Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[URBAN NOTE] Should McGuinty let Ford drive Toronto's transit future into the ground?

While I like seeing politicians I dislike getting their professional comeuppance, side-effects of comeuppancy worry me.

An instance of this? Earlier today, there was a meeting held earlier today--a summit, really--between Conservative Party-leaning and right-wing Toronto mayor Rob Ford and centrist Liberal Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty. Why? Ford, as the Toronto Sun wrote, was holding out a tin cup to the provincial government.

Ford delivered a balanced budget in March for 2011 in part with surplus money left over from the previous administration of David Miller but next year’s budget is short up to $774 million.

He campaigned aggressively on the principle Toronto needed to cut spending, not find new revenues to solve its financial problems and even turned down provincial money that would have funded public health nurses.

But he also vowed in March to press the province for $150 million a year in support, threatening in a radio interview to unleash “Ford Nation” during the upcoming provincial election campaign.

[. . .]

A provincial source said Ford has put a number of items on the agenda, but would not disclose the topics.

A previous meeting between McGuinty and Ford dealt with the mayor’s plan to derail Miller’s Transit City project.

The face-to-face meeting last December following the municipal election helped iron out the Eglinton and Sheppard Aves. transit initiatives.

The Ontario government agreed to build the planned Eglinton crosstown rail line underground, and in exchange the city committed to finding private funds for extensions to the Sheppard subway.

Ford famously cancelled, immediately after his election as mayor, the previous David Miller administration's Transit City which would have created, in collaboration with the provincial government and neighbouring municipalities, an integration of the Toronto transit system into a regional framework along with the construction of seven new light rail lines. The program's unilateral cancellation by the mayor in favour of a subway extension displeased many, but did please many of Ford's supporters, all enthusiastically pro-subway. The relationship with the provincial government has been conflictual, Ford threatening to mobilize his suburban Toronto supporters against McGuinty in the event he doesn't get the program funding he wants.

What happened today? McGuinty's not interested in saving his local rival, it seems.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has responded coolly to a request from Mayor Rob Ford for quick help funding the Sheppard Ave. subway expansion, a project that was supposed to proceed without provincial assistance under the March transit agreement that killed the Transit City plan.

McGuinty said Ford asked him to speedily provide some of the money – up to $650 million – that the province agreed to direct toward Sheppard if it had leftover funds from the $8.2 billion Eglinton Ave. light rail project it is responsible for.

“We'll take a look at the request. I think I've got a slightly different take on the $650 million,” McGuinty said after the meeting in his Queen's Park office, which lasted more than 50 minutes. “The memorandum of understanding that we entered into provides that we could make up to $650 million available once we have determined what our costs are associated with the Eglinton line. And it's pretty hard to make that determination at this point in time.”

Ford's request for provincial money for Sheppard again calls the viability of the project into question. He and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have said that the Sheppard expansion will be largely financed with private money even though transit experts and their council foes have called that plan unfeasible.

At the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Ripley's aquarium, which he attended immediately after the meeting, Ford said the Sheppard line would indeed be built. “It's definitely, definitely feasible,” he said.

Asked if it's feasible without federal or provincial funding, Ford took a long pause and said, “We're going to obviously need help from all three levels, but it's going to get off the ground and we're going to have the Sheppard subway built.”

“It's important to taxpayers,” he said, “and it was clearly stated during the election. People voted in that area, you look at the poll results, I campaigned on the Sheppard subway and people supported my platform.”

But if Toronto can't pay for it, that platform can't be fulfilled. If Torontonians come to blame Ford for messing up Toronto's transit future, hopefully--as I think McGuinty hopes--this will make him a one-term mayor. Hopefully Toronto could move towards a new urban policy.

What will happen to Toronto transit in the meantime? Toronto transit writer Steve Munro noted back in March that the cancellation of Transit City in favour of an emphasis on an underground Eglinton light rail line and a Sheppard subway extension would deprive some of Toronto's transit-deficit regions of much needed service. If Ford's revised plans go under, what will be left of Toronto's transit future? Is it worth taking down Ford if Toronto's left with no major transit expansion plans? Or is the idea that any transit system expansion is better than no transit system expansion a fallacy.
Tags: mass transit, ontario, politics, toronto, ttc, urban note
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