Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Scarborough subway: How your councillor voted and what should happen now

By: Metro Published on Thu Oct 10 2013

After Toronto City Council voted Tuesday to proceed with a Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line, Mayor Rob Ford gave Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly a big high five, pumped his first and shouted, “YES!”

So, yeah, it seemed like the mayor was pretty happy after the 24-20 vote. And for good reason. Just six months ago, Ford was so far removed from anything resembling a victory on the transit file that it looked like a lost cause. But then an unlikely and incredible series of events happened — most of them without any real action from the mayor — and Ford pulled out a win. An overbuilt, fiscally-irresponsible win, sure, but a win nonetheless.

Here's how the vote went down. (I've also included two previous votes on the subway held this year, so you can see how views changed.)

So what now? Tuesday's vote is as close to the final word on Scarborough transit we've ever had, but there's still no guarantee anything will ever happen. We're years away from shovels hitting the ground in Scarborough, providing plenty of opportunity for further political gymnastics.

But the delay between the vote and construction is also another kind of opportunity: it's a chance to turn around what has become a very cynical and unproductive political process around transit planning in this city.

It's a chance to get things right.

That doesn't necessarily mean that LRT supporters should wage war to get the subway cancelled and the LRT reinstated. Multiple wrongs don't make a right, and our governments have already wasted far too much money on cancellation fees and sunk costs — the legislative equivalent of taking big stacks of cash and feeding them into a wood chipper.

Yes, there was and is a strong argument for LRT being the better choice. Yes, the subway's financing plan will mess with the city's budget processes for decades. But there will come a time when the only prudent and responsible move will be to accept reality and embrace the Scarborough subway.

And, of course, we should do better with the next project. That's the really important thing coming out of all this — that Toronto City Hall and Queen's Park find a way to reliably, consistently and responsibly expand Toronto's transit system without having to slog through years-long political debates about every single project.

Speaking of the next project, politicians need to be careful not to let bad decisions justify more bad decisions. A number of councillors spent time this week justifying the Scarborough subway by pointing to the Vaughan subway extension or the Sheppard subway. We built those without density, ridership or planning rationale, the argument went, so what's one more?

It's a dangerous perspective, one that opens the door to years of political wrangling spent on tortured arguments about subways on low-intensity avenues like Finch while the subway we really need — the downtown relief line — continues to get pushed back.

Still, it's important to acknowledge the silver lining here. This week, Ford and council's most ardent conservatives were forced to acknowledge something they've been resisting: that big infrastructure projects like subways cost big money, and that big money can't be found by waging war on an imaginary gravy train.

The Scarborough subway — and its associated Ford-supported tax hike — should be a wake-up call for those who continue to fight against transit taxes and instead talk about their faith in the private sector and government efficiencies. You want to build? You gotta pay. You need taxes. Having voted to increase taxes by 1.6 per cent to pay for this subway, Ford can't simply go back to promising free transit. Now is the era of transit reality. The Scarborough subway may not represent much progress, but that does.

This post was originally published at on 2013-10-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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