The Star, August 21, 2011
Metrolinx, the public agency responsible for GO Transit, was recently publicly admonished by Advertising Standards Canada for publishing misleading information. The council is the watchdog of the advertising industry, making sure that claims made by advertisers are truthful.
The issue was the publication in March this year of a newsletter distributed to 300,000 or so folks who live along the railroad tracks heading northwest out of the city of Toronto. The headline was “Metrolinx Board approves electrification.” The text stated: “This move follows approval by the Metrolinx Board of Directors of the staff recommendation to begin electrification of the Lakeshore and Georgetown GO Transit rail corridors, with the new Air Rail Link (ARL) as the first phase.”
Now, to the ordinary citizen this seemed like the Clean Train Coalition, which had been lobbying for such a move to reduce air pollution, had secured a major victory. It seemed that the decision had been made to electrify the Air Rail Link going through the local neighbourhoods. But alas, key messages were missing.
First, Metrolinx has already purchased diesel trains, not electric for the Air Rail Link. They are convertible in the future, at an unknown cost. Second, there is no funding for electrification of the Air Rail Link — only for yet another environmental assessment. Apparently this will take three to four years to complete. Somehow the assessment of the entire rail construction project, worth more than $1 billion, took only nine months to complete, but the assessment of how to electrify that project will take five or six times as long.
The ordinary citizen was led to believe that the trains for the Air Rail Link would be electric. They will be diesel. Simple truth, but missing from the Metrolinx communication. This is what the Advertising Standards Canada determined was misrepresentation by Metrolinx. In law, the tort of deceit covers such misrepresentations — it is called fraud.
What’s the damage? Well, how many people sold their homes in the intervening months and advised the buyers that the trains would be electric and therefore quieter and less polluting? How many people decided to stay in their homes rather than sell because they heard Metrolinx say the decision had been make to use electric trains?
But the real damage is to the attitude of the public toward the provincial government. There was a growing unease in key Toronto ridings over the provincial government’s decision to use diesel trains for the Air Rail Link. There was real pressure growing on the premier to scrap plans for new diesel trains here. It seems his agency, Metrolinx, did his dirty work for him, spinning the “misrepresentation” that diesel had indeed been scrapped in favour of electric. But the advertising watchdog caught them out.
It may be too late for the homeowners who bought or decided not to sell. But it’s not too late to pressure the government. The provincial election is, after all, only a few weeks away.
Mike Sullivan is the federal Member of Parliament for York South-Weston.
[Original article at http://www.thestar.com/Opinion/EditorialOpinion/article/1042442]