Province not onside with council’s Scarborough subway decision

Mayor Ford may be doing his end zone dance after a recent win at council, but it’s the Province who calls the game, and they’re not done playing yet.

Council re-confirmed its support, this past Tuesday, for a subway extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Ave., via McCowan Rd. — after the federal government promised $660–million for the new line. Council even approved a property tax increase to help pay the estimated $2.5–billion tab. This is instead of a planned and paid-for LRT extension, which would have had more stops, and served more Scarborough residents within walking distance.

However, in an e-mail to Spacing, transportation minister Glen Murray makes it clear the Ontario government isn’t ready to give-up on the provincially-endorsed, shorter subway to Scarborough Town Centre.

“We expect an Environmental Assessment of the two different routes to be completed,” writes Murray.

Environmental assessments take roughly two years to complete, and Murray wants one for each of the proposed subway lines. Moreover, the transportation minister expects the final product to be based on certain criteria.

“We have to look at this within the scope of the priorities of the Big Move plan to relieve congestion. That includes the attention that has to be paid to the Downtown Relief Line, Hurontario LRT and the Sheppard LRT,” writes Murray.

“The Duguid-Thompson committee will be looking at how to best connect the Sheppard LRT, the Durham Pulse BRT, and the Bloor-Danforth Subway extension; connectivity has become even more critical now. So, I believe there is a great willingness for us to work with the city, but it has to be based on evidence, demonstrated ridership, economic impacts and developments in Scarborough.”

This may mean Toronto will be mired in more of the same back-and-forth that has characterized the current mayoralty.

That’s exactly how His Worship wants it.

“It’s not just the last campaign,” the mayor told council. “The next campaign’s gonna be on subways. The next campaign’s gonna be on subways to connect Sheppard and Finch. The fight on subways is gonna continue, and continue, and continue! Absolutely!”

It’s true; subways were a key feature of Ford’s mayoral bid, if only in the abstract. Then there’s his ubiquitous huddle chant of “Subways! Subways! Subways!” But Rob Ford is no transit planner. The mayor is an electioneer. Ford — or, perhaps more accurately, the team behind him — has exploited the feeling, within inner suburbs like Scarborough, of being abandoned by the downtown power centre.

During what was an intensely heated debate — one which saw council divided 24-20 in favour of subways — councillor Gord Perks said the good news was every councillor present was passionate about building transit.

If that were actually the case, Toronto would be in a much better place. In reality, transit has been used as a political live hand grenade being lobbed, first, from councillor to councillor, and, lately, from one level of government to another. It has been used, and abused, in order to win a provincial by-election in Scarborough. Prime Minister Stephen Harper used it to help out his fishing buddy, Ford. Now, Mayor Ford himself has said, in no uncertain terms, it will be used to get him re-elected.

Councillor Mike Layton, speaking in council, said the subway versus LRT debate is

“an attempt to divide neighbourhoods.” Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti responded — out of order — “we are divided!” This was ever the plan.

The mayor is celebrating a plan that, if the Province decides to play ball, will see a 1.6 per cent increase in property tax. Spurning his old “respect for tax payers” vibe, Ford is betting on riding “subways, subways, subways” into another four year term in office. Ford is no transit planner.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz is. In early 2012, she put her political career — not to mention her alliance with the mayor — on the line, to support a fully funded, $8.4–billion Big Move plan to build higher-order, LRT transit to underserved neighbourhoods. This included the Scarborough RT conversion. Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, too, fought hard for this plan in council, De Baeremaeker comparing LRTs to his sleek new iPad. Both of these councillors, inconceivably, ran roughshod over their previous success, promoting their own OneCity transit plan — replete with a subway, not LRT, to De Baeremaeker’s ward — before the Big Move master agreement between the City, Province, and Metrolinx was even signed.

Stintz is a transit planner. This Scarborough subway was her plan, and she got it — pending Provincial approval. For that, she is the proper recipient of all due credit, and blame. But Stintz didn’t get to do an end zone dance. She didn’t get to make a victory speech in council, as the mayor did. If this subway and the necessary tax hike to pay for it was a political gambit: after running the ball most of the way down the field, the mayor took it from her, and spiked it.

The Scarborough subway debate is not over, however, unless the Province agrees to the council-approved McCowan alignment. That would mean Minister Murray giving-up on his own plan, and allocating $1.48–billion to the cause. For his part, federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty has made it clear: the earmarked $660–million is for the council’s subway, not Murray’s.

“We have to remember that this is a $50–billion plan of which the Province is committing 90 per cent,” Murray writes. “Right now the Feds are committing to 3.85 per cent. This is the first transit contribution from the Ford administration and it was for a single project. For transit expansion to be financially viable, we need to have a more equitable cost sharing arrangement between the three orders of government, and any discussions with the City and the federal government have to look at those two governments stepping up and paying their fair share of the costs.”

It’s no one’s responsibility, and it’s everyone else’s fault. In this, the mayor may be the most prescient voice in the room:

“It’s gonna continue, and continue, and continue…”

photo by Craig James White

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have included the full text of Minister Glen Murray’s response to Spacing.

Given council’s reaffirmed preference for the McCowan subway alignment to Sheppard, and in light of the promised federal funding for this plan, is the province prepared to amend the master agreement to incorporate this plan?

“Metrolinx has been working with the TTC. We expect an Environmental Assessment of the two different routes to be completed. It’s important that we get to the Scarborough Town Centre. As we work with the city to realize a high ridership, high value, evidence based plan, we will be following through on the terms of the Metrolinx letter that was sent out last week.”

Does yesterday’s vote make partnering with the city easier for all stakeholders? Does this decision provide any clarity?

“We have to look at this within the scope of the priorities of the Big Move plan to relieve congestion. That includes the attention that has to be paid to the Downtown Relief Line, Hurontario LRT and the Sheppard LRT.

The Duguid-Thompson committee will be looking at how to best connect the Sheppard LRT, the Durham Pulse BRT, and the Bloor-Danforth Subway extension; connectivity has become even more critical now.

So, I believe there is a great willingness for us to work with the city, but it has to be based on evidence, demonstrated ridership, economic impacts and developments in Scarborough.”

The mayor declared Sheppard and Finch to be the next targets for subway conversion. Is this at all a possible reality?

“In an evidence based system, looking at ridership, economic impact and land use, on the evidence, the LRT technology, which runs both underground, at grade and above grade, has clearly dfemonstrated to be the best technology, so we will not be revisiting the technology on those routes.”

Does council’s decision put other Big Move projects in jeopardy?

“We won’t lose focus on the larger plan. I think we have to look at the relief line with greater urgency, and we have to look at the importance of the other rapid transit infrastructure in Scarborough, like the Sheppard LRT and the Durham Pulse BRT; we have to look at completing the connections of the various projects. We’re trying to build a whole system here, and we have to make sure that dollars are being prioritized for priority projects.”

Is council’s direction to “aggressively” pursue P3s to ease the property tax increase necessitated by this subway realistic?

“Our province has a very clear P3 framework and policy. We have done over 30 P3 projects through Infrastructure Ontario. They have not been widely used on transit projects, besides the Eglinton Crosstown line, so we are still experimenting with it. P3′s do not necessarily mean financial savings and it depends on the model you use. So, I have not seen any P3 framework or policy out of the City of Toronto.”

Final thought:

“We have to remember that this is a $50B plan of which the Province is committing 90% . Right now the Feds are committing to 3.85%. This is the first transit contribution from the Ford administration and it was for a single project. For transit expansion to be financially viable, we need to have a more equitable cost sharing arrangement between the three orders of government, and any discussions with the City and the Federal government have to look at those two governments stepping up and paying their fair share of the costs.”

10 comments

  1. While we’re talking in football metaphors, I suppose Stintz rushed the ball ahead 50 yards from the centreline and lobbed it to Ford, who was standing in the endzone for the whole play. (Subtract 5 yards if this is NFL football.)

  2. And the saga continues, this is never gonna happen folks. The politics of public transit who knew it could get down to this level of BS! Someone needs to line up all these people and flog them in public.

  3. I agree with John (and I’m totally not him agreeing with himself. If I was, I’d have come up with a different name)

    The reality is that if Ford even makes it to election time, it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll win another term, so it really depends on the attitude of the next council. when the EAs come in. If Ford can revisit the Shepard and Finch lines, then Mayor X can revisit this one. Hey, we could be debating this for decades. Of course, if Stintz runs and wins, then it’ll probably stay with this, but we’ll see.

    The only absolute at this point is that a few million more dollars are going to be thrown at engineers and consultants. and the spit and bubblegum keeping the SRT going will have to last just a liiiiittle bit longer.

  4. Only in a bizarre parallel universe from Star Trek do Stintz and Ford celebrate their embarrassing acheivement. Neither have an iota of knowledge about transit. Stintz in particular is merely a trained seal of the TTC cadre, but wandered off her speaking notes when she shifted her gaze to the Mayor’s office in 2014. Of course there is nothing better in politics than to pander to a large minority of residents to generate a new voter base for your synical campaign. Scarborough was a gift from heaven…now Stintz and Ford get to fight over who served up this gift to Scarborough and served up a tragedy for the rest of the City.

  5. The priority should be for the Downtown Relief Line.The demand for ridership is below Bloor/Danforth. Run the SRT until it falls apart and then scrap it and run some nice Articulated Buses! Don’t waste money on a low ridership extension in an underdeveloped part of the city. $800 million was wasted on the Sheppard Stubway that will never carry a subway volume of riders. Nor will the Eglinton LRT. It too is a big waste.

    As for Ford in the next election; he will be returned in a landslide! Mark my words.

  6. We are best off in this city and region if we leave plans already in the pipeline alone and move forward. Not everybody likes the all of the plans. I personally don’t think this subway is the best decision City council has ever made because it wasn’t based on evidence & facts. One thing people forget is in the past, Yonge & Bloor were streetcar lines. When the ridership #s got to be too much, subways were then built. Those subways opened with ridership that justified their construction. (The Yonge Streetcar was carrying over 14,000 people per hour during peak, according to the Transit Toronto website). The DRL would be seeing similar #s according to study.
    But it’s time to let things be and just start building. Province should have been fast-tracking Sheppard & Finch already. Let’s close those doors and get to work on the next phase of transit building. Don Mills/DT Relief Line (or whatever one wants to call it), extending the Eglinton Xtown east to Morningside/ UofT Scar & west to the airport, Waterfront East LRT within Toronto. Provincially, all-day two way hourly Go Train service on all the lines not named Lakeshore throughout the GTA region and the LRTs in Hamilton & on Hurontario. There’s still a LOT of work to do. Time to move forward!

  7. Not that the Murray subway announcement was a good thing for “planning” but it is a step forward if there is real concern about overall systemic health and networking.
    Now if they could only intervene to make sure there are some cheap bike lanes for $100,000 along Bloor St. W and all those Mobility Hubs called transit stations and have the gumption to ensure that the Places to Grow Act applies to Toronto…. good biking along the subway actually is an efficiency improvement for the price of paint. It’s sooo good a deal, and it’s almost a freebie at least in subway terms where this latest morass had who knows how many $100,000,000 floating around….

  8. Anyone planning to remind Murray (and Ford … and Stintz .. et al) that 100% of all the money is coming from Canadian taxpayers, 100% of the Ontario government contribution is coming from Ontario taxpayers etc.

    Cheers, Moaz

  9. If they are checking alternatives, will they please consider connecting the SRT to the Eglinton line, elevating the line from Don Mills to Kennedy, go on a south side alignment from Brentcliffe to Don Mills (Don Mills still underground). Use half of the Federal $660M to elevate the line and the other half to extend it to Malvern Town Centre. This is by far the best solution to provide rapid transit to the most people. Plus, it is almost $1B less expensive than the subway plan they just came up with.

  10. why all we forget Finch-Hyw 7 subway extension? it should be high priority for GTA even it is not in Ford’s plan.

Comments are closed.