Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford Accomplishment Tracker: Can the mayor really brag about building subways?

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Mar 12 2014

A few hours after I published my exhaustive fact check of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign website accomplishments list, the Ford campaign updated the page. Probably just a coincidence. Cough.

Several of the items on the list disappeared. Some were significantly revised or clarified. New ones were added. In the coming weeks, I’ll return to some of the accomplishments on the page and check the mayor’s numbers, but for now let’s focus on what Ford has listed as his top accomplishment: subways.

I thought it was bizarre that the old version of the list didn’t mention the Scarborough subway extension, considering that Ford has been so hung up on the idea of building underground — and only underground — transit for much of the last three years.

The new version of the list corrects the oversight with this boast, slapped right at the top of the page:

“Building the Scarborough Subway: Mayor Ford has brought all three levels of government together to build a seamless extension of the Bloor-Danforth Subway Line.”

There’s a few ways to look at this.

First, it needs to be examined in the context of what Ford promised as part of his 2010 mayoral platform. Ford’s transportation plan didn’t just concern itself with one three-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Instead, it promised 17 new subway stations, all to be built in less than five years with no extra funding required.

This was a lunatic plan, of course, but in those weird days of 2010 it didn’t seem to matter that the leading contender for the mayor's chair had proposed a transit plan that literally not a single transit planner on Earth would consider plausible. Instead the whole thing was just distilled down to a single, simplified talking point: Rob Ford wants to build subways.

But even so, Ford has mostly failed to deliver on that. No new subway construction has begun under Ford. No new subways will open by 2015. And only 17 per cent of the subway stations he supported are currently part of the city’s transit plans.

The other important thing to consider is that, before he voted for it, Ford voted against the Scarborough subway.

Then-TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker unveil the ill-fated OneCity transit plan. (Torstar News Service)
Then-TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker unveil the ill-fated OneCity transit plan. (Torstar News Service)

That happened in July 2012. It was yet another tension-filled council meeting. TTC chair Karen Stintz and Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker had just come out with an ambitious citywide transit plan they called OneCity. At first it was kind of exciting. Then it got messy. But either way, one of the major elements of the plan was an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway into Scarborough.

In an attempt to move that forward, De Baeremaeker moved an amendment to a motion at the council meeting held on July 11. It asked for a report that would “consider the eastern extension of the Bloor/Danforth subway.” Had it passed, it would have sent a strong message to Metrolinx and the provincial government that council was in support of a Scarborough subway.

But it didn’t pass. Chair Frances Nunziata ruled the motion out-of-order. When De Baeremaeker challenged that ruling, it was upheld on a 26-14 vote. One of the council members who voted to uphold the ruling and close off any discussion of a Scarborough subway? Rob Ford.

When the Scarborough subway did come back on council’s agenda — a year later — Ford was mostly a bystander. What really sealed the deal wasn’t prudent negotiation from Ford but a provincial by-election that turned many Toronto members of the Ontario Liberal Party into shameless “subway champions.”

Ford can probably take some credit for getting the federal government to commit to funding the plan. It’s hard to say if that would have had happened as easily without his connection to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. But it’s important to remember that the province had already stated their intention to go forward with a subway, with or without federal funding. The federal funding just ensured the subway would run on a more sensible alignment.

Finally, there’s this crucially important point: Ford raised your taxes to build a subway. It was something he repeatedly promised he wouldn’t do. He once famously proclaimed that he “didn’t support taxing the taxpayer.” When Metrolinx floated the idea of increasing taxes to pay for transit, Ford pretended to vomit.

But then Ford raised taxes.

Ford will probably spend much of the next year telling people he's only supporting a 0.25 per cent property tax revenue increase to pay for the subway. But that’s an outright lie. Ford committed to — and voted for — a total increase of 1.6 per cent.

So not only did Ford fail to deliver on the transit plan he promised in 2010, he also voted against the part of that transit plan that ended up happening, and then voted to raise property taxes to build it. That’s the story behind the mayor’s subway accomplishment — and that’s the story he should be telling voters.

This post was originally published at on 2014-03-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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