LORINC: What kind of transit plan will Tory present?

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If you’ll pardon the cliché, that great sucking sound we’re all hearing these days is coming from John Tory’s almost-a-campaign team, the members of which are methodically hoovering up all available Conservative and Liberal operatives.

As The Globe and Mail’s Adrian Morrow reported Friday, Tom Allison, an advisor to Kathleen Wynne, is the latest high-ranking insider to jump over to the Tory camp. That little reveal comes hard on the heels of the revelation of another, more interesting recruit — one Nick Kouvalis, who served previously as the chief engineer on Rob Ford’s Gravy Train express.

Whether this drip-feed of insider details about Team Tory is reaching the media through unsanctioned leaks or thanks to a somewhat more orchestrated communications strategy isn’t important (my own vote would be with the latter explanation). The net effect is to telegraph a sense of steadily gathering momentum to rank-and-file party workers, potential donors and, yes, even voters.

The pleasing side benefit, if you happen to be a Tory fan, is that each of these news hits blasts yet another hole in the hull of the Good Ship Stintz, about which we’ve heard very little in recent weeks. And they don’t do Olivia Chow — whose non-campaign campaign generates no rumours whatsoever — any good, either.

But the most telling detail in Morrow’s article didn’t involve Allison; rather, as the story notes, the Tory team now includes veteran Liberal cabinet minister Brad Duguid, who served for many years on Toronto city council, representing the deserving people of Scarborough.

The salience of Duguid’s presence at Tory’s side can be surmised thusly: Unlike a backroomer who signs on to provide his or her strategic experience, an elected official lends their name to a campaign to send a loud signal to voters, and always with an expectation that there is a measure of consensus on key issues.

In my read of this alignment, Duguid is joining Tory almost certainly on the understanding that the candidate won’t take a run at the Scarborough subway deal cooked up by Karen Stintz and Glenn de Baeremaeker, and then supported, somewhat erratically, by Kathleen Wynne’s government.

Duguid, according to my sources, was a driving force behind the subway plan, marshalling support in caucus (the Liberals’ Scarborough MPPs had a little lobbying operation going in the run-up to the vote) and riding herd with council’s Scarborough Liberals.

In the inevitable scramble for high-profile mayoral endorsements that will play out in the months to come, Duguid’s name is one of the first to surface. It seems inconceivable to me that he’d sign on with anyone who would even muse aloud about re-opening the decision, no matter how costly and ill-considered. (I’d guess Mitzi Hunter, former head of Tory’s Civic Action and the winner of that mid-summer Scarborough by-election, is planning to declare her support any minute now.)

Politically, it makes sense to me that Tory would come out of the gate assuring voters that he doesn’t intend to re-litigate the Scarborough subway decision. However else one may read the polling on the subway-vs-LRT debate in Scarborough, that positioning will further undermine Stintz’s appeal, and also deprives Ford of an important wedge strategy in vote-rich Scarborough. In effect, Tory gets to say, “(for good or ill), we’ve decided, so let’s get on with it.” My feeling is that a significant portion of the voting public will agree.

As interesting will be Tory’s positioning on transit funding. To his credit, he’s spent the better part of two years telling politicians, Civic Actionistas, and his Talk1010 listeners that Greater Toronto residents are going to have to suck it up and pay for regional transit if they want to deal with gridlock.

But thanks to the ministrations of the Liberal government, the so-called revenue tools debate — which reached a crescendo of sorts last summer — is on no one’s lips these days. An  IPSOS Reid/CTV poll on Ontario voter attitudes, released over the weekend, showed that only 3% of respondents felt public transit should top the priority list of pressing issues for political leaders. Transit even ranks behind poverty and the environment, and just ahead of the “don’t know.” (Encouragingly for Wynne & Co., “government accountability” — i.e., gas plant-gate, Ornge, eHealth, etc. — ranks well behind the economy and jobs as a top-of-mind concern.)

Notwithstanding Wynne’s occasional protestations to the contrary, the Liberals have shown every indication they plan to bury the hot potato topic of how to pay for transit and push a made-in-Ontario pension plan instead. Indeed, a source close to Anne Golden’s transit investment strategy task force — you know, the one transportation minister Glen Murray created so the Grits could “own” the issue — says its report seems to have vanished without a trace.

Tory’s partisan instincts may tell him that bludgeoning the Wynne Liberals for ducking an important issue during the looming provincial election may be sound oppositional politics. But with Liberals like Duguid at his side, and presented with the challenge of appearing to advocate for more taxes during a campaign to unseat the gravy buster, Tory, I’m guessing, is going to tread lightly on this file.

Maybe if he’s elected in the fall, Tory will move quickly to spend his political capital to break the political gridlock that surrounds the debate about transit expansion funding. But that’s a leap of faith. For now, the Tory train may be leaving the station, but what’s far from clear is whether it’s going to be a transit vehicle.

photo by John Oostrom

4 comments

  1. Disappointed. An entire article about mayoral candidates and the Scarborough subway and not a single mention of David Soknacki?

  2. The #1 reason I am even supporting the Liberals is because they were the only ones who seemed willing to seriously invest in the GTA’s ever growing backlog of transportation/transit infrastructure. If they aren’t interested in that anymore, all bets are off…

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