LORINC: No more clarity needed on transit from city hall

On the eve of council’s debate over the foolish plan to tear up the City’s $8.7 billion deal with Metrolinx, I’d like to dredge up a detail from recent history that the Scarborough subway proponents will be trying hard to ignore on Tuesday.

Barely two month ago, during one of the most atrocious sessions I’ve ever witnessed at 100 Queen West, council voted against a range of revenue tools to fund transit, including the property tax.

To repeat: including the property tax.

Here, for the record, is the wording of the relevant portion of Josh Matlow’s motion: “City Council indicate to Metrolinx that it does not support the use of the following GTHA revenues.” There were 12 items on his list, with property tax in sixth place.

The recorded vote indicates that fully 41 members of council rejected the use of property taxes as a means of funding transit expansion. Two councillors — Gord Perks and Frank Di Giorgio — voted against, with Denzil Minnan Wong and Vincent Crisanti absent. The yes side, just to drill the point home, includes the brothers Ford, almost everyone on the right, and almost everyone on the left. There is absolutely nothing ambiguous about council’s intention.

The centre-left councillors on the roster included Maria Augimeri, Ana Bailao, Shelley Carroll, Josh Colle, Janet Davis, Glen De Baeremaeker, Sarah Doucette, John Fillion, Paula Fletcher, Mary Fragedakis, Mike Layton, Josh Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Joe Mihevc, Anthony Perruzza, Adam Vaughan, and Kristyn Wong-Tam, as well as Karen Stintz, TTC chair. All of them backed Metrolinx’s LRT plan.

Consequently, it will be extremely revealing to see how many of these councillors — many of them politicians who’ve fought hard for new transit funding from the other orders — reverse their earlier votes tomorrow and support a property tax hike to help fund the $1 billion subway-ification of the Scarborough RT.

Let me pause here to offer a few thoughts about what principled governance looks like: It involves careful and deliberate consideration of issues prior to decision-making, followed by consistency in the implementation of the resulting policies. Certainly, abrupt voting reversals smack of expediency and a lack of close consideration, traits which are the very antithesis of responsible governance.

In ordinary life, good governance simply means being true to one’s word.

Proponents of the subway scheme will point to a motion that day — which was moved by De Baeremaeker, and passed by a vote of 35 to 9 — signaling council’s intention to “support the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue.”

But that argument is yet another damning piece of evidence that poor, inconsistent and unreliable governance now prevails at council. De Baeremaeker’s motion occurred during a debate about council’s advice to Metrolinx on proposed revenue tools for financing the rest of the Big Move projects. And council passed it without so much as dram of consideration about the cost or implementation consequences. It was nothing more than an empty political gesture.

In fact, by any standard of parliamentary procedure, De Baeremaeker’s motion about changing the status of an approved and funded project should have been ruled out of order.

It wasn’t, and we should ask why.

As it happens, council has produced a stream of contradictory signals on this file going back to 2012. Yet despite the confusion, what we do know is that the City of Toronto, the TTC and Metrolinx, an agency of the Government of Ontario, last November entered into a detailed contract that set in motion four complicated projects, all of which involve spending large sums of money provided by taxpayers. Not a memorandum of understanding or an agreement in principle. A contract.

Consequently, millions of dollars have already been spent. That funding, needless to say, belongs to us, not to the politicians who have chosen to disregard signed contracts and cherry-pick the council record to advance short-term political aims that may or may not come to fruition.

When political scientists and politicians from the other orders of government accuse municipalities of immaturity, this is precisely what they’re talking about.

On Twitter over the weekend, transportation and infrastructure minister Glen Murray told me, “I have said repeatedly that I want clarity from city council.”

That’s an easy one, and Murray, a minister of the crown, should know it. True, council has blown a lot of smoke on the question of whether the RT should be replaced by an LRT or a subway. And if tomorrow’s debate results in a pro-subway vote, several of council’s progressives — who should know better — will have implicated themselves in a breath-taking display of double-talk that should cause us all to ponder the chasm between their words and their actions.

But in response to Murray’s remark, I’d say that amidst all this prevarication and posturing, one ACTION stands out for its clarity of purpose, and that is the agreement between Metrolinx, the City and the TTC. As all the parties to that hard-fought contract know full well, its contents were debated and negotiated intensively over the better part of a year. As with the property tax vote last May, there can be no ambiguity as to council’s intention.

As Karen Stintz said that day: “The TTC and Toronto has a good partner in Metrolinx. We are not just building transit with the LRTs I fought for, we’re building our city. We are bringing better transit to areas of Toronto which need it most.”

How much more clarity does Murray really need?

photo by Wylie Poon

9 comments

  1. It’s easy to believe then that this unprincipled approach to governance is prevalent in all decision-making since Amalgamation. We need to resolve the in-built dysfunctionality on Council, wherein flows the gravy.

  2. Is there any chance that this small property tax increase will open the door to something larger that would go towards funding what Metrolinx has already indicated as being higher priority than this Scarborough transit expansion?

    At the end of the day what this episode demonstrates is the scope of the transit deficit that exists across the entire GTA, and how really every area is in need of transit investment.

  3. Honestly, given the last-minute nature of this policy reversal – not to mention the sheer stupidity and naked political posturing that lie at the heart of it – Metrolinx should ignore the back-and-forth at Council and push forward based on last year’s signed contract. It’s in the best interests of everyone that we keep moving forward on building transit. Anyone wondering why we’ve spent most of the past 30 years falling behind on transit as the city grows need look no further than the out-of-the-blue “Let’s make it a subway!” suggestion vis-a-vis the RT replacement.

  4. Why not just increase those property taxes further and give Scarborough Centre it’s “cherished” subway, while also getting a good start to the eastern leg of the DRL. If Ford is now on record as being pro tax increases for subways, than there’s likely an opportunity here to do something big. I fear Councillors are looking at their feet on this one though. Why not demand that their support for Scarborough will be met with suburban support for the DRL (which actually helps the whole city, despite its name).

  5. It only appears last minute, but this issue was allowed to fester by a number of people. 1st Karen & Glen passing a no notice motion asking for TTC to study conversion option AFTER passing support for confirming contract with Metorlinx. Still remember Parker was out of the room & angry after. 2nd was silly motion allowed by Francis during transit tax debate. 3rd was Metrolinx (presumably at behest of Prov) asking city for clarification on signed contract.

    Now with by-elections & 2014 municipal, pols like Stinz aiming for Scarb votes, Glen D.B. worried for his seat and Liberals MPPs worried for theirs are running to easiest option w/o LEADING and looking for best. Let alone less coverage subway brings, imagine all the lost opportunities spending an extra 1b on unneeded subway that John L pointed out so well in previous column.

    From THCH repair backlog, to TO contribution to a Don Valley Line (or DRL), to East Bayfront LRT, Malvern LRT, their are many more projects worthy of money then switching to extending BD subway to Sheppard.

  6. From Ford’s comments today is he is going to support Subway but not the necc. tax increases (i.e. only small 0.25%, not the 1 – 2.5% called for in City Manager’s report). So he can run in 2014 as for subways and against taxes once again. Unfortunately, too many councillors seemed lined up to support this insanity. It seems like the revenue tools debate all over again, after trying to shut down debate, Ford came out crowing after council refused to endorse any, but did not object to a couple. Interesting property tax increase to build transit was one only 2 supported, now for Scarborough extension how many are going to change tune.

  7. Everyone who enabled this deserves our contempt, both in the the province and the city. The deal is signed, it’s long past time to move on. So frustrating how capricious council is, and that the province is enabling them.

  8. Ugh – the political solution to the transit debacle and the good planning solution are oceans apart. Politically, it is good to get Scarborough and Ford Nation in the pro-funding, pro-build out camp, and this subway might be the best way to do that. However, from a transit planning perspective this is a horrible solution, will increase the strain on the existing system (particularly at Y/BD interchanges) and serve fewer people. While a rapid buildout of an LRT network across Scarborough and North York makes the most sense, it will likely never happen if the Fordies and Scarborough residents don’t get their way on this. Do we take this subway extension and the mess it creates on the chin to accept the opening for the *possibility* of better planning in the future?

  9. It’s face-palm inducing debacles like these which make me wish for an benevolent dictator to conquer the city, and just do what’s sensible. Where’s Hank Scorpio when you need him?

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