Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Friday Wrap: Private transit operators, new housing plan, Museum of Toronto

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Sep 21 2012

To end the week, a look at the other news coming out of Toronto City Hall.

In retrospect, the paint job on the light rail train prototype displayed at the Ex should have been our first clue.

That LRV, decked out in GO Transit-style green, only furthered rumours that have been swirling since the province first committed to wholly fund new transit lines on Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard. This week, the province confirmed that they'll be seeking an arrangement with a private partner to both build, maintain and operate transit service on those corridors. The TTC will be left out in the cold.

I'm not a fan of the knee-jerk negative reaction this has prompted from some on the left. The need for transit expansion in the GTA is so massive that we really aren't in a position to quibble over agency turf wars and the colours of vehicles. Ultimately, the vision for integrated transit in the GTA should be for riders to get on a train or bus, pay with a unified fare card, and get where they're going—without much worry about whether they're using TTC, GO, Mississauga Transit or Generic Private Transit Co.

But I'm also pretty cynical about the provincial government's ability to execute a contract with a private company that will actually deliver quality service and serve the city's overall transit network. Despite the hype, these public-private partnerships aren't magic. Private partners don't take on risk without serious compensation. The big worry is that the province will structure their deal to save money in the near-term while ignoring long-term implications.

We're building a transit system to last generations. This is no time to be short-sighted.

Rookie Coun. Ana Bailão deserves kudos for her work on a new report that lays out a more sensible solutions for Toronto Community Housing's crazy-high repair backlog.

Mayor Rob Ford, remember, endorsed a plan that would have sold more than 500 city-owned single-family homes and used the proceeds to fund repairs in other parts of the city. The rhetoric surrounding that plan verged dangerously close to the outdated notion that affordable housing should be concentrated in clustered apartment blocks, instead of integrated with market units in stable neighbourhoods.

As chair of a working group put together this past winter, Bailão has proposed a more sensible—and sustainable—way forward, putting a much smaller number of houses up for sale while also generating new revenues through a combination of other strategies.

Ultimately, this isn't a problem we can fix without a co-ordinated national housing strategy and more support from the provincial government. In other words: there's still a long way to go to make things better. But at least Bailão's report puts us on solid ground.

After taking ownership of the old castle last year, the city has been trying to come up with uses for Casa Loma.

At the same time, there's been much discussion for years over the need for a Museum of Toronto that can showcase our city's history. (Presumably there would be a whole wing devoted to major things we planned to build and then never did.)

So an idea by Coun. Josh Matlow and Coun. Joe Mihevc to open such a museum on the grounds of Casa Loma feels natural. I hope they can find support—and funding—to make this happen.

Staff confirmed this week that Toronto will post another budget surplus this year. Keep in mind, though, that this isn't some kind of Rob Ford success story: 2012 will mark the fourth consecutive year in which the city has delivered a surplus in excess of $100 million.

This post was originally published at on 2012-09-21T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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