Queen’s Park Strangers

“Too much time has been wasted,” intoned Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli last week, “and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now. There is no time left to waste.”

All reports suggest he said this with a straight face.

If it wasn’t obvious before, it couldn’t be any clearer now: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto has been nothing less than manna from heaven for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. In the havoc Mayor Ford’s wreaked on this city’s transit file (havoc the provincial government could’ve stemmed if it so chose but more on that later), Queen’s Park has been able to cover its tracks, hiding nearly a decade of neglect and indecisive mishandling of such a vital portfolio. So much so, that after TTC Chair Karen Stintz launched what was nothing more than an embryonic idea about further transit expansion in Toronto with One City, Minister Chiarelli was able to condescendingly brush it aside as a ‘future-looking concept’ with ‘a lot of merit’ but – and hold your stitches together with this — “We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay,” the minister said. “Transit in a city like Toronto isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The stones on these guys. Really.

For the past 17 years, transit in this city has been little more than a political football to successive provincial governments of both red and blue stripes. Kicked and punted this way and that, depending on the direction the winds were blowing, there hasn’t been anything really resembling an overall strategy as much as there’s been basic calculated ad hockery.  While the current transportation minister mouths the word ‘necessity’ in terms of transit, it’s really only been about expediency from Queen’s Park for some time now.

1995.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris decides to bury the already in progress Eglinton subway line. Unaffordable. So we’ll wait a decade and a half when the costs of building transit inevitably come down and we can have this debate all over again in its entirety.

Later on as a sop to then Mayor Mel Lastman, the Tories OK a Sheppard subway line. This little stub of a thing contributes little to alleviating congestion much. In fact, it only seems to be helping load up the Yonge subway line to past capacity. It also serves as a flashpoint to the great subway debate of 2010-12, a key element to the delays the transportation minister bemoans.

And then there was the decision to stop funding the provincial half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, a decision that candidate for premier McGuinty promised to reverse if elected but has yet to get around to nearly 9 years on in his mandate. Taking a very conservative estimate, say $150 million a year, for 17 years now, that adds up to some $2.5 billion that the TTC and taxpayers of Toronto have had to shoulder or simply dispense with for the better part of a generation now. That’s a lot of expansion of services deferred and new technologies ignored.

What Mike Harris taketh away, Dalton McGuinty hath kept tucked away.

And like his predecessor, Premier McGuinty also bestowed upon the city a subway that had more to do with politics than with practicality. The Yonge-University subway line extension up to Vaughan was hardly where a new subway was needed most. Transit? Sure. But a subway? If there, why not Scarborough was a legitimate question asked during this spring’s transit debate. Until you elect a high ranking member of the provincial government, Scarborough, might’ve been the actual answer.

Then there’s Transit City.

Until we elected Mayor Ford in 2010, the main culprit in the delays in implementation of Transit City has been at the provincial level. Originally planned to build 7 new LRT lines and upgrading the Scarborough RT, along with new rapid bus lanes, Queen’s Park blanched in the face of the economic meltdown in 2008 and pulled funding that reduced the plan to 3 new LRT lines and the work on the Scarborough RT. (What’s that again about transit in Toronto being a necessity, Minister Chiarelli?) This reversal signalled that Transit City was subject to change and opened the door for Mayor Ford to crayon in a few alterations of his own.

As our friend David Hains pointed out last week, the Liberal government seems to have a selective memory when it comes to what, who and when modifications to a plan can occur. While brushing aside One City with a pithy ‘the train has already left the station’ bon mot from Minister Chiarelli, they weren’t as decisive when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City dead in December of 2010. Fearing for their own political future in the face of the supposed might of Ford Nation, Queen’s Park played along with the charade, allowing the debate to drag on until city council itself sorted things out. Now, it’s like, time’s up, folks. The clock is ticking. Time is money.

This is not to absolve Toronto city council of all responsibility for the transit woes it now faces. We elected an obvious anti-public transit mayor in Rob Ford. We demanded our councillors repeal the VRT and put further pressure on our own ability to pay our share of things. The subway-versus-LRT debate revealed a continued parochialism running deep throughout the city.

But, as they say, a fish rots from the head down. (I don’t know if that’s true but the saying comes in handy at the moment). This city and this region have suffered from a provincial leadership vacuum on transit for nearly two decades now. At least. $6 billion in lost productivity due to traffic congestion per year in the GTA and Metrolinx’s report on funding ideas for its Big Move isn’t expected until June of 2013. If still in office then that will be almost 10 years after the McGuinty government took over power. It hardly screams urgent or not a luxury but a necessity for transit from them.

So you’ll have to excuse me, my dismissal of the provincial government as honest or serious brokers on this issue. It reminds me of my favourite line from The Sopranos. “They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat.”

snittily submitted by Cityslikr

2 Responses to Queen’s Park Strangers

  1. Simon Says says:

    If you really want to solve the problems of gridlock, move to a telecommuting model. Both my wife and I have negotiated three days a week of working from home. We are available for teleconferences, Skype and the advent of WiFi allows us the freedom to work in the backyard on a breezy day.

  2. Steve Munro says:

    Just to spread the blame among all parties, even the NDP were not immune. Their response to the recession of the early 90s was to attempt to go full-steam-ahead on a subway plan left over as a Liberal election announcement. Gotta get jobs for those construction and engineering companies. They had no interest in building lower-cost LRT lines. Meanwhile, the operating subsidy to the TTC continued to fall.

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