The unelected champion of Toronto area transit taxes is calling out politicians of every stripe in the region — including Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Premier Kathleen Wynne and their adversaries — to muster the humility to get the job done.
In a blunt lunch speech to the Empire Club, John Tory is beseeching Toronto city councillors, including Ford, to climb out of their “pit of polarization” on transit.
He also calls on Wynne to apologize for the Liberal government’s scandals around cancelled gas plants and the ORNGE air ambulance spending fiasco as a first step in restoring “a profound lack of trust.”
He wants the Liberal government to outline how it will protect transit tax dollars from similar breaches.
“We’re at that stage now with the issue that if somebody doesn’t call this,… we’re just heading for another excuse not to do anything,” Tory told the Star Monday morning.
His speech comes as some Toronto city councillors are planning to seize control from the mayor on what kind of tax tools should be used to pay for transit. Ford’s executive last week voted to defer any discussion until it’s too late for Toronto’s voice to inform provincial recommendations on a transit tax strategy.
In a clear swipe at Ford, Tory notes that the next civic election is 18 months away, “and the public would have, in my view, every reason to remind the current administration that they were already elected to govern and to deal with issues like transit, not just to get ready for the next election.”
He goes on to urge the mayor to reveal how he would build transit if he’s not willing to support any of the provincial suggestions.
“Let’s say you put it off until the election and then we have the election and then you start all over again — is that what we do again? I just see we have an obligation and a situation that’s serious enough that if we don’t act now we’re just putting off what we’re going to do for a number of years,” he told the Star.
Meantime, his speech suggests that it’s time for Ford’s opponents to reconsider the need for a Scarborough subway but not necessarily the Sheppard subway extension the mayor touts.
Tory’s notes indicate that he actually thinks the province should reconsider its existing plan to convert the Scarborough RT to LRT.
“That LRT is going to be replaced in any event and although a subway extension at this stage would present some complications, that line shows the greatest prospects for financial viability as a subway extension,” says Tory.
Although provincial agency Metrolinx maintains it has “shovels in the ground” on the LRTs, including the SRT, no actual construction on the SRT is set to begin until after the PanAm Games in 2015, notes TTC chair and councillor Karen Stintz.
“It makes transit sense to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway (at Kennedy onto the SRT route),” she said.
It would mean that the SRT could continue to run while a subway is built. Under the LRT scenario it would be closed for about four years requiring hundreds of replacement buses to carry those riders.
But whether council ties that subway debate to the issue of which taxes to support to pay for transit expansion, is still being decided.
Stintz says it should be a “request rather than a condition,” of council supporting transit taxes.
But Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest) says she wants the province to direct the first money from any new transit taxes to a Scarborough subway.
“Councillor (Adam) Vaughan called me to ask for my support on his letter to bring revenue tools to council, I asked if he would support my motion that the first amount of funding go to Scarborough. He said well I don’t think I can really support that so I said at this point I’m not going to sign,” she told the Star.
Berardinetti said she has nine out of 10 Scarborough councillors on board with her motion and she’s working on the other 23 councillors she needs to put that motion on the floor.
“Our motion reads that if the provincial government adopts new revenue tools for improved transit projects across the GTA, then the first priority for allocation of any new funds within the city of Toronto be the replacement of the Scarborough RT line from Kennedy station to Sheppard Ave. with the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line with an additional cost of $500 million in addition to the $1.8 billion already allocated to the conversion,” she said.
Although there’s “something attractive” about the subway argument, Councillor Josh Matlow said he’s against any motion that will mean opening the master agreement between the province and the city.
“We’re going to get into trouble if we reopening the master agreement,” he said.
He also expressed dismay to read in the media that Stintz has been meeting with provincial officials to talk about revising the existing plan for the province to fund four LRTs on Eglinton, Sheppard, Finch and the SRT.