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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

LORINC: The many faces of Giambrone

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If I tried to catalogue the full inventory of Adam Giambrone’s prevarications in the Scarborough-Guildwood by-election, which will be decided on Thursday, I’d probably soak up all the available room on Spacing’s server. Suffice it to say the list is long and impressive, and will be well worth remembering the next time his name turns up – inevitably closer to downtown – on a ballot.

A good place to begin, however, is here, with his sunny “Meet Adam” Youtube video, co-starring Andrea Horwath, the least progressive progressive I’ve ever encountered.

Amidst sun-dappled shots of Scarborough, we hear the former city councillor and TTC chair wax on about the need for better “rapid” transit. The people in this community, he tells the camera, “want to have what other parts of the city have enjoyed for years and they want it now” [emphasis added].

Then Horwath chimes in and opines that Scarborough residents have been paying more and more for years for transit but haven’t gotten better service and simply can’t afford to dig deeper. (More on this in a moment.)

Oddly, Horwath’s diatribe appears to disparage her own candidate’s three-year stint as TTC chair, during which time he boasted constantly about ridership growth, bus expansion, new green vehicles and improved service.

Oh yes, and Transit City. How silly of me to forget to mention Transit City.

Transit City doesn’t figure anywhere in Giambrone’s campaign bio or materials, and it certainly didn’t get a walk-on part in the “Meet Adam” video. Which, as Alice said, is “curious and curiouser,” because Giambrone, of course, was Mr. Transit City for so many years — the leading evangelist for light rail — the transit mode that, these days, dare not speak its name (at least in Scarborough).

At a high-voltage press conference back in March, 2007, Giambrone proudly unveiled the $10 billion plan to criss-cross Toronto with LRT lines, including a 15 km connection from Kennedy Station to Malvern that would replace the Scarborough RT and bring rapid transit to one of the city’s poorest communities.

The strategy, he told the assembled scribes, is “designed to inspire people” [emphasis added]. It would bring a downtown-style transit network to the rest of the city. As he told The Star, Transit City “will restore Toronto’s stature as a leader in urban transit.” Such bold statements. You can almost feel the hairs standing up….

Oh, never mind.

Today, Giambrone’s faith in light rail — which he has re-asserted in numerous columns for his pliable patrons at NOW Magazine — is nowhere to be seen. His stance in this by-election has been to say he agrees with whatever city council chooses, which, as we know, is a subway to replace the RT, for an extra $1 billion (but probably more). As he tweeted before the council debate, “I support subways & LRT where they make sense. Right now I’m waiting to hear from #TOcouncil on transit plans for #Scarborough.” Inspired, indeed.

Green Party candidate Nick Leeson, a corporate lawyer, has no such qualms about supporting the LRT option. He says many residents tell him they have never heard the other side of the subway-vs-LRT debate — the cost, the delays, the shorter route — properly explained. Leeson, moreover, has lived in Vancouver and Calgary, regularly used the LRT in both cities and says he has little difficulty explaining why it is an entirely defensible option for large urban areas. “I wouldn’t be supporting an LRT if I didn’t believe it worked,” he told me Saturday.

And because of his stance, has he been dressed down while out on the hustings? “Absolutely not,” Leeson replies. “That’s the one issue in canvassing that usually is very favourable and has helped our party.”

Now let’s cut back to Giambrone, the NDP and this business of paying for transit. Back in March, Giambrone in NOW wrote approvingly of gas taxes, parking levies and sales taxes — “one of the least harmful [taxes] to the economy” and “close to equitable” — as potential revenue tools for Metrolinx. “We all have to recognize we need to ante up as taxpayers.” Fast forward to the by-election, and Giambrone’s stance is distinctly Ford-like (or Ford-lite): “People can’t afford to pay more…”

To be fair, Giambrone is not the only candidate eating his words. The Liberals’ Mitzie Hunter, in her days as CEO of Civic Action, not only backed LRTs generally, but also signed off on the pro-LRT recommendations of the expert panel (she was a member) established by council in the spring of 2012 to review transit alternatives for Sheppard east of Highway 404. As she told The National Post, “The LRT option is the choice for the ridership, for the funds that are available, and also for timeframe in terms of the impact on the community and for equity issues as well — bringing rapid transit to more people.”

But Giambrone’s stunning 180 is far more damning because, as a former elected official, he invested so much political and bureaucratic energy in the cause of light rail, and clearly saw Transit City as a springboard to higher public office.

The broader point to make here is that Rob Ford’s corrosive influence on all the parties and the state of debate is writ large in this by-election. He’s given too many political people from all three partisan clans permission to be astonishingly dishonest and unprincipled with both the voters and themselves. Josh Matlow’s incendiary exchange with Ford during the council debate was so devastating at least in part because there were so few others with the courage to join him.

How does this chapter end? Hunter, of course, will win on Thursday and likely go directly into cabinet. There, she’ll join a team that must confront the expensive and open-ended folly of transportation minister Glen Murray’s decision to tear up the $8.4 billion master agreement between Metrolinx and the City.

Giambrone, having burnished his reputation with Horwath, will come back downtown and resume the all-consuming business of rebuilding his political career. The NDP’s strategy to help him re-enter political life has certainly not been designed to inspire.




  1. Too bad ranked balloting is not being used in this by-election.

  2. Giambrone is a lightweight. Look at his actual record. Not much to see. REbuilding his political career? Doubtful.

  3. Many faces, yes – all of them those of an opportunistic weasel.

  4. The thing I have against Andrea Horwath is that she doesn’t seem to have an overall vision or plan for Ontario. She does present ideas such as reducing auto insurance rates and ??? . I do find that Ms. Howath has abandoned her labour and social activist allies. She purposely chose to remain silent with respect to the public elementary and secondary teachers after the Liberals and Conservatives passed Bill 115 which imposed a “contract” on the teachers. I don’t know if she is trying to go after the same voters that Tim Hudak is seeking. Yes, Andrea Horwath reminds me of Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. However, Ms. Horwath hasn’t demonstrated why she should lead the Starship Ontario.

  5. John Lorinc sure spends a lot of time decoding Giambrone’s statements for clues that he has endorsed the City’s support for a subway expansion or rejected LRTs for Scarborough, which he has never done. Too bad Lorinc couldn’t make his case by finding an actual quote, or campaign lit that describes him as, say, Scarborough’s “(a href=”″>subway champion.”

    Lorinc makes much of the fact that Giambrone’s campaign materials say Scarborough has been treated as second-class from a transit perspective, inferring without evidence that “second-class” must also mean LRT in Giambrone’s estimation. But Lorinc knows that one reason subways remain so popular in Scarborough is because the City tried to build a subway on the cheap in the 80s, leaving us with a failure-prone RT that is about to collapse under its own obsolescence. The TTC has still failed to do the hard work of explaining to people from Scarborough what an LRT actually is, and I still can remember how the Scarborough RT was once offered as an example of light rail. It is not possible to correct these long-standing misconceptions during a three-week election campaign, and John Lorinc knows this very well.

    And John Lorinc also knows full well that unlike Giambrone’s, Mitzie Hunter’s campaign materials have been explicit about her new-found support for the subway option, and indeed she has made this the central plank of her campaign platform. Hunter has openly abandoned her past principles, and you don’t need to parse or decode any sentences to learn this. I had to laugh when Lorinc writes “To be fair, Giambrone is not the only candidate eating his words.” There is nothing fair in equating Giambrone’s tactical silence with Hunter’s blatant hypocrisy and the Liberals’ destructive non-leadership on the transit file.

    Giambrone has done more than any other politician, except maybe for David Miller, to bring light rail to Toronto. His record speaks for itself. One might hope Lorinc would cut him some slack if Giambrone chooses his words carefully during a fevered election period when so much misinformation about LRTs is floating about, especially when the media seem so inclined to jump on every word while ignoring the real destructiveness of Liberal transit pandering.

    Lorinc seems to be joining Royson James among journalists whose disproportionate criticisms of imperfect progressives open up room for the truly destructive and regressive political forces that come later. If the Liberals learn the lesson that transit pandering wins elections, people like John Lorinc will share the blame.

  6. The craven-like switch in Giambrone’s support of LRTs may just be all part of the emptiness of the guy. Prior to being crowned by Miller to be his prince of transit I suspect he hadn’t a clue what a LRT was. He was pulled out of a group of lefties to lead on transit and he very quickly read up on it. With Miller’s blessing and his inordinate unquestioning faith in this guy who had no employable skills but digging ancient grave pits and offering soundbites as Layton’s bobble head we were handed a leader on transit. But wait it really wasnt about transit right it really just about getting the electability Adam right.
    His gross manhandling of the nomination process, and parachuting into Scarborough Guildwood at the last minute, his waffling on transit and his recent condemnation of taxes reads as a little boy desperately wanting to be loved, err I mean elected again. Giambrone=Pandering.
    Lets see what he does to get the NDP nomination in Toronto Spadina when that flakey Chow runs for mayor

  7. @john. You say Adam Giambrone’s record speaks for itself. My question is, why won’t Giambrone speak up about his own track record? I don’t think that’s a “tactical” silence; I’d say it’s the worst kind of expediency.

  8. Popular misconceptions about LRTs are the single biggest cause of all this crap. This topic begs the question: why does pandering to Scarborough require giving them the WORSE transit option?

    If LRTs were advertised and depicted on subways and buses and instead of “what would you do with 32 minutes?” people would have the 32 minutes sooner. There’s a study that actually shows that when drivers (drivers!) have all the information and pictures, support for subways and LRT are equal. Remove prestige from “subways,” present what both actually are and you get a different picture.

  9. People in Scarborough-Guildwood, would of gotten the UNFUNDED Scarborough-Malvern LRT line. They opposed it. When local Councillor Paul Ainslie went around and did town halls. Majority (or is it Mayority?) opposed it.

    @jeff , the difference between LRT and streetcars is stop spacing, this according to TTC communications staff. We did have an LRT 604 Harbroufront LRT, remember it?
    512 St. Clair West was supposed to be an LRT prototype. Another element of LRT vs. Streetcar is the “right of way” separated from traffic. Aren’t the 509/510/512 all separated from traffic? 501 (at Queensway) and 511 (at Fleet-ex loop) have ROW separation. Funny how the LRTs proponets say that subways in average go 32 (or i it 38?)kph, yet during the last heat alert, Brad Ross said that the TTC is REDUCING subway train speed down to 40kph on the open areas. In Scarborough, subways go in the mid 40s. (love GPS units).

    Back to article…Scarbrough-Guildwood residents rejected LRT.

  10. With Andrea Horwath siding so closely with Adam Giambrone, she has hurt her ethical quality in the future. If she can place her trust in a man with a lack of ethics, then what about her ethics?

  11. A great piece…but one point of disagreement: Malvern is not “one of the city’s poorest communities.” This is an oft-repeated myth, it’s not poor by Toronto or Scarborough standards. The median household income ($56,611) exceeds that of the City and the percentage with low incomes is about the City average. The % of renters (who are lower income than homeowners) is far below the city average. It is however true that Malvern is an isolated area that is underserved by public transit

  12. Giambrone should promote Land Value Capture as the best way to finance transit. Unlike income and sales taxes, collecting the rental value of land isn’t a new tax, since it doesn’t take the money people actually earn; it collects the unearned rise in land value (economic rent) that always occurs near new transit, and is the ideal source of revenue to build transit.

  13. As @Jeff has indicated, “Popular misconceptions about LRTs are the single biggest cause of all this crap.” I heartily agree. So really the core issue in this by-election has been railroaded by the Mayor, whose cheerleading for subways (x3) has clearly discombobulated both S-G voters and, more poignantly, Council – not to mention Queen’s Park. To me that’s also at the heart of the flip-flops and double-speak evident in Giambrone’s and Hunter’s pronouncements.
    All this goes to show that the “Big Lie” works today as it has so often in the past and that, once it takes hold, just about everyone toes the line. I’d kind of hoped that we were past that kind of politics, but the Mayor has single-handedly brought it back. Way to go, TO-RON-TO!!!

  14. The out of proportion interest in most media in the 3rd candidate detracts from the important ramifications of the Toronto bi-elections.
    Yes, Giambrone’s language is increasingly muddled between the 2 options as the campaign is probably increasingly aware that not supporting ‘subways’ means losing.
    ‘Scarborough subway key issue..’
    Hunter, who like Giambrone, understands that choosing subways is a wasteful move, has astutely transformed into the ‘Subway Defender’ on signs and at every door & media briefing.
    Once a ‘subway champion’ inevitably wins each TO bi-election, the true winner will be the populist Fords with transit riders the collateral damage.
    The issue is coming back soon. what effect will the election of a ‘subway champion’ in Scarborough have on anxious Scarborough (and suburban) MPPs & Councillors?
    The Fords have fought to make sure that Toronto never experiences fast, high capacity, affordable LRT, and their suburban wins could have serious repercussions for the Sheppard & Finch lines.