How many times do we have to bang our heads against the wall before we finally get the message?
Apparently, based on Friday’s little news nugget about the Scarborough subway’s inflated cost, that number is not a small one.
In this city, we don’t learn from our mistakes. Rather, we learn only how to make them again, and again, and again. As the old saying goes, history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. But Toronto needs a third phase, because we’re now out there in post-farce terrain.
There’s really only one thing to say about John Tory’s insistence on pressing ahead with a $2.9 billion, one-stop subway extension that will serve fewer people than many of the city’s bus routes and cost 45% more than initially projected?
How, Mr. Mayor, can the City be so ignorant? Or fiscally irresponsible, for that matter?
There are other secondary criticisms to make, naturally.
At the risk of saying “we told you so,” well, we told you so. Spacing’s 2014 investigation, based on extensive freedom of information requests, unearthed a Metrolinx memo warning that the cost for an earlier version of the Scarborough subway could rise by 40 to 50%. I regret to report that we nailed that prediction two years out, although I’m guessing the price of this boondoggle will continue to rise.
Here’s another: how is it that council continues to approve mega-projects before they have been properly costed out, in effect selling taxpayers on one bill of goods after another? Surely, after years of this particular form of perfidy, you’d think council would offer only conditional approvals pending more detailed budgets.
After all, no one buys a house without making the final sale conditional on a thorough inspection and a legal assessment of whether the property is unencumbered by liens and so on. That’s how you pay for expensive purchases: you do due diligence. Except, it seems, for Toronto council, and its enablers in the provincial cabinet, who collectively encourage voters to believe the fantasy figures that inevitably prove to be utterly baseless.
And a last one: after we all went through the elaborate public consultation process (charade?) earlier this year that played out in the wake of a council-Queen’s Park compromise about rapid transit in Scarborough (a scaled back subway, with the balance of the available funds going to finance a wider network of LRTs, including the Crosstown East, that would together have created a genuinely connected system in the east end), Tory now turns around and effectively flips the bird at all those expectant residents in Scarborough’s south-east neighbourhoods.
Why? Because, hey, it seems like there’s simply nothing more important than for the mayor to be able to say, two years hence, that he’s building a subway in Scarborough. Even if it’s a subway that will make the Sheppard line look like a paragon of savvy planning. Even it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference to local transit service in the long run. Nope, Tory is going to get that wretched thing built, even if he has to waste every last dollar the city has to spend on such investments. In for a penny, in for a billion, and all that.
Yet apart from all the policy slings and arrows, the truly perplexing aspect of Tory’s stance is how it reveals a certain political amnesia, or at least a troubling inability to learn from the recent past.
When I ponder this latest twist in the Scarborough subway melodrama, I find myself casting back to that very ripe moment in early 2012, when a growing contingent on council had become increasingly uneasy about then-Mayor Rob Ford’s bullying and his absurd fictions about building cost-free subways in Scarborough.
In the wake of some backroom deal-making between the centre and the left, then-TTC chair Karen Stintz led a council insurrection against Ford’s transit gambit, re-establishing (albeit temporarily) much of Transit City. (Stintz, of course, later learned that the Scarborough subway is the proverbial third rail of Toronto politics.)
Although the circumstances are not identical for all sorts of reasons, I’d say that Tory has blithely wandered to the very edge of a political precipice, and clearly has no clue about what could happen with the next step. Will a Stintz-like ring leader emerge on council and wrest the transit steering wheel from Tory’s hands?
I think it’s becoming an entirely plausible scenario. After all, Tory is increasingly tainted by a run of super costly decisions and non-decisions alike, including, in this latest instance, a $900 million+ outlay to build a project that seems to serve no purpose other than providing him with a talking point if Doug Ford runs for mayor in 2018. Beyond that, he doesn’t know how to pay for even a scaled-back Smart Track. He hasn’t done much to wrestle the out-of-control police budget to the ground. The capital budget contains a $1 billion hole, but likely more. And the mayor has mostly rejected his own top bureaucrat’s advice to find new revenue streams or face the prospect of the sorts of service cuts he came into office vowing to reverse. Poor judgment, remember, is his Achilles Heel.
Had Tory paid attention to the history of Toronto council politics between 2010 and 2014, he’d know that mayors can and do lose power between elections. If he’s not careful, that absurd six-kilometre tunnel could become his political grave.
photo by wyliepoon