Why One City’s Flaws Are OK

June 28, 2012

(Our 2nd favourite City Hall watcher — come on, seriously, who can top the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy? — David Hains deigns to grace our pages with his thoughts on the new proposed transit plan, One City. Every now and then we do like to offer up some actual clear-headed analysis. Thanks, David.)

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When it came time to discuss how to fund the Sheppard subway plan, Doug Ford knew how he felt. As is his talent, he put it simply, “All taxes are evil, as far as I’m concerned.”

With this statement, the councillor for Ward Two made it clear that there was no discussion to be had. His was an absolutist belief, and it is one which says nothing is worth having unless it is free.

Of course, that is not the world most of us live in, the one called ‘reality’.

The reality of the situation is Toronto needs massive investment in transportation to be economically competitive and make the city more livable. With an average commute found to be the worst in North America, the current ‘Big Move’ strategy is projected to only maintain current levels of congestion, and focusing on a cars-only strategy won’t deliver the progress that’s needed.

Which brings us to One City, the supposed antidote for Toronto’s transit ills. It’s massive in every dimension: investment, scope, and ambition. And for a city that is preternaturally risk-averse and provincial when it comes to realizing its stated visions, this actually seems to have political support.

Council’s newfound pluralism, as left-leaning councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) put it, is the direct result of the necessity of leadership created by a mayor lacking vision, moral authority or a solid attendance record at city hall.

Into that void steps Stintz, fulfilling her role as TTC chair with a plan and some staggering numbers. $30 billion. Six subway lines. 10 LRT lines. 5 bus and streetcar lines. $180 per year in property taxes for the average household over the next 26 years (phased in over four years).

Naturally, there are flaws and this process will have immense obstacles.

It needs equal investment from the federal and provincial governments, hardly sure things when their word of the year is ‘austerity’.

The map, already a very political document (of course) will have councillors try to graft on further squiggles that will lead to further squabbles.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby (Etobicoke Centre, Ward 4) will insist on the Eglinton Crosstown to be underground from Scarlett Rd. to Martingrove. Councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ward 5) asked today where the western leg of the downtown relief line and western Bloor-Danforth extension were, adding that he prefers to wait until October to hear from staff.

Councillors Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre) will wonder whether too much of this is an expensive sop to suburban councillors.

Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) will use the occasion to advocate for a sales tax, and Norm Kelly (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ward 40) might even join her.

People will worry about all sorts of things: paying for the unfunded operating costs, the most effective funding methods (like parking taxes), the wisdom of building a subway between Yonge and Spadina along Sheppard when geologists say that’s not possible and how Toronto can pull all this off without the mayor’s support.

While these concerns are well placed, One City is not meant to be immutable. Like a constitution, it speaks more to a framework of aspirations than a detailed model going forward. In this case dissent to that plan is the entropy of progress; the healthy and messy part that demonstrates why the process is worthwhile.

Despite all this, the key is Toronto has something to talk and get excited about. It finally has a holistic vision for the TTC that has an attached funding model (albeit just for capital). And it got to this point in spite of the mayor, not because of him (Yesterday the mayor toured a beer factory, looked at a caterpillar, and didn’t go to Pride’s police reception.)

So here we are, at the start of a transit journey and not entirely sure what the destination will be. And that’s OK, because unlike Doug Ford’s earlier statement, we finally have a conversation on how to get there.

guestily submitted by David Hains