Who Started the Privatization Debate Surrounding 407 ETR?‏


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think 407 ETR?  I am sure for those of you who are reading this article, there is a negative emotional response. I think we have that knee jerk reaction because we are in the dark as to how this toll highway came into existence.  In February I wrote about the birth of Highway 407  http://407etr-abuseofpower.com/?p=1125 , now I will write about how it came to be privatized.

Caught you… your first reaction was to blame Mike Harris wasn’t it?  What would you say if I told you that you are mistaken and that Mike Harris did not start the privatization debate?  Do I have your undivided attention?  Great!  In the most simplistic terms, I will attempt to make a complicated process seem like a piece of cake… I have my work cut out for me.
Liberal Premier, David Peterson saw Highway 407 become an election issue. In 1986 he took a ride in a helicopter to get a bird’s eye view of the 401 parking lot.  Shortly after that he announced the government would precede with building Highway 407, a 69 KM section, between the 410 and Highway 48.   A ground-breaking ceremony took place just before the 1987 election.
October 1st, 1990 saw NDP’s, Bob Rae become Ontario’s 21st Premier.  Up to the time he was elected Premier, the Ministry of Transportation would build the roads. Budgets were done on a year to year basis and monies came from General Revenues (TAXES).  Even larger projects that would take several years only had funds dedicated on a year to year basis with no guarantee that funds would be available the following year to continue or complete a larger project. Combine that with the fact that the Ministry of Transportation favored a number of smaller companies throughout the Province, building the 69 KM stretch would have taken until the year 2020 to complete. 
Another thing Premier Rae wanted to change was how decisions to build roads were being made.  He wanted it based on priorities rather than politics.  In the previous Liberal government, letters would be sent out to these smaller road builders soliciting political donations after a contract was awarded.  
 
So, in an attempt to curb political interference, reduce construction time and costs, Premier Rae started exploring new road pricing methods that would tap into the private sector’s larger companies and invite consortia’s to bid on the project.  In essence, the road would not be built by taxpayers, but rather the private sector financed by tolls.  
 
This definitely ruffled feathers at the Ministry of Transportation because their mandate was changed from builder of roads to being responsible for the movement of goods and people.  This possibly lead to covert opposition and could be the core reason why we are getting nowhere appealing to them with 407 ETR’s outrageous business practices.  I seriously hope the bureaucrats responsible for administering government policies are not that childish to think they have a point to prove all these years later.  I digress.
 
So began the debate over who could deliver a project better, the private or public sector.  Contrary to popular belief, it was NDP’s Premier, Bob Rae that started us on the path to privatization.

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