Ideas in Transit: Meeting with Chris Upfold

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Chris Upfold with the 2016-2017 OLIP Interns

The Toronto Transit Commission is the third largest transit system in North America, making 1.8 million trips every single day. It operates 69 subway stops, and large fleets of streetcars and buses. There are 20 million TTC tokens in circulation at any one time. With such a complex system, it can be hard to envision how one would even begin to go about administering it.

Chris Upfold, Chief Customer Service Officer for the TTC, has managed to do it for the past six years, despite this daunting complexity. Earlier this year, he sat down with the interns to talk about what goes into managing the TTC, and why transit is such an essential part of so many Torontonians’ lives.

“Transit has this profound ability to give people back time,” he said. Mr. Upfold worked for the London Underground before coming to the TTC. One of his accomplishments while working there was to cut the average wait time to buy an underground ticket from 30 minutes to 3 minutes – so he knows something about saving people’s time.

At the TTC, he has been responsible for initiatives like increasing transparency with the public about how the TTC operates, and improving the quality and maintenance of TTC washrooms. He also spoke with us about some of the more whimsical initiatives of the TTC, like the ‘Sketching the Line’ art project, and the various murals that grace the walls of Toronto subway stations.

He spoke with a passion for transit and public infrastructure that was inspiring to the interns, and even left us with a couple of choice pieces of advice as we prepare to leave the programme:

“When an opportunity presents itself, hit that opportunity hard.”

“Not making a decision is making a decision.”

And, finally and most importantly:

“If you feel like you’re stuck behind a streetcar, get on one!”

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A meeting with the Honourable John Baird

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John Baird with the 2016-2017 OLIP Interns

This past year, we were welcomed with coffee and cookies at Bennett Jones LLP by the Honourable John Baird and his assistant, Michael Ceci. Mr. Baird wanted to be a politician from a very young age, and was initially drawn to provincial politics. We discussed his tenure as a young MPP at Queen’s Park, and then his experience in federal politics as an MP. Mr. Baird wore many hats during his time on Parliament Hill, including time spent as Canada’s Foreign Minister, Minister of the Environment, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. We had the chance to ask him how his experience at Queen’s Park, as an MP, Minister of Community and Social Services, Minister of Energy, and Government House Leader informed his subsequent work as part of the last federal Conservative Government. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Baird and chat politics with someone who spent the formative years of his political career at Queen’s Park!

Looking Back on London – Our Final Day

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Our final day of meetings in London began with a walk through the picturesque streets of the historic city to the office of the Behavioural Insights Team where we spoke with Tiina Likki and Sophie Davis. We were thrilled to learn about the inception of the Behavioural Insights Team in 2010 and how they have grown to include offices on both sides of the Atlantic. We were fascinated to learn about the psychological, sociological and anthropological lenses that the team use to inform every policy angle.

After our chat with the Behavioural Insights Team, we jumped on the London Underground and resurfaced back up onto the bustling streets of Oxford Circus to Broadcasting House, the iconic home of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Everyone was in awe as we entered the building to see the newsroom that can be seen on televisions worldwide. During our visit, we toured the many floors of Broadcasting House with World Tonight Planning Editor, Marie Helly, and had the opportunity to sit down with Royal Correspondent Peter Hunt, Digital Editor, Nick Sutton and Caroline Hawley who touched on everything from the Royal Family to the complexities of news coverage in our world today.

After departing the BBC, we had the opportunity to exploring the lively surroundings of Oxford Circus before heading back onto the tube to the Department for Exiting the European Union. Here we spoke with the team about the many angles of Brexit and the many issues and complexities that go along with it.

We want to thank Kevin McGuran, British Consul General in Toronto and Director General for the Department of International Trade Canada, Mathieu Blandford, Political and Public Affairs Officer at British Consulate General in Toronto and Shivarni Sharma-Dixit and the rest of the team from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London for creating such a wonderful itinerary which made our trip to London so educational and memorable. Thank you and cheerio!

Globetrotting Around London: Meeting the UK Government’s Foreign Representatives

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On our penultimate day of our London program, we had the opportunity to meet representatives from the UK Government representing both Canada and the devolved state of Scotland.

We started off the morning with a lovely walk through St. James’ Park to our first meeting with the Canada Team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Robert and Tommy walked us through how the Foreign Office prepares for visiting delegations and changes in government and their legislative agendas.

Following our meeting with the Canada Team, we were ably guided through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Tara. As an employee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Tara knows the building inside and out. She showed us the symbolism behind various carvings, paintings, and rooms. A highlight of the tour was easily getting a peak at 10 Downing St. from the courtyard of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There, we heard about the ongoing feud between the Downing St. and Foreign Office cats.

After a lovely lunch in the Foreign Office canteen, we walked over to Scotland House at Dover House. We met with Alistair, Andrew, and Mhairi who chatted with us about Scottish devolution, referenda, and electoral reform.

Our last stop of the day was to Canada House, where we met with Claudie, head of the political section of the High Commission. On her third diplomatic posting, she shared with us her experiences working with a government that, while similar to Canada’s, has its own quirks (as well as a whole host of significant challenges to overcome). We also met with Aaron, a representative of Ontario’s interests in the UK. Aaron helps companies understand the opportunities available throughout the province of Ontario, a task made easy by how fantastic our province is! We finished our day off with a tour of the beautifully renovated Canada House (thanks Tessa) and, if you can believe it, a quick chat with former Prime Minister Joe Clark, whom we ran into in the lobby!

London has shown itself to be a world-class city that is full of surprises. Thanks to everyone we met with today for sharing their time and work with us on our amazing fourth day!

Looking Back on London – Our Third Day

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Our third day in London was full of famous sights and celebrity sightings.

We started the day off with a tour of Westminster, the mother of all parliaments. This beautiful building has more to it than meets the eye. While it is built in a gothic, medieval style, it actually wasn’t constructed until the 1800s, but was built in an imitation style meant to represent the grandeur of old England. The green Commons and red Senate were surprisingly small – in fact, they can’t even fit all their respective Members at once! – but they were replete with history.

We then had the opportunity to watch that continuing history unfold during Prime Minister’s Question Time, where members of both the opposition and government were able to ask Prime Minister Theresa May questions about the issues of the day. Like our own Question Period, Prime Minister’s Question Time is loud, hectic, and requires more than one interjection from the Speaker to keep things orderly. It was fascinating to watch the original Question Period, from which our own provincial custom originates, in its historic setting.

After Question Time, we had the opportunity to meet with Roy Stone, Principal Private Secretary to the Chief Government Whip. Mr. Stone has been serving in the Whip’s office for over twenty years, and knows everything there is to know about advancing a government’s legislative agenda. Kate Wilson, Private Secretary to the Chief Government Whip, shared Mr. Stone’s passion for serving the government impartially, and answered our questions about both British politics and Whitehall.

Thank you to Mr. Stone, Ms. Wilson, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for a fantastic day!

Looking Back on London – Our Second Day

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On the second day of our official program in London, we learned about the Westminster Parliament here in the UK and compared it to our own at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. We were hosted for a series of indepth procedural meetings at Portcullis House, and a wonderful lunch where we were able to ask Clerks all about their roles and functions within the Houses of Parliament.

Throughout the day, we were shown around by the very welcoming Inward Visits Officer, Michelle Wenham. In the morning we met with Crispin Poyser, Principal Clerk of the Committee Office for an overview of the Westminster system, and then we had the opportunity to chat with Mike Hennessey, Deputy Head of the Table Office where we learned about the large volume of questions that need to be properly constructed and edited before being brought to the House of Commons floor. We were hosted for a special Clerk’s lunch, and then spent the afternoon learning about passing legislation and the role of the Public Bill Office from Colin Lee, Clerk of Bills. Finally, we finished off the day with Kate Emms, the Parliamentary Liaison to the Cabinet Office, and it was fascinating to learn about the very sturdy bridge between the parliamentary world and the political world at Westminster. Thank you to everyone who met with us and made our second day of meetings so interesting, and thank you to our dedicated Visits Officer from the FCO, Shivarni Sharma- Dixit.

London Calling…the OLIP Interns! Getting Acquainted with London, UK

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There is truly something magical about this city. All of the wonderful elements of London, when mixed together, create the most potent elixir that will keep an intern up for days! Trust me, we’re living proof!

Our weekend was full of sightseeing as we explored the bustling downtown core, using the winding River Thames as our path. Among the ten of us, we were able to cover lots of ground from the exhibitions within the Tate Britain to Buckingham Palace to the Millennium Bridge and beyond (with the help of a delicious salt beef sandwich and a few fresh strawberries from the Borough Market to fuel us along the way of course!)

We awoke on Monday morning filled with anticipation as we met our amazing guide, Shivarni Sharma-Dixit from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who led us from the bustling downtown core to a picturesque neighbourhood just outside of the city, the settings for our two educational meetings. We started the day with a breathtaking view of the London skyline admiring everything from the Gherkin to Tower Bridge as we walked along the South Bank to London’s City Hall where we had the opportunity to sit down with Katie Smith, Head of Scrutiny along with Becky Short, Scrutiny Manager for Policing at The London Assembly. During our meeting, we talked about the role of the London Assembly and its committees and were fascinated to learn about the evolving relationship between the local and central governments. During our discussion about London’s political scene, Ms. Smith and Ms. Short led us through a thrilling discussion about everything from policy issues such as housing and transit to revenue generation while we compared notes about the inner-workings of government and the similarities and differences regarding the political dynamics that exist both in London and across the pond in Toronto.

 

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Katie Smith, Head of Scrutiny and Becky Short, Scrutiny Manager for Policing at The London Assembly with the 2016-2017 OLIP interns

After talking about London’s intricate rail services within the walls of City Hall, it was great to experience it as passengers as we jumped from the Tube to the National Rail network which took us to Dr. Malcolm Torry, Director of the Citizen’s Income Trust. As we’ve had a front row seat to watch the roll out of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot, it came as no surprise to any of us that lively discussion and debate took place about basic income models generated in the United Kingdom, Ontario and around the world.

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Dr. Malcolm Torry, Director of the Citizen’s Income Trust talks basic income with the 2016-2017 OLIP interns

We are very grateful to Kevin McGurgan, British Consul General in Toronto and Director General for Department of International Trade Canada, Mathieu Blandford, Political and Public Affairs Officer at British Consulate General in Toronto and Shivarni Sharma-Dixit from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office here in London for creating such a robust itinerary full of many educational discussions and experiences. After just one day, it is obvious that the perspectives we have been presented with have encouraged us to think critically about a diverse range of policy areas. Whether we’re exploring one of London’s many gardens or enjoying a meal in one of the city’s pubs, nary a minute goes by where we’re not reminiscing and contemplating our meeting topics.

As writer Samuel Johnson once said, if a person tires of London, they tire of life – by the looks of our fantastic itinerary, it doesn’t seem like we’ll tire of this world-class city any time soon.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for the most up-to-date experiences on our final study tour!