How Glen Murray Flunked out as "Transit Mayor"

By Lowe, Jeff | Canadian Dimension, September-October 2004 | Go to article overview

How Glen Murray Flunked out as "Transit Mayor"


Lowe, Jeff, Canadian Dimension


Referencing a legacy cultivated over nine years as unofficial, de facto leader of the political opposition on city council, one of Glen Murray's most repeated and most popular mayoralty campaign promises was to "oversee the rebirth of public transit in Winnipeg."

But barely had he been sworn in as mayor in 1998 when he advised the electorate that had just put him there that, "I'm not going to be able to attend to some of the bigger developments--like rapid transit--until at least (with the voters' co-operation) my second term as Mayor."

That declaration was followed by an unbroken string of annual bus-fare increases.

With his second mayoralty term well underway, widely known to be contemplating departing City Hall for a bid for a federal MP's seat in Ottawa and entering his fifth year as mayor, Murray sought to restore at least an appearance of lustre to his tarnished credentials as a champion of the public-transit cause. He made it a lynchpin of the proceeds from his tax-shifting and tax-repatriation scheme dubbed, with much fanfare from the national and local press, "a New Deal for Canada's cities."

Revenues raised by end-user taxation of electricity and natural gas were to enable the city to cut bus fares by half. Monies from the remittance to the city of a portion of federal and provincial gas taxes raised in Winnipeg would bankroll an ambitious program of transit capital works.

When this formulation encountered heavy flak from radio talk-show hosts and newspaper columnists, and at a series of open houses hosted by the mayor--and after he failed to win pledges of co-operation from his would-be provincial and federal partners--Murray retrenched.

Pulling the package off the table for several months, he returned with a retooled, "Newer Deal." This version called for a share of the provincial gasoline tax to be used to support the operational side of transit. A cut of the federal gasoline tax and/or GST would go to fund transportation infrastructure renewal and improvements for all modes (public transit included).

Trendy and Superficial Thinking

Though Mr. Murray may genuinely have wished to see the stature of public transit in Winnipeg radically improve, his fiscal plan was rife with trendy, superficial thinking.

Ostensibly in the interests of establishing a clear, fundamental and integral relationship between an important public service and the source of its funding, Murray sought to wean transit off of reliance on property taxes--shifting it instead to taxation of gasoline. …

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