According to the mayor’s, um, outgoing chief of staff Nick Kouvalis, the Rob Ford Uptown Express to Scarborough is expected to pull into the station any minute now. “The subway deal is this close,” the National Post quoted Mr. Kouvalis as saying late last week. He apparently held his thumb enticingly close to his index finger (it’s not clear what his middle finger was up to at the time). “Transit City is alive and well and it’s going to be buried underground, OK? … So let me just finish that.”
This self-serving display of bravado aside, a cone of silence seems to have descended over the negotiations between the mayor’s office and Metrolinx over proposed revisions to the regional transit plan that would see much of the promised $8.15 billion for four Transit City lines buried beneath Sheppard Ave. A basic back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests there’s not enough cash on the table for both the subway extension and the $4.6 billion Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which, by most accounts, is the province’s line in the sand. I’d say they’re about $3 billion short.
So now what?
More precisely, is Ford prepared to emerge from his gilded cage on the second floor of City Hall and begin actively fundraising for the subway network he so desperately wants to bequeath to this city?
Let’s dispel one myth right away. Selling air rights over the proposed subway stations won’t cover more than a fraction of the additional capital costs, and that’s assuming the city has the legal right to impose such demands on builders.
The reality is that if Ford truly wants subways, he’s got to be much more assertive about building a broad-based political case that will allow the other orders to consider contributing the difference. An hefty election mandate alone won’t do the trick. Just ask Barack Obama.
The question I have is where the feds fit into his subway plans, if at all. The Harper government anted up $330 million for the Sheppard East LRT, and we’ve heard not a whisper about whether those funds will be rolled over into the subway project, or if the Fordites have even tried to persuade their buddy Jim Flaherty to throw a few more chips into the pot.
The timing for such an overture may be right, as it turns out.
Let’s cast our gaze in the direction of Quebec City, where a coalition of civic actors and Bloc MPs has resurrected a bid to secure funding for an NHL-calibre arena. The ask is all tangled up in federal/provincial negotiations over the HST, but media reports suggest that the arena boosters are also eyeballing the contents of a $1.25 billion pot of federal cash earmarked for public-private partnerships.
A source familiar with the way money flows in Ottawa suggests that renewed speculation about the arena may have to do with reports circulating around the capitol that the 2010 federal deficit may come in $7 billion less than projected, thanks in large measure to the surprisingly robust economic recovery.
Do the Brothers Ford know about this fiscal development, and are they now asking the us-too question in Ottawa? Have they seized on this opportunity to approach other big city mayors to collectively encourage Flaherty to allocate some of the un-spent stimulus funds on regional transit projects? Has the mayor used the out-bound calling feature on that magic cell phone of his to urge Toronto Liberal MPs to apply a bit of pressure in this, the all-important run-up to the federal budget?
I suspect I don’t need to supply the answers to these questions. Ford, the man whose mouth never stopped moving when he was an opposition gadfly, has fallen perplexingly silent on all matters, including the signature planks of his platform.
This close, Nick? Maybe what you really meant was, “So close but yet so far.”
photo by Sam Javanrouh