When Unprincipled Meets Foolhardy Populism

March 31, 2011

With a provincial election looming this fall and the pitter-patter of little PC feet slapping all around him, Premier Dalton McGuinty has become compliant, let’s call it, in the face of demands from those claiming to have some political influence. Influence that, if unleashed, could spell a world of pain on the Liberal government come October. Premier McGuinty is nothing if not responsive to the winds of electoral change especially if they look like ill winds.

Now, you might not recognize this new acquiescence in the premier because it may look a lot like the old acquiescence. There is rarely a cross breeze he does not bend in the face of whether or not it’s sex education in schools, green energy or, now, a massive restructuring of a transit plan at the behest of Toronto mayor, Rob Ford. Looking over Liberal seats in Toronto and the GTA, the premier chucked both common sense and the democratic system over board to de-escalate the possibility of having to face the wrath of Ford Nation come election time.

I wouldn’t call it a capitulation. McGuinty didn’t fork over any new money. In fact, in the long run, this could turn out to be pure, Machiavellian genius on his part. Let the belligerent mayor claim this as his plan which services far fewer people and is contingent on a highly dubious claim of tapping private money to extend the Sheppard subway line. When things don’t fall into place in a couple years for Mayor Ford, and public transit has not noticeably improved especially for those in the northeastern and western sections of the city, and construction along Eglinton snarls up traffic during his watch, well, if McGuinty is still premier, he may get to sit and watch the implosion.

As satisfactory as that scenario might be, it is just the latest example of pure politics trumping sensible transit strategy here in Toronto, setting back an already increasingly backward system years if not decades. Transit City was in place to deliver solid, affordable public transit to areas of the city that had none. Perfect? No. Point to one that is. But it was much more extensive and inclusive than the Mayor’s current plan. Even the mystical one that is based purely on his magical thinking of the private sector riding to his rescue to build us subways.

“People want subways,” the mayor said.

Yeah. I want subways too, Mayor Ford. I love subways. I will go out of my way to take a subway wherever I am. With no particular place to go, I pushed into a Tokyo subway car at rush hour on a Friday. Just to see what it was like. While I can’t be entirely sure if it was on purpose or not, I was groped on a subway in Caracas. I have spent an inordinate amount of time traveling around Paris by subway just because.

But I also love streetcars, trams, LRTs. Sitting on the tram and watching Prague go by is… yeah, I’m going to say sublime. Taking the El from downtown Chicago out to Oak Park to do the Frank Lloyd Wright tour is a fantastic way to see parts of the city you never would usually. Or how about when the subway from Manhattan goes above ground on its way out to Coney Island, passing by neighbourhoods you only hear about in the movies? Forgettaboutit!

What I really want is a transit system that utilizes the most sensible technology for the money and numbers of riders available. That reaches the widest number of people and neighbourhoods possible while removing the most cars off the road. A transit system that works.

Mayor Ford’s plan does none of these things. It is driven purely by his dislike of streetcars and the perception that they get in the way of cars, his car. Think it a coincidence that the mayor arrived up at his meeting with the premier this morning for their transit announcement in his own private vehicle?

Premier McGuinty didn’t have to rebuff the mayor outright in his request to reallocate Tranist City funds and risk facing the bad mood of an enraged Ford Nation in October. He could’ve said, OK, Mayor Ford. You were elected with a mandate, some of which consisted of putting an end to streetcar construction. But since we’re not really talking about streetcars, and since we put up the $8 billion for the Transit City design that was in place, and since you’re asking to use a quarter of that, two billion dollars to substantially alter that design, we think it behooves you to take it to city council for a vote. If you can garner 23 yeas, then we can confidently give the go-ahead on your plan, secure in the knowledge that the city is behind you and it’s all not just bluster and chest-beating on your part.

The premier could’ve done that and shown some courage and a vision for public transit in this city. Instead, he put his own political career ahead of the best interests of Toronto. Let’s not forget that come fall and show him there are repercussions to giving the finger to the anti-Ford Nation as well.

irately submitted by Cityslikr