WHAT is going on with Toronto’s transit expansion plans? Everything is changing so quickly!
For more than two weeks after Council overruled Ford’s so-called plan and basically returned us to the funded, studied, and shovel-ready LRT projects, the mayor has been scheduling regular photo-ops at Scarborough malls, telling everyone that Council is irrelevant, the people want subways (not streetcars), and the province is going to listen to the people and give Toronto subways.
The province has not been inclined to cooperate with the mayor. “Council is supreme,” they keep saying. Ford would not budge, and for a while, it looked like he was planning to spend the next two and a half years playing the role of our Civic Monkey Wrench, gumming up the machinery of government in any way he can. Through his proxies on the Transit Commission, one of the last remaining bodies where he can command a majority, he had the TTC’s chief general manager fired. Very literally, the opposite of being constructive.
That was Tuesday. Then a number of things happened very quickly. Premier McGuinty and the Minister of Transportation, in their harshest words yet, rebuked the mayor for being a bad team player. Surprisingly, the Ford administration quietly signalled that it would stop fighting the LRT projects and focus on long-term subway expansion instead. Shortly after, the mayor raised the possibility of using new revenue tools — specifically, a parking levy — to fund subway expansion, which is only shocking for it’s reasonableness and because Ford was elected on a platform of little more than cutting a $60/year car tax. Up until this point, he had been essentially promising to construct money-losing subways for free.
The door has been opened just a crack (but wider than it’s ever been) to getting the tools we need to build transit throughout the city. It’ll take more than a parking levy, which is too small by about one order of magnitude, but it’s a start. And that’s exciting. Let’s ignore how ironic it would be to achieve this under Ford’s mayoralty. It’s enough to remark that Ford has swung from the extreme of populist impossibility to a position more ambitiously progressive than even David Miller dared to take — and all in the space of about two days.
But a public opinion poll was released just a few hours ago that dampens my optimism. Only about a third of Torontonians are open to paying road tolls and other taxes or fees to fund subway construction. And it appears that Mayor Ford’s two weeks of obstruction hurt himself as much as anything else, with fully half of the city reporting “no trust at all” in his ability to handle the transit file, and only a quarter said they trust Ford more than the Premier or City Council. These are not the numbers of a man who can convince sceptical drivers and suburban homeowners that they should pay more to get more.
Revenue tools aren’t dead after just one unfavourable poll; the number are perpetually against them. But even without the mayor campaigning against them, he isn’t looking much like a saviour either. If the mayor doesn’t throw us another curve ball (or six) in the next week, I expect whatever transit we squeeze out of the province’s $8.4 billion gift is nearly all we are going to get for a while.
But at the speed things have been changing, you never know. We might get that municipal sales tax sooner than later, if we are lucky.