Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Robocall this, Mayor Ford: Paul Ainslie was right

By: Metro Published on Wed Oct 16 2013

Nothing spoils a victory like a sore winner, but that doesn't seem to faze Mayor Rob Ford.

On Friday, just days after securing the biggest political victory of his career, the mayor — instead of, you know, basking in the glow of success — sent out a recorded phone message to residents of Ward 43, letting them know their councillor, Paul Ainslie, had the unmitigated gall and brazen audacity to vote against the Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Cue the horrified gasps.

Whether Ford's robocalls violated council's code of conduct or any other rules governing political campaigns is up for debate. We've already seen a strongly-worded rebuke from Ainslie indicating that he's taking the matter to the integrity commissioner and the CRTC. But either way, what doesn't really seem debatable is that what Ford did feels like a total jerk move.

So, in an attempt to balance the scales, I offer this: Ainslie was right. This blog doesn't have the reach of a mayoral robocall but I want the residents of Ward 43 to know that their councillor has nothing to apologize for. He didn't vote against a Scarborough subway as much as he voted against a reckless subway-financing plan.

Pretending like all council did last week was vote for a subway extension is only telling half the story. Councillors also had to approve a plan to fund the subway. And it was a bad plan. An irresponsible plan. A plan that flies in the face of all the rhetoric tossed around by this administration at city hall. For anyone who really gives a damn about the city budget, there was no choice but to vote against it.

And remember: “LRT” and “subways” aren't the political equivalent of rival sports teams. Weighed down by slogan-packed rhetoric, this debate has dragged on so long that it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the terms are somehow ideological. But the reality is that there is no one in this city — including Ainslie — who is against the idea of subways as a technology. The notion of a vast network of high-speed underground trains has an undeniable appeal.

But we have to pay for them.

Some politicians love to dance around that fact while drawing nice lines on subway maps, but eventually the bill comes due. Ainslie never dismissed the notion of a Scarborough subway out of hand — he even voted to support the plan in July, with conditions. But once it became clear that the subway would come with a big price tag, payable with debt, property taxes and development charges, he backed off and reverted his support to the LRT plan.

It's not hard to justify that decision. Yes, the Scarborough LRT had a couple of drawbacks. It maintained — though simplified — the annoying transfer at Kennedy Station. And its construction would have necessitated maybe three or four years of shuttle buses. But it was an amazing financial deal for the city over the long term, providing close to subway-level service with minimal impact on the city's finances. Not only was Queen's Park covering 100 per cent of the capital costs, they had also committed to covering ongoing maintenance costs.

In a city that needs every dollar it can find for further transit expansion and service improvement, that's a big deal — and a hard thing to turn down. To dump the LRT, council and the mayor needed to find a financial plan that minimized risk and didn't threaten the sustainability of the city's financial position and potentially lead to decreased service levels across the city.

That didn't happen.

In that light, maybe the question voters should ask isn't why Ainslie was the only the Scarborough councillor to vote against the subway. Instead, let's ask why he was the only one from Scarborough to stand up for both improved transit and real fiscal responsibility.

Anyone want to send out a robocall about that?

This post was originally published at on 2013-10-16T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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