Q&A: Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig on political turmoil, public transit and his favourite rapper

Q&A: Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig on political turmoil, public transit and his favourite rapper

Bruce McCuaig was hired to keep transit planning on track despite chronic indecision at city hall. So why is the TTC still trapped in flip-flop purgatory?

Q&A: Bruce McCuaig

You’re Toronto’s most powerful transit official, yet most people have never heard of you. What’s your job, exactly?
I head up Metrolinx, which oversees long-term transit planning in Greater Toronto and Hamilton. We work to integrate the TTC, GO Transit and more.

Metrolinx was supposed to provide expertise so that politicians would stop their endless backtracking on transit. How do you explain the string of 180-degree turns under Mayor Ford?
It’s frustrating. But council has the right to reverse its choices.

What’s the best solution for Scarborough: subway or light rail transit?
Light rail. We’d already invested $80 million in the project.

Why weren’t you more vocal when Ford reversed course and announced the new subway plan last summer?
Well, we wrote letters to council and held media briefings.

Olivia Chow wants to revert the ­Scarborough subway back to LRT. If she becomes mayor, are we going to change course yet again?
It’s possible. As a public agency, we have to be responsive to the government’s choices.

Good lord. Shouldn’t major transit decisions be irreversible? Think of all the cool stuff we’d have by now.
In theory, it sounds wonderful, but in practice, it’s illegal.

You and Ford started your current jobs at the same time. He likes to claim that LRT is the same as traffic-stopping streetcars. How can you possibly compete against someone who gets so much media attention?
It’s not easy. In the future, my team needs to do a better job of building consensus among council, the business community and the public about our transit recommendations.

Are you saying you accept some blame because you weren’t vocal enough?
I’m saying that in the future, I’ll try to build better awareness and get wider buy-in, and that our plans should become more resilient.

Which explains the Metrolinx ads we’ve been seeing on TV.
It’s vital for us to communicate the great things we’re doing.

Such as?
The Union-Pearson link, Union Station renovation, Eglinton crosstown, and we’re developing relief line plans. We have 200 projects under way.

I asked around, and everyone says you’re preternaturally even-keeled. Under what circumstances do you get riled up?
Hardly ever. I try to harness, not project, my emotions.

Ever thrown a chair?
No, but I have thrown a punch. In the schoolyard in Grade 7. It didn’t end well for me.

You don’t strike me as a fighter.
It’s true. I was always more of a bookworm. I remember my urban issues teacher in high school, Mrs. Wilton, was so ­passionate about her subject that she inspired me to study urban planning at Ryerson. I did a master’s at Queen’s and in 2008 became deputy transportation minister. In 2010, I came to Metrolinx.

Transit is the issue of the mayoral race, which puts you at the centre of the city’s most important discussion. How are you handling the attention?
Just fine. My family keeps me sane. My elder daughter is a high school teacher and my younger one studies music at university. My wife, Sandy, a kindergarten teacher, inspires me to work hard. Every night after dinner, she sits down at the table and works on her lesson plans. She’s amazing.

Way to score some brownie points.
Ha. Well, it’s true. I also relax by listening to music: rock, pop, classical, jazz, country, hip hop.

Who’s your favourite rapper?
K-os. Drake’s good, too.

You live in Mississauga. How’s your commute?
I usually walk to the Clarkson GO station and take the train to my office at Union, but a few weeks ago, I was doing some home repair and stepped off a ladder wrong and broke my foot, so Sandy’s been dropping me off. I also have a Mini ­Cooper, so sometimes I’ll drive in.

Like when there’s one of those interminable GO train delays?
Nice try. I’m a GO Transit diehard and would be even if I didn’t oversee it.