So is it over?
After Council’s 24-20 vote in favour of a subway extension over LRT, after the Mayor’s consent to tax increases totaling 1.6 per cent, and the federal government’s $660 million promise for the new line, is the debate finished?
Not a chance.
This is an issue that’s too good to resolve.
The Mayor‘s position is the easiest to understand. Recent published polls show that his base strongly favours what is called the Scarborough subway. That residents in the former cities of Toronto and East York disapprove doesn’t matter.
In terms of the Mayor’s seemingly perpetual campaign, it was an easy decision to target the one Scarborough councillor who voted against him, and so extend the life of the issue.
Nor did Council’s decision conclude matters for the provincial government. Although the Queen’s Park recommended one route and is paying most of the bills, Council drew its own line on the map plus asked for more money. In turn the minister responsible for transit advised that the Province now expects detailed assessments for both routes – a decision that will add two years before construction begins.
Queen’s Park’s wants the decision delayed for much the same reason as the Mayor. The governing Liberals realize that being recognized as a subway champion will assist them in this spring’s provincial election, just as it helped retain their seat in Scarborough during a recent by-election.
As long as what passes for debate remains at the level of emotional election slogans, building that subway extension will be as protracted and acrimonious as possible, simply because that is in the interests of both the Mayor and provincial government.
For another view, take a look at the last poll results. When asked to compare a two or three-stop subway with a seven-stop LRT, the LRT was considered to be more appropriate. What about Scarborough residents? They preferred the LRT by a ratio of two to one.
All of which was completed before revised costs were recalculated: from about $200m per subway stop at the time of the Sheppard line, to over double per stop for the route into Vaughan, and now over double again in Scarborough.
It is as if cost, ridership, or planning considerations do not matter.
Success in Scarborough led the Mayor to consider reprioritizing transit citywide within a week of his victory. “To be fair,” he said, “the downtown people have enough subways already.”
Next he targeted the already funded LRT projects on Sheppard and Finch, saying “Obviously the next election is going to be fought again on subways ... I want to connect McCowan to Don Mills — just do the Sheppard line — then I’m going to go to Finch and look at the Downtown Relief line.”
As long as residents accept caricatures as truth, then politicians will endlessly re-open decisions, and policy will be taken down dangerous paths.
David Soknacki is a former City of Toronto Councillor and budget chief. Reach him at www.soknacki.com