Seething In Scarborough

March 9, 2012

About an hour and a half, an hour and three-quarters into last night’s rage fest at the Scarborough Civic Centre – TTC Chair Karen Stintz had been there for roughly half of that and was neck deep in bile and vitriol – a woman across the aisle from me out in the overflow seating in the foyer shouted at the screen that projected the meeting going on inside the chambers. Where’s your plan, Karen!? What’s the plan?!

Rattled like I usually get in the face of such unbridle, inchoate anger, I reflexively turned to the woman and blurted out: Shouldn’t you be asking the mayor that? Where was Mayor Ford? This was his gathering, his town hall. He is the one demanding that Scarborough get a subway. Why was he not here, answering the crowd’s questions?

Yes, Councillor Stintz had recently taken control of the TTC from him. City council had reversed his unilateral declaration to kill Transit City and voted to unbury parts of the Eglinton LRT and put 2 other LRTs on Finch and the Scarborough SRT. But a subway on Sheppard Avenue remained very much in play, perhaps a final decision to be made by council on March 21st. Shouldn’t he be here, pitching his plan to the people? This was his town hall meeting after all.

That’s how these things usually work. Councillor Stintz had held a similar transit meeting a couple weeks back with Councillor Matlow. They brought in a planning expert to explain why we should be going with LRT technology rather than subways. Somebody from the city was present to lay out the proposed implementation. They fielded questions from the audience in a similarly packed room. They made their case.

Mayor Ford conducted his town hall in absentia, leaving others to try and respond to questions there weren’t yet any answers for. It wasn’t so much an information session as it was swatting at the hornet’s nest, stoking the flames of resentment. What do you want? We want subways! When do you want them? When we figure out a tax increment financing scheme and start up a transit lottery… something, something.

Over and over and over again Councillor Stintz tried to explain that she’d very happily vote for a subway on Sheppard if there was a viable plan in place to build it. It’s been more than 15 months since Mayor Ford swept aside Transit City in favour of all underground transit, 16 months since he’d been elected with that as part of his platform. In fact, it’s almost two years since Rob Ford announced his intention to run for mayor of Toronto, and yet he still has no plan how to build a subway on Sheppard Avenue.

So of course the mayor wasn’t going to stand in front of even such a rabidly sympathetic crowd as there was last night and admit that. He wanted them angry. He just didn’t want them angry at him.

Instead there were his proxies in place. The Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy played to the crowd, bashing the TTC, the disaster on St. Clair, former mayor David Miller. Of course we could build subways. How? Because Madrid did.

Former city manager John Morand was a proponent of casinos as a source of revenue for subways. He also uttered what might have been the least recognized bit of irony of the evening when he told the crowd that he had been fired from his position at the city for saying what he believed. Can I get a Gary Webster from the hee-ouse?

Dr. Gordon Chong started out as the voice of reason but when the audience didn’t take to his suggestion of new taxes, tolls, congestion fees, he changed course and turned his guns on the TTC Chair. When she expressed some disagreement with an aspect of his report, he called her ‘thick’ and proceeded to explain that public private partnerships were the way to go. Aren’t they always? A sole reliance on P3s is the last refuge of those without a plan.

Nearly two and a half hours later, we were pretty much right back where we started. People wanted subways. People were owed subways. World class cities have subways. Scarborough demanded their piece of that transit dream.

But there was no one there to tell them how that could happen. It was all vague notions, untested theories and a whole lot pie in the sky projections. I’d be plenty pissed too. I just think the crowd turned their ire on the wrong target.

Which wasn’t their fault in the least. The real target wasn’t in the room. He’d skipped the meeting, encouraging the anger while sidestepping any responsibility for it. Maybe he was busy preparing for his meeting today with the Prime Minister where, it seems, they’ll be announcing plans for a subway. Just not one in Scarborough.

He’ll get around to figuring out that one eventually. Until he does, just stay angry Scarborough. Angry at everyone else but the real culprit, Mayor Rob Ford.

carefully submitted by Cityslikr