How You'll Get From Here to There in 2020
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Jan 1991, p. 228-240
Hyndman, Louis D., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The Royal Commission on National Passenger Transportation: a progress report after 15 months of a three-year mandate. The mandate was "to inquire into and report upon a national, integrated inter-city passenger transportation system to meet the needs of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century." Deciding on an approach. Aiming for a report and recommendations on the framework for transportation policy—the laws, regulations, and institutions within which the system operates. Policy as the "rudder of the ship of state." Goals, objectives, aspirations—national, regional and individual that national passenger transportation policy should serve in Canada. Three main objectives to be reached are discussed: equity, efficiency, and nation-building. Developing a passenger transportation policy framework. Four key features which will determine how well or how poorly objectives are met. Questions about future passenger transportation policy are discussed under the following headings: The role of the Government and the role of Private Industry; Jurisdiction; Who Pays?; An Informed Public. A summary of concerns. Two personal observations. Canadian answers, and a Canadian vision.
Date of Original
10 Jan 1991
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Full Text
Louis D. Hyndman, Chairman, Royal Commission on National Passenger Transportation
Chairman: Harold Roberts President


"God is in Heaven and all is well." I used to believe that. I used to believe that the world was static and unchanging. I used to see change as very threatening. But things like the holiday season, just passed, show me the error not only of my thinking but of my ways.

Over the holiday season I managed to put on a few extra pounds and now I'm forced to decide between obesity or good health and the need to reduce. And let me tell you reducing is not easy.

It seems to me that this is analogous with the transportation systems in Canada. Through times of change and development the modes of passenger transportation have grown at amazing rates. In 1885 the last spike joined Canada from sea to sea. Since that time, three rail systems have crossed the land; two national airlines have not only tied us together but tied us to the international community; the automobile has become the primary mechanical mode of transportation for a vast majority of Canadians and water transportation is still very much a part of the Canadian scene.

Add to all this the developments of the telecommunication industry and it becomes important to ask, how is the health of our transportation system? Is it efficient? Should fat be trimmed? In what areas ought corrections to be made?

For this reason the Prime Minister in October 1989 called in "the Doctor." In this case a Royal Commission on Passenger Transportation in Canada.

Nine distinguished Canadians were named as Commissioners: Marie-Josee Drouin, Susan Fish, Marc Gaudry, John Hamilton Q.C., William P. (Bill) Kelly C.N.; John F. Helliwell O.C.; J. Maurice Leclair C.C.; James D. (Jim) McNiven; and our guest today the Chairman Louis D. (Lou) Hyndman Q.C.

Mr. Hyndman was born in 1935 in Edmonton. He is a graduate in Arts and Law from the University of Alberta. Although he practised law for eleven years, most of Mr. Hyndman's career has been in the public sector. A member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly from 1967 to 1986, he was Minister of Education, Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs, Government House Leader and Provincial Treasurer.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the C.D. Howe Institute, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and the Governing Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Alberta.

We welcome Mr. Hyndman today to address us on "How you'll get from here to there in 2020."

Lou Hyndman:

I'm delighted to be here in Toronto at the beginning of the New Year.

I want to start with a story from a sector of transportation that's small but buoyant.

Two men set out in a hot air balloon on a trip from Sudbury to Ottawa. After several hours they found themselves lost in a fog. Descending to about 25 metres above the ground, they saw a man standing in a clearing. One of the balloonists picked up a loud hailer and shouted, "You on the ground. We're lost. Can you tell us where we are?"

"I sure can," the man shouted back "You are in a large hot air balloon painted green and yellow, about 25 metres above ground-level and slightly north east of my position." Then he waved, turned and disappeared into the bushes.

"Well we must be close to Ottawa," said one balloonist, "that guy's connected with the federal government." "How do you figure that?" said the other. " Easy," said the first man. "He answered our question. Everything he said was completely accurate. But we still don't know any more than we did before."

Although the Royal Commission on National Passenger Transportation hasn't reached the reporting stage, our goal is to avoid creating the same impression.

The Commission has now completed the fifteenth month of its scheduled three year mandate, and although there's still a long way to go before we issue our recommendations, I can give you a progress report on what we have been doing and learning in that time.

The mandate we were given in 1989 by the Prime Minister directed us, and I quote verbatim--"to inquire into and report upon a national, integrated inter-city passenger transportation system to meet the needs of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century." That includes planes, trains, cars and ferries--all the ways in which Canadians travel between cities.

Obviously there are different ways you could execute these instructions. So one of the first orders of business for us, was to decide on an angle of attack. Should we focus on specific issues--airport congestion, for instance, or the possible application in Canada of bullet-train technology? Or should our aiming point be a report and a set of recommendations on the framework for transportation policy--meaning the laws, regulations, and institutions within which the system operates?

After careful consideration we decided to go the second route. We chose that approach because, when you think about it, it was the only manageable way to fulfil our mandate. And, even more important, it was the approach that offered the greatest leverage on the future development of passenger transportation in Canada.

Policy is the rudder of the ship of state. It can encourage growth in one mode of transportation--or it can discourage it. It can accelerate the introduction of new technology--or it can stop it cold. Sound policy can resolve conflicts of interest between regions or between groups. Unsound policy can make them worse. Good policy all by itself cannot give us the transportation system we need in the 21st century. But bad policy all by itself can put it out of reach.

The first basic question we confronted was about objectives. What goals, what aspirations--national, regional and individual--should national passenger transportation policy serve in this country?

After much deliberation we arrived at three possible main objectives one could seek to achieve in the passenger transportation system.

1. Equity.

The first possible objective is equity, or, as some call it, "fairness."

Let's define that term. In this context equity can mean providing reasonably similar benefits to individuals in reasonably similar circumstances. It can also mean making the system accessible to people who are in some way disadvantaged, either by living in a remote area or by being disabled.

2. Efficiency.

A second possible objective is efficiency. That may sound self-evident. Efficiency, when you are talking about an engine, is the ratio of useful work to the energy it expends. But in passenger transportation it means getting the most value for each dollar spent. And, in computing "value" you could include for instance, not only revenue gained but also consumer satisfaction values such as comfort and safety. Under "costs" you could include not just capital and operating expenditures but also items such as the costs of environmental pollution and the costs associated with traffic accidents.

3. Nation-building.

The third possible objective is nation-building--the contribution of the passenger transportation system to the basic task of holding the country together and keeping it competitive in international markets.

We must remember that, historically, governments believed that passenger transportation provided vital links in building the country and in tying us together.

In developing a passenger transportation policy framework to meet our future needs, we will undoubtedly have to make tradeoffs among these three objectives and possibly many others. No policy framework can be known and understood, or make sense, if it tries to do too many things.

In thinking about this passenger transportation policy framework and reflecting on how it got the way it is today, it seems to me that there are four key features which will determine how well or how poorly we meet our objectives. They are these:

• The respective roles of the public sector, on the one hand, and of the private sector, on the other;

• The way we answer the jurisdictional questions about which level of government, federal or provincial or municipal, does what?

• The key element of financing. How we answer the question of "who should pay?"

• And finally the element of accountability--the building-in of a continuing "report card" which keeps the public informed on how the system is operating.

The Commission has been looking at all of these questions. We have been doing so in the course of our work over the past year on two fronts. Our first front is our research program. The second front was a public consultation exercise which culminated in 11 weeks of public hearings.

Turning first to our research program: we are looking at passenger transportation from a number of perspectives. We are looking at the present, at today--at the system and the policies we have now. We are gathering information on passenger transportation supply and demand. We are pulling together as much hard data as we can about the costs of the system and how these costs are paid for.

To understand the present we have had to take a crash course in the past. Someone once said a camel was a horse designed by a seriously divided committee. Many of our transportation policies are camels. And there's a reason for that.

Historically, transportation policies in this country have been designed to support different goals, many of them incompatible, some downright contradictory.

At different times over the past 123 years, transportation policy has given primary weight to widely different national interests: national unity or regional development for instance, or the sovereignty and security of the country. Development of the railways was supported as the essential key to opening up the prairies, encouraging new provinces to join Confederation, and fostering the growth of a nation east-to-west above the 49th parallel. Some early canals, including the Rideau which flows by the foot of Parliament Hill, were built for defence. And a large part of our airport infrastructure traces its pedigree back to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan of World War II. To understand the system you have to understand the historical compromises, and the pushes and pulls of different times in our history.

And of course, we are looking ahead. What we see there is a long list of questions about future passenger transportation policy.

The role of the Government and the role of Private Industry.

Some of the most basic of these questions are about the respective roles of the private and public sectors. What part should government play in consumer protection and passenger transportation safety or in support for transportation research and development? What should its role be in the coordination of air, rail, highways and sea modes and the promotion of competition between those modes. What about government responsibilities in the development of standards in quality, service, accessibility, safety and environmental protection? Should the public sector supply infrastructure services or should it serve only in the role of regulator?


We have been looking at issues of jurisdiction, at the issue of which level of govemment does what.

Our research will focus on the question of how well we coordinate and integrate federal and provincial transportation policy. Many of our arrangements date back to 1867 and the British North America Act. Are these founding concepts still valid today? We intend to take a new look at what is best done by the provinces and what is best done by the federal government. We will not be tied down by rigid ideology, or bound by the ways things were done in the past.

Who Pays?

There are no free lunches in the cafeteria. And there are really no free rides on the national passenger transportation system. One of the most basic questions in our research is about who pays and how do they pay. Where government owns the infrastructure (roads for instance) and where it operates services (ferries for example), where does the money come from?

Should it come from the taxpayer or from the user? And on that latter subject how far can we go in applying the user-pay approach in Canada? And if we do apply it, how do we assign costs fairly between individual travelling Canadians and taxpayers as a whole?

We know from public opinion polls and from our hearings, (as I'll show in a moment), that Canadians are thinking seriously about these questions. Fifty-six percent of Canadians in one survey believed federal government subsidies of Canadian taxpayers should support highway construction and maintenance--even though highways are now a provincial responsibility. Thirty-two percent support federal subsidies for a Canada-wide passenger rail service.

An Informed Public.

We have also been looking at that question of accountability--at ways to uncover hidden costs and hidden subsidies so that decisions can be based on information that is accessible, understandable and sound.

The Commissioners are nine people out of 26.7 million. We do not kid ourselves that we can answer these questions all by ourselves and we certainly don't assume that our definition of the issues covers all the bases. We need the input of the Canadian public. And we have been getting that through a program of direct consultation.

The process began last spring with a round of meetings with provincial legislators, the bus, ferry, air, rail and auto sectors and special interest groups.

The next step was a series of 30 public hearings across the country which began in August at Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, and which wound up in Prince George, British Columbia, early last month. The last time I checked, 700 people and groups had submitted or confirmed their intent to submit a brief to us. Included in that number are the 100 verbal submissions on the free 1-800 Dial-a- Brief telephone line we set up for that purpose.

The issues I have already raised were on the table at our hearings. We're submitting an interim report this spring--so to get the full details you'll have to read it. But here are some general observations.

It's clear, first of all, that if we are to keep up with passenger transportation demands, a major commitment from this country and its citizens--in time and in money--will be required.

To even begin to meet all the needs that people are telling us exist out there is probably impossible.

So Canadians will have hard choices to make. For instance: how do we choose among competing rail, highway, air and ferry proposals? For instance, how do we make tradeoffs between transportation needs (such as more runways or more highways) and environmental protection goals?

What did we find out about public interest in passenger transportation?

We went into these hearings expecting to hear a great deal about local and regional problems. We did. We also encountered a wide variety of different perceptions about the nature of those problems.

Each region of Canada knew that every other region was better off. Everyone knew who should pay--(usually, someone else).

In the first few weeks of the hearings we got the impression that everyone in Canada thought things were always better in Toronto. Until we got to Toronto.

There were many varied and sometimes confusing suggestions concerning the goals and objectives of the passenger transportation system. We found that in the smallest and most remote settlements passenger transportation is a crucially important issue. People see the system--particularly the railways but also highways--as a unifying element which makes us a country rather than a random scattering of outposts. "Passenger travel is the umbilical cord that links us to the heart of the country" was the way one speaker put it at our hearing at Rimouski.

And many people see inadequate transportation as a major cause of economic differences between regions. There is a strong body of opinion out there that believes better transportation is the key to the development of local industry in general, and tourism in particular.

We found in the hearings that Canadians want a national, integrated passenger transportation system. They know it will be expensive. But many do not believe that the issues such as nation building can be resolved on a strict profit and loss balance sheet. As the President of Dick Mathieu Associates told us in Toronto: "I do not know one Canadian who does not agree we have to pay a price to be Canadian--who does not believe that it is worth a premium to live in a country where human values are beyond the almighty dollar. I also don't know one Canadian who has been asked what price he or she is prepared to pay to be Canadian and keep Canada--Canada."

We also found strong support for the goal of equity or fairness for the passenger transportation system. Indeed, on the basis of what we are hearing, I would have to say that some Canadians see access to transportation as an unwritten constitutional right. From one end of the country to the other, people talked about transportation as a means of getting from point "A" to point "B" that should be available at standards that are acceptable and at prices people can afford.

This applies, in particular, to people with special needs and people who live in communities far from the mainstream. The needs we have been hearing about range from business competitiveness to matters of life and death. "Transportation is the hub of independent living,' said a speaker in Winnipeg. "It's availability expands the alternatives from which a disabled person can design his or her life."

"We are senior citizens," said a voice on our Dial-a- Brief line. "We are stuck out here in the country with no train, no bus, and we can't drive. We are brought to our knees."

Listen to this quote from our hearings in Sudbury, Ontario. "If somebody is ill, if somebody is having a baby, if there is a fire, you can't get people in and out. They have to deal with survival in the same terms as 100 to 200 years ago."

We heard from the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Max Yalden, that access is a right under the Charter. And we received the very clear message that people in wheelchairs do not think that being moved onto an aircraft by a fork-lift truck is either equal or dignified access.

Canadians are somewhat worried about the safety of passenger transportation. There is concern about growing congestion at airports and the increasing presence of trucks on the highways. And the hearings showed us that Canadians are remarkably aware that the transportation system has to be developed in ways that are compatible with the preservation of the environment. At the Toronto hearings, a representative of Pollution Probe declared "environmentally-sound passenger transportation is no longer an option for Canada It is an imperative."

At the Winnipeg hearing, a speaker made this statement: "People say that rail transportation is a romantic dream. Well, the truly romantic transportation dream is the belief that the system can continue its dependence on the car."

In general, how do Canadians feel about present passenger transportation policy? As we are hearing it, the reactions range all the way from fairly satisfied, to mildly dissatisfied to "mad as hell and we aren't going to stand for it any more." One area of conspicuous discontent is about mystery in the system. Canadians want to be better informed about how the passenger transportation system operates in this country. They want to know who makes the decisions that affect its operations and that affect them.

When it comes to the financing of the system, we find in our own research and in the minds of the public, a dearth of information. People want to know more. Groups with an interest in passenger transportation in particular want to know how much services really cost--and about who is really footing the bill. They want to know what's being subsidized and what isn't. In short, they want a transportation system that is transparent. And they don't mean glass elevators at the Hyatt Hotel!

A resident of Kingston phoned in this comment as part of his brief: "I hope that the Commission will try to get some truth in the way in which costs and subsidies are being reckoned. Up to now, there has been quite a lot of smoke and mirrors."

A speaker in Regina said we should, and I quote, "include all forms of subsidies in calculating the federal contribution to air, rail, highway and marine transportation. Consider energy consumption and environmental impact in making decisions on subsidy allocations."

And, summing it all up, this quote from Sudbury. "If you don't know where the money is coming from or where it is going, you really don't know where you're going."

Several of our hearings were held in the north--the real north--places like Iqaluit, Inuvik, Rankin Inlet, Yellowknife and Whitehorse. People up there kept underlining the fact that the costs of transportation in the north are the highest in Canada--and kept pointing to the tough impact that has on their cost of living.

Northerners wanted people on "the outside," in "Southern Canada," to understand that their transportation needs in that part of the country are not like those of anywhere else. One observation from the Yellowknife hearings that sticks in my mind sums up the difference "Up here we grab planes like you take taxis in the south."

We were reminded that while Canadian Southerners contemplate new super-highways and bigger airport terminals, many Northerners dream about the first gravel road into town. As one speaker in the town of Inuvik put it. "You're talking about the 21st century. We're still trying to get into the 20th."

Canadians also want a greater say in the making of decisions about transportation--locally and regionally. They say that Ottawa and other government capitals cannot claim to know all parts of the passenger transportation sector, and should not control all of its parts. At the same time they do not want national standards and national leadership.

These are some of the national concerns we heard across the country. They coexist with others that are unique and specific to regions. Ferry service, for example, is a live issue in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and British Columbia. High-speed rail is on people's minds in central Canada (the Quebec-Toronto- Windsor corridor) and also in Alberta where the corridor is Edmonton-Calgary. The quality of the Trans-Canada Highway is a "local" issue from one end of the country to the other.

Two personal observations before I close.

First I believe that this Commission is engaged in work that urgently needs to be done. Canada has changed dramatically since the MacPherson Royal Commission last looked at transportation in the 1960s and this is no time to be flying blind. We have been warned of the danger of that by many planners. But no one summed it up better than Yogi Berra, the baseball catcher-philosopher, when he uttered these immortal words: "If you don't know where you're going you could wind up somewhere else."

A final observation. One thing that has been underlined for me over the past year and a quarter is the uniqueness of the Canadian transportation challenge.

Generations of experience have been accumulated in other countries. We can and should learn from it--indeed we are reviewing that experience in our research and consultation program. But there is, at the end of the day, a significant part of the Canadian passenger transportation challenge that is native and unique. Canada is not like other countries in its history, its geography, its current level of development, or its potential for future development. We are not as compact as Britain or Japan. We do not have transportation systems which have grown up over centuries. We have no infrastructure as old as the Appian way of Roman times, we have not yet developed as elaborate a transportation network as that of our neighbour to the south. There are pluses and minuses in that unique Canadian status. The downside is that we have more original thinking and building to do. The advantages are that we have fewer mistakes to unravel and that we have a chance to do it right.

In the last century, Sir John A. Macdonald proved that thinking big about transportation can build a big country. This is a land where frontiers are still open. To do justice to our bright future we need Canadian answers, and a Canadian vision. That is our challenge; and, with the help of Canadians everywhere, we'll deliver.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by John Freyseng, Partner, Blaney, McMurtry, Stapells and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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How You'll Get From Here to There in 2020

The Royal Commission on National Passenger Transportation: a progress report after 15 months of a three-year mandate. The mandate was "to inquire into and report upon a national, integrated inter-city passenger transportation system to meet the needs of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century." Deciding on an approach. Aiming for a report and recommendations on the framework for transportation policy—the laws, regulations, and institutions within which the system operates. Policy as the "rudder of the ship of state." Goals, objectives, aspirations—national, regional and individual that national passenger transportation policy should serve in Canada. Three main objectives to be reached are discussed: equity, efficiency, and nation-building. Developing a passenger transportation policy framework. Four key features which will determine how well or how poorly objectives are met. Questions about future passenger transportation policy are discussed under the following headings: The role of the Government and the role of Private Industry; Jurisdiction; Who Pays?; An Informed Public. A summary of concerns. Two personal observations. Canadian answers, and a Canadian vision.