LORINC: All the evidence points to more stalling

feature-lorinc

And lo, after the people of the town had spent these six long years wandering blindly in a stormy and seemingly ceaseless night, a young messenger named Oliver ran breathless into the town square, pointing to a brightness gathering low in the eastern sky, and also in the west.

He let his news be known to the three wise shepherds — John, Kathleen, and Justin — how the prophet Eric had foretold that the dawn, so long absent, may be nigh. The shepherds spoke softly amongst themselves, whereupon John emerged to address his weary and quarrelsome flock, they with their bunions and aching feet.

Behold, he told the men and women and children, I have seen evidence on yonder horizons, and the evidence is both good and plentiful.

And the people of the town turned as one and marched eastward, rapidly.

* * * * * *

After the week that was, let’s talk some more about evidence.

For those who’ve studied the long arc of Toronto transit politics, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the last week’s light-speed developments – the recasting of the western spur of Smart Track as an LRT extending the Eglinton Crosstown out to the Mississauga Airport Corporate Centre; the transformation of the Scarborough subway into a long single-stop extension to the Scarborough Town Centre; and the re-deployment of $1 billion to construct an LRT loop along Eglinton, north to the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, and finally connecting with the Sheppard East LRT – will not be the last word in this tortured debate.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the chances are really good that at some point, we’ll do this all over again, with another result, proving once more that history repeats itself first as tragedy and second as farce.

So, how will we know if this latest turn is actually a decision?

I’d actually characterize last week’s events more as an accommodation conjured up in the backrooms between the three wise shepherds. Maybe they all suddenly found religion about the wastefulness of a three-stop subway that could turn into a $5 billion sink hole. Or maybe the lessons of that slow-motion catastrophe that is the Spadina extension have actually sunk in.

Maybe there’s some trade off between the city and the province that we haven’t yet seen (remember the rumours about a Toronto Hydro sell off?). After all, the cabinet noise-makers – Brad Duguid, Glen Murray – have been brought to heel despite all the bluster and skullduggery that led up to council’s 2014 decision to approve the project. Politics is transactional. If there’s a quid, there’s a quo.

My own theory is that Team Justin let it be known that the feds would rather see all those earmarked transit dollars spent sooner rather than later, what with the economy turtling and the details of the stimulus spending package clearly in play.

In the end, who knows? All we know is that the world has changed, for now.

So whether this latest shift is a real thing or just expedient politics tailored to the needs of the moment is impossible to determine from this close. Indeed, when I asked one of my Ryerson j-school students — a young woman who laboured mightily to tease a coherent narrative out of Scarborough’s hallucinatory transit politics for a term paper — what she thought of these new developments, she replied, “I think it’s a good idea if it only happens.”

I can’t say anything smarter than that.

Now here’s another piece of evidence to mull over:

Justified or not, major transit projects in this town only seem to move from dream state to fruition when they have a champion who is willing to take some hits to get them built. I’m thinking of Mel Lastman and the Sheppard subway, as well as the additional stops in North York city centre; Joe Mihevc and Josh Matlow and the St. Clair right-of-way; and Karen Stintz and Josh Colle with the Eglinton Crosstown.

The evidence, gleaned from many previous episodes, is that noisy and possibly disingenuous local opposition to the proposed Scarborough LRT loop will surface as soon as city officials gets down to the contentious work of right-of-way planning, construction phasing and re-zoning along the corridor. In the hundreds of meetings that will take place, local councilors will have to lean in to the punches.

Who represents the communities along the proposed LRT route? Norm Kelly and Chin Lee in the north, along Sheppard; and Michael Thompson, Michelle Berardinetti and Glenn de Baeremaeker, along the Eglinton and Markham portions.

Hey, what could go wrong?

My point here is that if Tory is truly committed to the lofty goal of doing evidence-based transit planning, he’s now going to have do some serious political spade work in order to defend this decision, or whatever it is we’ve got on the table, from the inevitable nitpicking and misinformation and opportunism that will play out between last week’s news and that first LRV rolling down the tracks.

In particular, Tory will have to get tough with the always unhelpful De Baeremaeker, who is fully capable of turning heel on the mayor if he feels his own political interests are somehow threatened.

In fact, it will be interesting to see if one of the other councillors in that group will emerge as an outspoken champion — someone willing to stand up at the public sessions and say, “I understand your concerns, but this is the right thing to do, and here’s how this project will ultimately benefit your neighbourhood.”

It will also be interesting to see if Tory understands just how critical the clock is, given how late in the electoral cycle these developments surfaced. If the City can get its act together to complete the tough consultation, zoning and planning work before mid 2017, and if Tory has the courage to go to those community meetings and defend the plan, then it’s possible this line may get built.

But if he’s content to mail it in by deferring to “evidence” and taking a left-brain approach to selling last week’s compromise, then Toronto’s latest LRT plan is almost certainly doomed to crash into whatever craziness the next election cycle brings.

Too pessimistic? Too cynical? Nope. Just look at the evidence.

photo by Tim Adams

6 comments

  1. John, you’re absolutely correct about the importance of transit champions to get projects off the ground and with support.

    But the important champions are at the provincial level…MPPs and, ideally (and typically) Cabinet Ministers.

    Look back to the Eglinton West line which changed from bus way to subway. The champion was Bob Rae and Lo and Behold the subway would have run straight through York South-Weston. The Vaughan subway extension was championed by Greg Sorbara, Finance Minister…and … well what do you know. While we’re at it, let’s not forget which cabinet minister is the champion for the Scarborough subway.

    Ironically, there isn’t a cabinet minister who isn’t championing a subway to their riding…at least not publicly. Kathleen Wynne has not said anything about getting the Relief Line built and built across the Don Valley into Leaside….despite the obvious benefits for Don Valley West. Finally multi-portfolio Reza Moridi would probably love to be able to announce the Yonge subway extension to his riding in Richmond Hill … that it would pass through Thornhill, which the Liberals lost by 100 or so votes in the last election … would simply be a bonus. I’m looking for an announcement in 2017 a little before the provincial election campaign begins in earnest.

    Such is the state of our evidence based transit planning. Politicians, especially cabinet ministers, matter.

  2. One has to wonder where things would be if Rob Ford had not been elected? Ford liked to call himself “the best Mayor ever”! However on the transit file as on most serious issues facing Toronto Rob Ford was the most disastrous and retrograde Mayor the city has ever seen!

  3. A couple of points: the Malvern aka Crosstown East LRT goes over to and up Morningside Ave, not Markham Road. This is important because it brings the route through Councillor Ainslie’s ward, a much better councillor who is more likely to be a champion for the LRT than the names you mention.

  4. I truly believe the Scarborough Subway (in whatever form – 3 stops, 1 stop 4 stops or more) will never be built. Two years on and nobody has started the Environmental Assessment. Some pittance has been set aside to draw more lines on a map but not any real move. The EA will take at least 2 years, possible much more and then comes the second guessing, the NIMBYism, the community fractiousness and follow that, changes and redrawing of lines on a map. In the meantime the SRT (also called the Mogadishu Express) continues to deteriorate despite the best intentions of the TTC. Today I was actually shocked at the condition of one of the trains that pulled into the station at Kennedy – the cars were in worse condition than some of the ALRvs on the 501.
    My prediction? No Subway, no replacement for the SRT when it dies, buses for Scarborough because the Councillors all drive.

  5. “Toronto Rob Ford was the most disastrous and retrograde” — but McGuinty knuckled under and acquiesced, enabled if not abetted. McG probably wasn’t too keen on transit city anyways, wasn’t *his* idea. Really the province has been broke since before Bob Rae.

    Not clear to me who supported Transit City besides Miller.

  6. Transit City initially had a lot of political support, until the purveyors of misinformation started with the “subways or nothing” mantra. The politicians just followed that particular hot wind.

Comments are closed.