In the spring of 2014, four separate cabinet ministers headed to an announcement in downtown Toronto. Glen Murray was there as the local MPP and the Minister of Infrastructure; he was joined by then-Health Minister Deb Matthews, Indigenous Affairs Minister David Zimmer, and Michael Chan, the Minister for the Pan Am Games.
Despite all this concentrated cabinet firepower, the announcement wouldn’t generate many headlines. The government was donating land in the Pan Am athletes' village to Anishnawbe Health Toronto so the organization could better serve the city’s Indigenous population — good news, but not front-page news.
Murray didn’t care. He was so happy about this badly needed service expansion for Indigenous people that when he went enthusiastically off-script (a frequent occurrence), he forgot to actually deliver the good news. Matthews had to invite him back up to the mic to confirm that, yes, the government was committing to the new health centre.
Murray announced his retirement from provincial politics Monday morning — from cabinet immediately, and from his seat as Toronto Centre MPP effective September 1.
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He’s been easily one of the most productive ministers Kathleen Wynne has had since she became premier in 2013. He dropped out of the Liberal leadership race that year to support Wynne, and for that she rewarded him with the transportation and infrastructure file — a certifiably plum gig.
By the end of 2013, his ministry was already laying the groundwork for what would become GO Regional Express Rail, the Liberals’ massive plan to transform GO rail into a more-frequent, all-day service instead of the rush hour-focused one it had been for decades. When Steven Del Duca took over the transportation file in 2014, he acknowledged that his job would mostly consist of implementing the vision Murray had laid out.
With less than a year before the next election, this morning the new Environment Minister said much the same thing. Chris Ballard, who’s leaving the housing file to cabinet rookie and Etobicoke–Lakeshore MPP Peter Milczyn, says Murray has left him more than enough work to do without having to diverge much from the Liberals’ Climate Change Action Plan.
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MPPs have many competing demands on their time, and not everyone dives into their briefing materials with the same enthusiasm. It’s not uncommon for moderately well-read reporters to stump cabinet ministers with policy questions, leading to the inevitable “Uh, we’ll get back to you on that” response. Not Murray, though: he had an answer for most any detailed question and was happy to expound on whatever topic was at hand. His grasp of the issues made him a useful member of Wynne’s team during Question Period, during which he could, if nothing else, be relied on to run out the clock while trading jabs with his opposition critics.
Not all of Murray’s Queen’s Park career was spent engaging in cheerfully combative policy wonkery, of course. He played a key role in derailing Toronto’s light-rail transit plan in the summer of 2013 to help the Liberals win a by-election in Scarborough–Guildwood.
He announced instead a widely panned two-stop subway whose only real virtue was that it wouldn’t cost the province any additional money. That plan has long since been abandoned — only to be replaced with a new one featuring precisely half as many stops. No subway in Scarborough has yet been proposed that would carry as many riders as the light-rail plan would’ve, for as much money. But it did hold Scarborough–Guildwood for the Liberals.
Whatever good Murray did in provincial politics, he’ll always carry that black mark: the Scarborough subway is going to be a spectacular bonfire of wasted money, and he was instrumental in arranging the kindling, setting it ablaze, and keeping it alight for years.
So it’s amusing that Murray is leaving provincial politics to become executive director of the Pembina Institute, an environment- and climate change-focused think tank that also happens to have issued some of the most consistent criticisms of the Scarborough subway and support for the prior light-rail plan. It’s a natural fit for both: Pembina does the kind of policy development and advocacy Murray craves, and Murray will be a passionate and high-profile spokesperson for their work.
It’s possible to wish Murray luck at Pembina, and also wish he’d spent more time listening to them when it mattered.