Are we making tracks or still going in circles?
It’s not every day — nor even every year — that Toronto opens six new subway stations. More like every other decade.
That’s a long wait for harried commuters. And an eternity for politicians in a hurry.
None of the politicians cutting the ribbons this month were in power all those years ago to cut the cheques. A timely reminder that they only ever benefit from the short-term election cycle, and rarely remain for the long-term investment horizon required to build subways.
Against that backdrop, the backand-forth trajectory of transit construction in the GTA is easier to explain. Politicians come and go every few years, while their pet projects zigzag to their final destination: Former finance minister Greg Sorbara drove the much-needed York University extension all the way to his own riding of Vaughan, a dubious terminus; ex-mayor Mel Lastman gave us the little-used Sheppard stub; the late Rob Ford begat the overbuilt Scarborough subway, with funding from his federal pal, then-finance minister Jim Flaherty; and Dalton McGuinty bankrolled much of it before bailing as premier.
A supporting role goes to Brad Duguid, the Scarborough cabinet minister who warned that any subway changes would be “over my dead body.”
Like other transit contortionists and extortionists, Duguid isn’t running again, so he will be long gone by the time his legacy becomes our albatross.
Two public servants who have danced around the Scarborough debate are also out of the picture — chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat has quit, and the TTC’s nimble CEO, Andy Byford, is New York-bound.
Who, then, will cut the next set of ribbons years from now?
A new cast of characters is driving the transit debate — Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, the NDP’s Andrea Horwath and Mayor John Tory.
Despite their disparate ideologies, they have a shared allegiance to the dubious Scarborough subway extension that defies logical transit planning and fiscal prudence.
How did the three major parties bond over this boondoggle? So much money for one solitary Scarborough byelection race in 2013, when they shamelessly outdid each other in bidding for voter support.
Today, as the price keeps rising (more than $3.3 billion), and the number of stations keeps declining ( just one at Scarborough Town Centre), how much longer until one of these politicians has the wit to get off this train and restore the original LRT design that would pay for seven more stations serving far more commuters closer to where they live?
The governing Liberals long ago made their pact with the electoral devil. Now, Brown’s PCs have opted to one-up them by promising to allocate even more money to future cost overruns in Scarborough, digging themselves in even deeper.
According to his campaign platform, Brown will bankroll the misguided subway tunnelling with a new form of financial engineering: If elected next year, the Tories plan to bring all TTC subway routes under provincial ownership, to take advantage of Ontario’s ability to amortize the expenses (the TTC would still operate the system).
It’s an interesting accounting exercise, without any greater political accountability. The PC transit vision promises something for everyone — a Scarborough subway extension, a Sheppard subway linkage (already rejected by city council), and an extension to Richmond Hill — without the money to pay for it all.
On his way to New York, Byford has become more candid about the future of the faltering Scarborough subway. As costs keep rising, certain to exceed the city’s budgeted cap, he has suggested council would have to reopen the debate.
Keesmaat, the former planner, also noted in retirement that there is a tipping point beyond which the unjustifiable becomes unsustainable.
All this second-guessing at city hall leaves an opening at Queen’s Park for someone to turn the Scarborough gravy train around. With the Liberals hunkering down and the Tories doubling down, will the New Democrats not take a second look at everyone’s tunnel vision?
The NDP’s Horwath touts herself as the leader looking out for the little guy against vested interests and political boondoggles. Her party is as guilty as the others in playing byelection politics four years ago by joining the Scarborough sweepstakes.
But on the eve of a provincial election what better way for the NDP to resonate with all Torontonians than by reverting to the original LRT that would deliver several more stations instead of one for a lot less money?
Is there no politician willing to get serious about making tracks, rather than leading us in circles?
As the price keeps rising and the number of stations keeps declining, how much longer until one of these politicians has the wit to get off this train?