Scarborough Subway Debate, Part ??

October 22, 2014

In an election that has boiled down to essentially restoring order back at City Hall, a return to civility and decorum, one city united, this explosive deuce got dropped into the proceedings. notagain1“Fate of Sheppard East LRT depends on results of city election” goes the headline of Mike Adler’s article in the York Guardian. Hey Toronto. Enjoy the quiet while it lasts because Scarborough subway, Part 3 is coming soon to a public debate near you.

While other incumbent councillors have been busy seeking re-election for the past few months, it seems the outgoing Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly, has been hard at it concocting a new way to wreak havoc on the city’s already havoc wreaked transit planning.

“The plot against the LRT line is being quietly led by Norm Kelly,” Adler writes, “Toronto’s deputy mayor, who hasn’t talked to Tory about his plans.”

“We’ve not had a tete-a-tete on this matter,” Kelly said in an interview, suggesting it may not matter if Tory, as mayor, chooses to fight for the LRT line or another planned for Finch Avenue West.

“The last chat I had with John, I tried to get across to him the nature of political life at Toronto council,” where members aren’t bound by caucus discipline, and a mayor’s position on issues “will be tested just like that of any other member,” Kelly said.

Talk about setting the agenda. I thought that was the mayor’s job? Kill the Sheppard LRT or your mandate gets it.

Now, you might chalk this up as little more than the babbling of a city councillor with too much time on his hands and too much time spent in public office doing a whole lot of nothing but it would seem Kelly’s not alone in his thinking. hatchingaplanA couple more Scarborough incumbents spoke out in favour of stopping the LRT as well as the new M.P.P. in the area, Soo Wong.

“As your M.P.P. I have listened to the community, and heard that the vast majority of you want a subway, and that is what I will continue to work for,” Wong told a crowd during last spring’s provincial election.

The provincial Transportation Minister, Stephen Del Duca, certainly didn’t rule out the possibility in a conversation this morning with Metro Morning’s host, Matt Galloway. When asked about the government’s plan on proceeding with the LRT along Sheppard Avenue, Del Duca said:

Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words…

Pressed further by Galloway on his government’s support of the Sheppard LRT, the minister continued filling the space with words.

Well the bottom line is that we ran on an election platform, of course, throughout May and June, and we passed a budget, and there are a number of public transit projects for Toronto and elsewhere that were contained including the Scarborough subway… the Sheppard LRT is in our plan and it’s the mandate we were given by the people of Ontario, and my focus is on going forward with implementation.

Now, a whole lot of shit jumped out at me from that paragraph.readbetweenthelines

According to the minister, the Scarborough subway was included in the recent budget. If so, does that mean the Master Agreement with Metrolinx has been altered to make official the change from the planned LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line into Scarborough to a subway? I certainly heard no news about that.

And while the minister claims the people of Ontario gave the Liberal government a mandate to proceed with the Sheppard LRT, the M.P.P. in the area certainly doesn’t seem to see it that way. Soo Wong, as you might remember from a few paragraphs ago, is committed to building a subway along Sheppard, mandate from the people of Ontario be damned.

But don’t get yourself too tied up in knots about it. The minister’s ‘focus is on going forward with implementation.’ Implementation of what, the LRT or the subway? He conveniently didn’t say.smarttrack

So once more, provincial politics and internal Liberal party machinations land smack dab in the middle of City Hall and threaten the progress of transit building in Toronto.

All this, of course, should renew questions being asked a few months back of John Tory’s decision not to include either the Sheppard or the Finch LRTs on his SmartTrack transit maps. “I want the LRTs to proceed,” Tory assured skeptics of his commitment to the LRT plan. “I will move them forward. I have no problem with them proceeding.”

Sounds… definitive, I guess, in a way that also leaves an opening for Tory having no problem if things change in a more subway-like direction. SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway will be his priorities. The Finch and Sheppard LRTs can fend for themselves.

“Things that are on track (e.g.: the Finch and Sheppard LRTs),” Team Tory spokes person, Amanda Galbraith assured us, “don’t need the full force of the mayor behind them to keep them on schedule.”falseassurances

Is that right, Ms. Galbraith? Norm Kelly seems to think otherwise. ‘A mayor’s position on issues’, as we quoted earlier, “will be tested…”

As stated here countless times before, the mess our transit plans have descended into is not to be blamed solely by the noisy know-nothingness of the Ford boys. There’s been too much internal party politics at play, too many other politicians cravenly pandering for votes and not standing firm with expert advice on the matter, for this to have been nothing more than a two-man shit show. John Tory’s expressed ambivalence has helped feed the beast, and now he faces a real dilemma if he’s elected the next mayor.

He’s vowed to proceed with the Scarborough subway because re-opening up the debate will only cause further delays. stopfightingNow there’s a new eastern front, demanding we re-open that debate on the Sheppard LRT. Again. How’s a self-proclaimed uniter and get along facilitator going to delicately balance those competing interests?

So if you’re hoping to see a more consensus minded city council in the next term, a kinder gentler dynamic, I’d suggest not holding your breath. Politicians of all stripes and from all levels in Scarborough are already pounding the drumbeat of discord over transit. Recent history has shown us we should expect no quiet resolution.

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Transit Talk And Talk And Talk

July 12, 2013

It’s kind of like living in a time lapse photography sequence these days, following along with the twists and turns of the city’s ongoing and perpetual transit debate. timelapseIn three years, we‘ve been able to catch a glimpse of decades after decades after decades of toil and strife, where talk almost always trumps action. Weren’t paying attention first time around? Fear not. There’s always another kick at the can. Always.

Word emerged yesterday that the dreams of more Scarborough subways weren’t dead. Such rumours were apparently exaggerated. The province’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murray, and the city’s TTC chair chatted openly about the possibility the door hadn’t yet closed and that there just might be some way to work out the details of finding the extra cash necessary to convert the proposed Bloor-Danforth LRT extension at Kennedy to a subway. moneytreeWhat’s another half billion to 900 million dollars generated by as of yet agreed upon revenue tools when there’s by-election outcomes and mayoral aspirations at stake?

Look, at this point, I almost (almost) couldn’t give a fuck what kind of transit gets built in Scarborough as long as it leads to the How You Going To Pay For It conversation. There’s never been any logical reason to build further subways either along Sheppard or as an extension to the existing line there. Lord knows, there’s certainly no compelling economic reason to do so. It’s always been about divisive political posturing, pure and simple. Subways, subways, subways. The people want subways.

Or the latest idiocy to tumble out of a councillor’s mouth about the issue. “The province needs to step up to the plate, otherwise they will be letting down the people of Scarborough,” mewled Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. “You can’t go to residents with revenue tools and not even deliver a subway.” tellmewhatIwanttohearYou see, Scarborough deserves subways because, well, subways. Subways, subways, subways.

But if you think the province is acting any more sensibly, get a load of Minister Murray’s thoughts on the matter. “We’ve certainly been flexible in the past and will continue to be when it comes to accommodating a municipality,” the Globe and Mail quotes him saying. “It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit. I’m not prepared for people in Scarborough to miss this round…”

Flexible. Isn’t it adorable how the minister positively frames being politically craven and calculating. If this Liberal government at Queen’s Park hadn’t proven to be so ‘flexible’ at the outset, if they hadn’t immediately caved to our new mayor’s 2010 unilateral decision to junk Transit City, we wouldn’t still be having this conversation three years on.

And what the fuck is he talking about with the Scarborough ‘wanting for high speed, rapid transit’ and the ‘miss this round’ business? jumphowhighThis kind of bullshit only serves to further unfairly diminish LRTs in the already dim view of some and continues to put the notion of subways on this entirely unwarranted 1st class pedestal. It’s technology porn and completely warps the conversation.

Every time you think (no, hope and pray) you see a little ray of sunshine on transit – hey, maybe this time, maybe this time, maybe, maybe, maybe – the dark clouds of naked ambition roll in. It’s enough to make you think we get transit built only when it’s expedient for a critical mass of politicians. The most cost conscious of mayors has been joined by elected officials covering the entire ideological spectrum essentially telling voters in Scarborough that when it comes to getting them their subway, money is no object. In this, they are all tax-and-spenders minus the taxing part.

You’d think that after the scandals that continue to plague them, the Liberal government might shy away from such obvious pandering and willingness to throw money around in order to shore up support for ridings that are in play. Change of leader, change in approach. igotnothingIt most certainly is not business as usual.

But maybe their calculus factors in one other variable. If, as a voter, public transit in Toronto is your big issue and you find the Liberals’ ‘flexibility’ on the subway versus LRT question counter-productive, where do you turn for a better solution? Both Hudak’s Conservatives and the NDP have been content to stand on the sidelines, with fingers crossed, hoping the government self-immolates, occasionally shouting BOONDOGGLE as their sole contribution to the conversation.

You don’t like how we’re going about building transit, the Liberals might ask. Ask them how they’re going to do it. And, of course, neither opposition party will provide a satisfactory answer. They’ll shrug and yell BOONDOGGLE again.

Who could blame them really? There doesn’t seem to be any negative consequences to not building transit. Posturing will suffice. It doesn’t really cost much out of pocket. The problems will get worse but after many of the politicians have moved on to other careers. murderersrowThis city’s history is filled with characters dedicated to inaction on the transit file, so the current players including our mayor, TTC chair, premier, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Queen’s Park opposition parties aren’t going to stand out as exemplary villains in this story.

They’ll just be joining the ranks of murderers’ row. The long line of politicians who put their own self-interest before the city’s. It’s not a particularly exclusive club.

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The Politics Of Transit

January 26, 2012

If you’ve ever played one of those 3-D board games, like say, chess or Battleship, you can get a sense of what’s going on currently with public transit planning here in Toronto. Layers upon layers of intrigue and political jockeying where one seemingly unrelated move has serious ramifications on the machinations happening below. It sets the head a-spinning, and not necessarily in a good way.

Not to drive a wedge in the opposition now coalescing against Mayor Ford’s harebrained ‘Subways Only’ Transit – I mean, Transportation – Plan, and, oh yes, opposition is clearly coalescing. Last week, TTC Chair and Team Ford stalwart Karen Stintz openly mused about bringing the eastern portion of the Eglinton LRT back up from underground where the mayor had single-handedly banished it last year. She wasn’t the first one of the mayor’s gang to question the wisdom of burying it. Councillor John Parker had called the idea ‘goofy’ a few weeks back. But certainly Councillor Stintz as head of the TTC, her words carried significant weight. Enough certainly to draw Scarborough councillor Michael Thompson out of the woodwork as he expressed no particular drive to keep the Eglinton LRT buried.

Now the Chair was political enough to offer Mayor Ford a compromise of sorts, a facing saving out. She proposed that any money saved by keeping some of the Eglinton LRT at street level would be ploughed into building the mayor’s cherished Sheppard subway extension. But… but here’s where it gets murky, possibly operating on a second level. If the mayor were to take the money to build the subway, wouldn’t he be breaking one promise to keep another? He said there’d be no public money needed for Sheppard, and here he’d be taking public money.

A moot point perhaps, as the mayor seems categorically incapable of accepting compromise as was on display last week during the budget debate. Instead, the loyal members of his entourage went on the offensive. Mark Towhey, the mayor’s Policy Director proclaimed, “Residents don’t want trains running down the middle of the street.” Then Councillor Doug, the mayor’s brother, went full on bluster with the Toronto Sun. Forcing taxpayers onto streetcars or LRTs (Stalin style) relegated them to “second-class” citizenship. And apparently, according to the councillor, all that money that was diverted from other Transit City projects in order to bury the Eglinton LRT would somehow not be there if that decision was reversed. “There is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow for $2 billion to fund something else.”

And where the mayor and his brother go, so goes the likes of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, right?

Not so fast. This morning in the National Post Councillor Mammoliti is on record gently disputing Mayor Ford’s claim that everybody loves subways but not nearly as much as they hate streetcars. Read this last paragraph and tell me there isn’t an open revolt brewing within Team Ford’s ranks.

Councillor Mammoliti, who has pushed for a subway on Finch Avenue, says that if a forthcoming report on how to build the Sheppard line determines that private-sector funding will be hard to come by, then “we should be looking at improving what is there to begin with” on Finch. He favours a swift surface light rail line over a dedicated bus lane. As for what should happen on Eglinton, Mr. Mammoliti said that “during the election I didn’t hear anybody on the eastern side say they had some concerns with [surface light rail].”

If you’re counting at home, folks, that’s the TTC Chair, 2 members of the all-powerful Executive Committee and one staunch supporter of Mayor Ford openly and frankly challenging his Transportation City vision. It’s the kind of internal disarray proponents of a more sensible and feasible transit plan couldn’t be happier about. Alas, it’s also the kind of discord our ultimate political overlords at Queen’s Park can use to give them the appearance of having sound judgement and being above the fray.

“The city still doesn’t have its act together,” said Bob Chiarelli, the Minister of Transportation. “We have the chair of the TTC speculating about changes. We have some city councillors, we have the Mayor really not commenting on it. So, we need some clarity from the city.”

AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGHH!

It’s this kind of multi-levelled, political gamesmanship that has stunted transit planning in this city for three decades now. If the province had remained resolute and kept to the already agreed upon Transit City plan last year, we wouldn’t have lost another 12 months or so chasing the mayor’s phantom transit vision. If the premier had called for a “formal proposal” from city council then to change course as he is right now to change back to the original plans (????), we might’ve had this discussion last year not now.

Instead, he capitulated in the face of the mayor’s self-proclaimed Ford Nation, signed on to the Memorandum of Understanding with the mayor, end-running city council, to use all the province’s money to bury the Eglinton LRT in what could only be seen for personal political reasons. Facing an election with, at the time, very dismal prospects, and a mayor of Toronto in his ascendancy, he chose to sacrifice the city’s transit future for his own political one. Unfortunately for the city, it wasn’t the first time such a thing has happened.

But… but… again, this is where it gets murky. I don’t credit Premier McGuinty with many things but his political acumen isn’t one that I question. Perhaps, he knew that if he forced the transit issue to a vote at city council last year, Mayor Ford may well have won the day. Transit City would truly have been buried for good along with the Eglinton LRT. By making nice and surviving last October’s election while exposing the ethereal foundations of Ford Nation while at it, he kept Transit City alive. The honeymoon now over, Mayor Ford faces a rejuvenated city council and very vocal, well-organized opposition to his transit plans.

Wheels within wheels. What should be a fairly straight-forward how to build a better transit system for the city situation is anything but. Perhaps the most aggravating aspect of it is that those who rely on public transit here the most aren’t the ones contributing to the decisions. It’s left in the hands of those who view it in terms of little more than their personal and political gain.

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