Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Scarborough subway versus LRT: how did your councillor vote?

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Published on Fri Jul 19 2013

Yes. No. Maybe. Sort of. It's hard to say. Look, can you ask again later?

After a two-day debate packed with incredibly frustrating moments in which facts and logic flew out the window in favour of platitudes and emotional appeals, councillors on Wednesday didn't vote to boldly go forward with a Scarborough subway as much as they voted for a tepid wait-and-see-strategy. They decided to put the funded LRT project on hold for a couple of months while negotiations take place with the provincial and federal governments on the necessary funding for the pricier subway option.

This strategy already shows signs of failure. Councillors were very specific with their motions, making it clear that, for the subway to be built, the provincial government would need to provide $1.8 billion in 2010 dollars — the original amount budgeted to the light rail project. But Transportation Minister Glen Murray was finally clear yesterday when he laid out that all council can expect is, in fact, $1.4 billion.

A literal reading of what council voted for means the subway is already dead. Since councillors opted to give city staff the power to renegotiate the transit plan with the province to include a subway, but made that renegotiation contingent on $1.8 billion in provincial funding, there really shouldn't be that much left to talk about. But it won't be that simple. It never is.

Here's how councillors voted on all major items related to this week's Scarborough transit debate:

Click the image for a bigger view.

The first vote, on whether to endorse the basics of Mayor Rob Ford's financing plan, was an important loss for the mayor. Ford repeatedly pushed the idea that the cost of the subway could be just five dollars per household, with the idea that the low-end estimate one per cent property tax increase would be phased in at 0.25 per cent over four years. But this was only ever possible if the city's budget committee explored “alternative sources of funding” — which could have included taking money from other city programs.

Councillors didn't go for that. It didn't help his cause that the mayor repeatedly misrepresented his plan and refused to acknowledge that his funding strategy was actually a debt strategy.

With council rejecting this part of Ford's motion, Ford was forced to support the original staff recommendation for financing. And that's how Toronto's famously anti-tax mayor endorsed a plan to raise property taxes by up to 2.4 per cent over the next three years.

The next key vote saw council endorse a motion from pro-subway Coun. Joe Mihevc making council's support for the subway contingent on a bunch of factors, including that specific $1.8-billion funding amount from the province. It also ensures that transit funding currently dedicated to other light rail projects won't be transferred over to the subway project — something that became really important after Ford floated the idea of transferring federal funds dedicated to the Sheppard East LRT project to the subway. I expected to see Ford's team oppose this, but they didn't. It passed almost unanimously.

Council also adopted a motion from Coun. Paula Fletcher that requests the provincial and federal governments make their funding intentions known by September 30, 2013. How much this deadline matters is unclear. This date is important, as Metrolinx — per the letter they sent the city on June 28 — plans to award a major contract relating to the light rail project in October.

Lastly, there's the vote on the subway itself. There's been some confusion over which vote mattered more: the vote to endorse the subway recommendation or the vote to adopt the item as amended. Without getting too much into procedural geekery, I'll just say that I think the first vote was the more important one, but, either way, Coun. Fletcher and Coun. Mary Fragedakis probably owe constituents an explanation on their voting strategies.

As for what happens next for transit in Scarborough, the only thing that seems certain is that council will probably end up debating this again.

This post was originally published at on 2013-07-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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