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.”
“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.”