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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

SPACING INVESTIGATION: Timeline of the Scarborough Subway

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For the last five months Spacing has been investigating the political maneuvering behind the decision to build the Scarborough subway. This is the timeline that supports the 5-part series.

June 27, 2012:
Karen Stintz and Glenn de Baeremaeker unveil One City plan, a long-term $30 billion scheme to finance new transit construction through “CVA uplift.” “The first project we propose is replacing the Scarborough RT (SRT) with a Scarborough Subway, which would run from Kennedy Station, through Scarborough Town Centre, on to Sheppard Avenue.  This Scarborough Subway makes sense because the SRT’s ridership numbers were never low and Scarborough transit users deserve service continuity. Replacing the SRT with a Scarborough Subway will mean no service interruptions and greatly improved services.”

July 12, 2012:
City council roundly rejects the Stintz/de Baeremaeker plan, substituting a face-saving motion to ask staff to study long-term transit priorities. As Etobicoke’s Peter Milczyn told NOW’s Ben Spurr, the plan was “little more than a media stunt.” “What was OneCity? OneCity was a press conference by councillors Stintz and de Baeremaeker.”

During the debate on the wording of the report request, de Baeremaeker tries to move a motion asking that staff report on the “merits” of a Scarborough subway extension. Council speaker Frances Nunziata rules the motion out of order as “it is a reconsideration of a previous Council decision.” De Baeremaeker challenges the ruling and loses, 26-14, with the brothers Ford supporting Nunziata.

October 11, 2012:
Tory leader Tim Hudak holds a “campaign-style” presser at City Hall, pledging that a Progressive Conservative government “will build underground.” According to The Globe and Mail, de Baeremaeker backed Hudak’s statement, but Stintz did not, saying council has signed on to the four LRT projects, including the one planned to replaced the SRT: “As far as I am concerned, those deals have been done, those lines have been confirmed. That is the expressed will of city council,” said Ms. Stintz. “We need to build transit in this city. We can’t spend more time debating the decisions that have already been made,” she said.

October 24, 2012:
On a surprise motion by de Baeremaeker and Milczyn, the Toronto Transit Commission board votes to ask staff to study the “feasibility of converting the Scarborough RT to a subway — instead of the currently-approved light rail — from Kennedy Station, north through the Scarborough Town Centre, continuing on to Sheppard and McCowan, and the further extension of such a subway from Sheppard and McCowan to Sheppard and Don Mills.” Commission member John Parker dismisses the motion as a “stupid, stupid” move.

October 27, 2012:
According to The Toronto Star, a new Forum Research poll shows that 61% of respondents agreed that a downtown subway, running from around Pape Station down along King St. to University Ave., was “a more pressing need for transit in Toronto” than a Scarborough subway.

November 28, 2012:
After several weeks of wrangling over the fine print, Metrolinx, the Toronto Transit Commission and the TTC sign a master agreement [PDF] laying out the terms and conditions for the construction and operation for the four LRT projects, including the conversion of the Scarborough RT. At a press conference, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig described the agreement as more binding than the memorandum of understanding that Ford killed upon taking office. “It is a true contract,” he told The Star’s Tess Kalinowski, adding that there are no guarantees.

January 21, 2013:
In response to the de Baeremaeker/Milczyn motion from October, TTC staff produce a report [PDF] which says that while either an LRT or a subway could work, “the Commission should avoid another prolonged debate over the future of the Scarborough RT, which might jeopardize Metrolinx’s commitment to fully rehabilitate and expand the deteriorating Scarborough RT.” According to the meeting minutes, “Stintz moved that the item be deferred until the City completes the consultation on revenue tools to pay for transit expansion and City Council has made a recommendation on appropriate ways to finance transit expansion.”

February 11, 2013:
In-coming premier Kathleen Wynne appoints a new cabinet, including leadership campaign supporter Glen Murray as minister of transportation and infrastructure. She demotes Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Margarett Best, Dalton McGuinty’s consumer affairs minister, from her portfolio. Best skips the swearing-in ceremony.

February 19, 2013:
Wynne’s Speech from the Throne: “The people of this province are ready to have a serious conversation about the needs of their communities, whether those needs are better roads or stronger bridges, repaired underpasses or accelerated, integrated transit planning.”

March 21-22, 2013:
Responding to the Harper government’s move to spend $47 billion on infrastructure over a decade, Stintz said that new federal money should go first into the city’s top priority project, which is the Downtown Relief Line. The next day, Ford said the funds should go into the Scarborough line, and added, “there is an emerging council consensus on building a subway to Scarborough Town Centre.”

March 26, 2013:
Kathleen Wynne, scarcely two months into the premiership, shoots down discussion of a rethink of the major transit projects approved in November. According to The Toronto Sun, “Wynne said she’s `determined to move forward’ on transit construction in Toronto, burying any prospect that Queen’s Park would be willing to revisit the agreement to build four LRT lines — including the Sheppard LRT — across the city. “I have been very clear that we’ll be working with Toronto council, we’ll be working with the city council and I know that we’ll land on the best plan for the city,” Wynne said.

April 26, 2013:
Just a month after Wynne ruled it out, the Scarborough subway appears to be in play again, reports The Globe and Mail. “Converting the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line to an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway is back on the table, several councillors say, and informal talks with Queen’s Park have begun. Plans are in the works to introduce the subway project as part of an expected debate on transit funding at the next council meeting…. ‘I don’t want to name names, but I am immensely confident that if we can get Toronto on record as wanting a subway the province will come on board – absolutely,’ said de Baeremaeker.”

April 29, 2013:
John Tory, in a speech to the Empire Club, comes out in favour of upgrading the Scarborough LRT project to a subway. According to The Globe and Mail, a group of councillors — including Stintz, de Baeremaeker, Michelle Berardinetti, Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc — will be attempting to get a motion to formally consider the plan before council, with the decision linked to funding from the province.

May 1, 2013:
A quid pro quo begins to emerge, reports The Globe and Mail: “The subway question may come down to the city’s willingness to buy into the province’s proposal for dedicated revenue tools – possibly taxes, tolls or fees – to build public transit, Queen’s Park and city hall sources said.” But Metrolinx officials say that switching plans at this point will be difficult and expensive, although the exact amount seems unclear. City/TTC sources put the figure at $500 million.

May 2, 2013:
Murray releases a statement suggesting the Big Move plans can be revisited: “Our government is moving forward with The Big Move…As with all long-term plans, there is always room to make improvements over time in response to emerging needs and the views of communities and municipal partners.”

May 9, 2013:
During a long and strange debate over the revenue tools council would support to build transit, de Baeremaeker moves “that City Council support the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue.” Despite the fact that council is debating a report about transit funding, and has not been presented with any formal assessment of the cost of a Scarborough subway project, council speaker Frances Nunziata rules that the motion “does not require a re-opening and is properly before Council.” De Baeremaeker’s motion passes 35 to 9.

May 10, 2013:
In the wake of the council debate about revenue tools and the Scarborough subway, the provincial Liberals say they don’t intend to change the Big Move, reports The Toronto Sun. “We have 15 projects; we’re not revisiting those projects,” said Glen Murray. “We’re continuing to build those projects.”

June 27, 2013:
Citing health concerns, Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Margarett Best resigns, paving the way for a by-election in the riding where the subway would run [correction: the proposed route will not pass through Scarborough-Guildwood].

June 28, 2013:
Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig releases a letter [PDF] to city manager Joe Pennachetti, threatening to down tools on the Scarborough LRT unless city council clarifies its position on the subway upgrade proposal by August 2. Stintz says she was “caught off guard” by the province’s ultimatum, according to The Toronto Star.

July 2, 2013:
The Liberals nominated Civic Action CEO Mitzie Hunter to be the candidate in a Scarborough Guildwood by-election, which, according to Inside Toronto, is expected to be called by Wynne for the following day, to be held August 2, the day of the Metrolinx deadline. Civic Action had lobbied for revenue tools for transit investment. Hunter was also a member of an expert panel, led by Prof. Eric Miller, which advised council to stick with the LRT plan in the spring of 2012. As she told The National Post at the time, “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,” she said.

July 3, 2013:
Ford asks city manager Joe Pennachetti to prepare a report on how to fund the Scarborough subway, to be presented to council on July 16. “There are many viable options to fund and finance the completion of the Bloor-Danforth subway extension,” Ford said, according to NOW Magazine. “Folks, the time to act is now. The cost of further delays will cost a fortune.”

July 11, 2013:
In contrast to some of his earlier pronouncements but not others, Murray indicates the province is willing to cut a deal. “We’ve certainly been flexible in the past and will continue to be when it comes to accommodating a municipality,” he told The Globe and Mail. “It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit. I’m not prepared for people in Scarborough to miss this round … whatever mountain I have to climb as transportation minister, I’m prepared.”

July 12, 2013:
With the Scarborough subway scheme dominating the Scarborough Guildwood by-election and Mitzie Hunter campaigning hard on a subway pledge, the Toronto Star editorial board rips the plan, likening it to the Liberals’ previous attempts to buy seats. “A Liberal government flip-flop favouring a Scarborough subway — perhaps in time for a key by-election — risks becoming a bad sequel to the gas-plant scandal. Premier Kathleen Wynne would be wise to run, not walk, from any such action.”

July 12 2013:
In a report on funding [PDF], Pennachetti says the project could be financed with a 1.1-2.4% tax hike, depending on whether the province re-allocates the entire $1.8 billion earmarked for the Scarborough LRT. Ford says he’ll back a .25% tax hike, wants the feds to ante up and (briefly) raises the possibility of re-allocating Ottawa’s $330 million contribution to the Sheppard East LRT.

July 17, 2013:
By a 28-16 vote, council approves the $2.3 billion Scarborough subway plan (7.6 km, 3 stops), contingent on the province re-directing $1.8 billion from the LRT project and the feds funding 50% of the shortfall after factoring in a 1.1% property tax hike. The pro-subway contingent includes perhaps unexpected supporters Joe Mihevc, Paula Fletcher, Mary-Margaret McMahon, and Paul Ainslie — all aligned previously with the pro-LRT faction on council.

July 18, 2013:
Murray, in a press conference at Kennedy Station, says the province only plans to hand over $1.4 billion. Stintz’s response, according to The Globe and Mail: “The only way the subway works is if we have the full commitment from the province.”

August 2, 2013:
Mitzie Hunter wins Scarborough Guildwood for the Liberals after a campaign in which the subway turned out to be a ballot question. Even NDP candidate Adam Giambrone, one of the architects of the Transit City LRT strategy, hedged extensively on the campaign trail. On the same day, Metrolinx informs the City that work on the Scarborough LRT has officially stopped.

September 4, 2013:
Standing on the roof of a parking garage Murray unveils his own Scarborough subway plan, a 6.4 km/2 stop extension that would stop at Scarborough Town Centre instead of continuing up to Sheppard Avenue, as the city wants. The provincial contribution: $1.4 billion. Murray’s freelance plan triggers a wave of hand-wringing and intense criticism from council.

September 11, 2013:
The National Post reports that Metrolinx chair Rob Prichard describes the subway plan as “the best of both worlds,” but warns that council has to officially negotiate changes of the Metrolinx master agreement before it can proceed.

September 12, 2013:
The city formally requests the federal government to contribute $660 million to the project in advance of a late-September “deadline” to secure funds.

September 23, 2013:
Finance minister Jim Flaherty pledges $660 million to the city’s three-stop subway (to Sheppard East). “You have our money, now let’s get this subway built,” he told reporters. According to The Toronto Sun’s Christina Blizzard, the feds’ move “assures” Ford’s re-election.

September 26, 2013:
TTC CEO Andy Byford says his priority for subway construction is the Downtown Relief Line, according to The National Post. “If I had to pick one, I would choose the Downtown Relief Line.”

October 3, 2013:
A report from Pennachetti [PDF] says the City will have to contribute $910 million, from a 1.6% property tax hike, phased in over three years, to cover the balance of the capital cost, given a $660 million grant from the feds and $1.48 billion (2010$) from Queen’s Park. The City’s portion includes reimbursing Metrolinx for $85 million in sunk costs associated with the Scarborough LRT (engineering studies, and preliminary work on an LRV storage facility that was to have been shared by vehicles running on both the Sheppard and Scarborough LRT routes.)

October 8, 2013:
By a vote of 24-20, council confirms the Scarborough subway plan, and the proposed tax increase, which will last for 30 years and cost the average homeowner about $41 annually. Besides Stintz and Ford loyalist Cesar Palacio, the only downtown councilor still on the “yes” side is Ana Bailao; Mihevc, Fletcher, McMahon and Ainslie, who all supported the July subway vote, backed away.

preface: Timeline
Part 1: The political machinations behind the Scarborough Subway

Part 2: “It’ll be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed transit”
Part 3: Ignoring the projected high costs and low ridership
Part 4: Won’t somebody think of Bombardier?

Part 5: The bottom line on the Scarborough subway line

photo by Tim Adams



  1. Correction: “a by-election in the riding where the subway would run”. Scarborough Guildwood riding is entirely east of Bellamy and is not directly served by either the existing SRT nor by the proposed subway under McCowan (which is 1km west of Bellamy).

  2. “June 27, 2013:
    Citing health concerns, Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Margarett Best resigns, paving the way for a by-election in the riding where the subway would run.”

    Small correction. None of the proposed subway routes would run in or to Scarborough-Guildwood, as the western border of the riding is Bellamy Road. (Not sure if this makes all the political posturing look better, or worse…)

  3. I’m still surprised no-one has asked for a judicial review of the council decision to switch from LRT to subway, which should have required a 2/3 majority to get on the agenda (according to the procedural bylaw, revisiting a decision within one year requires such a vote).

  4. Great series…And a pathetic group of politicians.
    Only problem is your link to Council’s final vote is broken. I’d like to know who else supported this fiscal fiasco, to ensure they don’t get my vote in October.