, let me remind you that I am not the only one that was disgusted with this political interference. This crosses party lines.

Perhaps Baird will do something for the environment. Given his track record and clear lack of ethics in the light rail situation, I doubt it.

Backgrounder:

For those of you not from Ottawa and who mght not know the details of this let me explain:

Ottawa has a good transit system but clearly, with the expansion of the city, it needs more. A few years ago, a light rail pilot project, the O-Train, was implemented to see the feasibility of implementing light rail.

After more than two years of study, wrangling it was decided that the new light rail's first phase would run north-south, from Barrhaven, through Riverside South and up through the downtown and ending at Hurdman Station. The east-west line was slated to be build after that.

Mayor Bob Chiarelli and Bell Ward Councillor Jan Harder (a conservative and ferocious tax fighter, I might add) worked hard and finally secured $200 million in federal funding for the project (though, ironically, CPC MP Pierre Poilievre, Baird's parliamentary secretary, claimed that it was him that obtained the funding after "one phone call". He has been conspicuously silent in all this, but that is another post). Incidentally Bell Ward is the area of the city John Baird lives in and partly represents federally, meaning he has been aware of this since day one.

After more planning, council voted last July to okay the contract and to begin construction in December.

In the meantime, the municipal council election began to heat up. We had, essentially, Mayor Bob Chiarelli who favoured the plan as it was, Alex Munter, former councillor for Kanata who favoured running east-west first and Terry Kilrea who favoured killing it.

Kilrea is well known in local conservative circles and has run for Mayor on a regular basis. He is good friends with both Baird and Poillievre, who regularly attend his social-conservative gatherings.

But Kilrea, is not popular in Ottawa, never getting more than about 10% of the vote. Most voters just don't see him as a Mayor. He rides on the name, since he is the brother of Ottawa 67s coach Brian Kilrea.

In August, Kilrea unexpected dropped out of the race, just as rumours that local businessman Larry O'Brien was to enter. Sure enough, Kilrea dropped out, O'Brien entered. Later, there were persistent rumours that Kilrea was convinced to resign for a post on the Parole Board, something O'Brien couldn't deliver. Only a federal Cabinet Minister could make a promise like that.

O'Brien did not fare well in September, and the race was still seen as being between Munter and Chiarelli. O' Brien was also for killing the project altogether, although he occasionally flip-flopped from this, depending on which part of the city he was in.

It was at that point in October that Baird interfered.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions from there.

All this to say that it appears that John Baird will do anything to promote his and his party's ideological agenda. Perhaps that really does mean the environment will get attention, but I don't trust Baird after this spectacle.



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10 Comments:

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Alex said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Excellent article. Thanks for informing me on this.

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I love a good pile-on. :)

It's similar to what happened in Toronto with the Toronto Port Authority and the Toronto Island Airport.

Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transportation, appointed 5 new members to the Toronto Port Authority - some of whom have connections to either (or both) the Conservative Party or Porter Airlines.

Obviously, the CPC was anxious to get Porter flying regardless of the wishes of Toronto city council.

It's not just the CPC to blame here, either - the Libs were also involved in this.

At any rate, anyone believing the CPC stands for the "strong divisions between levels of government" is mistaken.

 
At 12:48 PM, Blogger Dylan said...

Kudos on the gumshoeing! If there was a visual to go along with this post, it would be Baird clubbing a baby seal.

Can I reference this article in the future?

 
At 11:17 AM, Blogger Josh Gould said...

What I'm interested to know is whether there are any legal issues at play here - were Baird's actions more than simply unethical?

Perhaps a "vote out Baird" website is in order.

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger Saskboy said...

The north/south O-Train was kinda useless for my purposes since it didn't go downtown and the transitway was pretty fast. Hopefully whenever the east-west link is finally built, it will do more for people in Kanata and Orleans.

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger Josh Gould said...

Of course, whether a particular route is useful for everyone is irrelevant. The Bloor line is rarely useful for me when I'm in Toronto (to say nothing of the Scarborough RT), but I wouldn't argue the Yonge line should be prioritized.

 
At 6:59 PM, Blogger FANCY said...

Hey!
I was passing true here and maybe I can learn something abouth your country, even if I am not familiar with the issues you are debate here.

 
At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent blog, I am also very upset against John Baird intervention.

John Baird is also deputy for Ottawa-West Nepean where people were mostly against the North-South train. In my opinion, John Baird also used his authoriry as a minister to gain/keep voter happy in his electoral district.

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger Darren McEwen said...

I can't disagree with your facts at all but I just don't think Baird is to blame for the whole problem.

He did interfere during the election but the council had the ultimate decision to keep the original LRT plan or create a new one. The original plan had its flaws but council and Mayor O'Brien came up with this absolutely STUPID plan to run the line from Barrhaven to Bayview and then consider a downtown tunnel.

Baird AND Dalton McGuinty said NO to that and planned to pull the funding.

Had council just stuck with their guns and told Baird to bugger off and kept the original LRT plan (which I admit had problems) and THEN if Baird had pulled the federal funding - then I think it would have been Baird's fault.

Let's face it, the original LRT plan moved people from Barrhaven to downtown slower than the current bus system. The original LRT plan was former Mayor Bob Chiarelli's pride and joy but the city said a big "no thanks" to that and he got thumped in the election. (16%)

Something had to be done with LRT but the new mayor badly fumbled and left Baird and McGuinty unimpressed with the changed plans - they both were going to pull the plug but it was city council that eventually scrapped the entire $1 billion project.

 

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