De­fend­ing the sub­way from a hos­tile takeover

Coun­cil­lors on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum agree the province must be stopped

North Toronto Post - - News - JOHN SEWELL

In mid-De­cem­ber, at its first busi­ness meet­ing, the newly elected Toronto City Coun­cil faced a ma­jor chal­lenge to its au­thor­ity. The coun­cil emerged from the chal­lenge with strong and al­most unan­i­mous votes, and the lead­er­ship of Mayor John Tory was ev­i­dent in pulling peo­ple to­gether for the com­mon good.

This is an ex­cel­lent start for the new coun­cil, and one hopes it con­tin­ues.

The chal­lenge comes from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. Premier Doug Ford had an­other of his hare-brained ideas: he prom­ises to take over the TTC sub­way sys­tem, while leav­ing its op­er­a­tion in the hands of the TTC. He of­fered no ev­i­dence that this will im­prove tran­sit in any fash­ion or how re­mov­ing the own­er­ship of one key piece of an in­te­grated net­work of tran­sit ser­vices in Toronto will make things eas­ier for any­one.

He hasn’t said he’ll pay any­thing for the sub­way sys­tem and its sig­nif­i­cant amount of as­so­ci­ated land — cer­tainly val­ued in the bil­lions of dol­lars — nor has he said what he will do once he owns it. The spec­u­la­tion is that he will sell it off, as has hap­pened in Aus­tralia and the United King­dom, with dis­as­trous re­sults for riders, and as hap­pened with High­way 407 un­der the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of Mike Har­ris.

Trans­porta­tion min­is­ter Jeff Yurek has said the sub­way is an “On­tario re­source,” a lu­di­crous and ab­surd idea.

The TTC was cre­ated by the city of Toronto al­most 100 years ago and is run by a city agency. Some 90 per cent of TTC riders are Toronto res­i­dents. The rest live nearby. Yurek says the province wants to ex­tend the sub­way into York Re­gion, Durham, and Peel, but the province doesn’t need to own the TTC sub­way to do that.

The Ford gov­ern­ment is plow­ing ahead and has ap­pointed a con­sul­tant to tell them how the up­load­ing can hap­pen.

City coun­cil has taken a strong po­si­tion in op­po­si­tion. By a vote of 23 to two (the dis­senters were Michael Ford, the premier’s nephew, and Stephen Holy­day, son of the for­mer mayor of Etobicoke). Coun­cil voted to reaf­firm its sup­port for re­tain­ing own­er­ship in the city of Toronto.

With a unan­i­mous vote, coun­cil re­quested the province “to demon­strate clearly and with ev­i­dence the goals they be­lieve can only be achieved through a change in sub­way own­er­ship.”

This is crit­i­cal: it is not clear that the province has ac­tu­ally thought through why its own­er­ship of the sub­way is a good idea.

Be­fore sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions take place, the city has in­sisted on a joint terms of ref­er­ence be­ing es­tab­lished to the sat­is­fac­tion of the city man­ager. The city man­ager pro­duced a strong re­port, not­ing that any process must in­volve pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. Coun­cil also re­quired that an in­de­pen­dent third-party eval­u­a­tion be avail­able to de­ter­mine the value of the city’s sub­way as­sets.

It is en­cour­ag­ing to see coun­cil, with its myr­iad po­lit­i­cal view­points, take such a co­he­sive and strong po­si­tion. Clearly, Toron­to­ni­ans are proud of the ser­vice that tran­sit pro­vides and are not will­ing to see it snatched from our con­trol by a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment that, given its fund­ing pri­or­i­ties, ap­par­ently has lit­tle in­ter­est in tran­sit.

Toronto City Coun­cil looks as though it has po­si­tioned it­self well to fend off the sub­way up­load. But one can never dis­count the kinds of things Premier Ford might do.

We will watch closely over the new few months as this plays out.

Trans­porta­tion min­is­ter Jeff Yurek

Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a for­mer mayor of Toronto.

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