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Our Harmful Politics Of Transit

So, a few days of bashing Mayor Rob Ford’s flailing, rearguard action to save some semblance of his ad hoc transportation city plan, it’s time to pause and not forget the other contributor to the sad, sad state of transit affairs in these parts: our negligent overlords at Queen’s Park.

You got to hand it to them for possessing the sized stones they obviously possess, chiming in now, telling us to get our ducks all in a row so we could push ahead with building us some transit. Didn’t we already have that up until March of last year when the premier caved in and signed the Memorandum of Understanding that allowed the mayor to unilaterally rip up a plan that was in place at the time, that thing called Transit City? Where was the province’s demand for council approval back then?

I know, I know. It’s all political. The wobbly provincial government facing a fall election was unsure of the power of this thing called Ford Nation that the mayor touted. Better safe than sorry. Live to fight the fight another day. Besides, if Premier McGuinty forced Mayor Ford’s hand then, the mayor might’ve won the day and we’d already be on the wrong track of transit expansion.

But the equivocation, the serious case of constant cold feet toward public transit have been the rule rather than the exception for provincial governments, if not forever, than for the past 27 years or so. (And lest you think I’m letting Ottawa off the hook on this, I consider them largely an absent parent who shows up occasionally with a gift of electoral bribery.) What if the Mike Harris government never filled in that hole along Eglinton Avenue in 1995 and killed the subway plans? Or, had the same government not ceased paying its portion of the TTC’s annual operating budget? While there is much to criticize about the TTC, it would’ve been a different organization had it and the city not been forced to pick up the provinces half of the tab.

A situation Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals promised to rectify in 2003 when it was elected. And has continued to promise for the past 9 years. It seems the timing just hasn’t been optimum, money-wise. Ever.

Even their grand gesture to finally solve the city’s transit woes with their backing and funding of Transit City, quickly became a little less grand. When the economy went south with the global financial crisis in 2008, they began to blanche and waffle to the tune of some $4 billion, and a scaled back version established a certain easy come, easy go tone to the government’s attachment to the project. A tone the mayor quickly exploited in his bid to kill it last year.

Unfortunately this m’eh attitude toward public transit shown by Queen’s Park is ingrained. Hell, one might even call it endemic. Yeah, yeah. We know there’s a problem but, hey, we already got a lot of balls in the air. When the time’s right, the money’s flowing, when pigs fly, we’ll get right on it. Until then, here’s a biscuit. Don’t count on getting one regularly but be ready to jump when we say jump.

There was that favourite line of mine from The Sopranos, back in season one I believe it was. They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat?! If you’re going to go around acting all mature like you’re the only responsible grown-ups in the room, might I suggest accepting some of the responsibility that goes along with that? Including, but not exclusive, to making deals and then backing out of them on a fairly regular basis.

As the senior level of government in this relationship, shouldn’t they be instilling a certain degree of stability into the dynamic? Isn’t that what good parents do for their children? Bring a sense of consistency.

Whatever you thought about the government of Mike Harris, they couldn’t be knocked for a lack of consistency. They hated Toronto and couldn’t give a fuck about public transit. Unfortunate but you were never dealing with surprises.

This Liberal government? All over the map. And there’s not even a pattern to its inconsistency. We’ll call it, willy-nilly.

Champions of Transit City, then not so much. Do whatever you want kids. Come on! Make up your mind already!

There’s no rhyme. There’s no reason. No vision. No leadership.

So why are we answerable to them? A historical glitch. This once rural country gave provinces sole domain over what were, at the time, insignificant cities. An after thought. A, yeah whatever.

Sadly, an attitude that remains in place nearly 150 years later, long after the country has become predominantly urbanized. A haphazard, outdated approach that puts the province’s interests first, ignoring the glaring obviousness of the new reality that as go the cities, so goes the provinces, the country. So a bad decision (or worse, an ill-informed, solely political one) on transit at this juncture as we already lag so far behind other cities throughout the world, will not only adversely affect Toronto but Ontario and Canada.

And the galling thing about it for us (perhaps not the politicians involved) is that we have a built in structure of plausible deniability. No one has to take the blame. We gave them money. They wanted to build subways. Kids, eh? What are you going to do?

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr

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