Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

On downtown relief line, Chow has facts on her side – but needs to push harder

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Fri May 09 2014

If you believe the John Tory campaign, one of the key differences between Tory and opponent Olivia Chow is that he’s serious about building Toronto's much-needed relief line subway, and she’s not.

Tory is certainly full of bluster when it comes to the new line. Last week, he used up his entire quota of campaign exclamation points when he tweeted this:

He contrasts this hyped-up enthusiasm with Chow’s view that the relief line is important but can’t happen immediately, hence her plan to quickly increase bus service. But Tory has still jumped on this as an avenue for attack — he’s accused Chow of wanting to defer the subway to 2031.

That's nonsense, of course.

On this issue, Chow has the facts on her side. Subways are not built in a day, especially major subways running through populated areas. The TTC has published several reports on the logistics of building the relief line, and none of them suggest that construction could happen more quickly, if only John Tory were elected mayor. The reality is a project of this magnitude will probably take at least three or four years of consultation, planning and design, before moving on to a decade of construction. Throw in a few years for your inevitable delays, and you get to 2031 without breaking a sweat.

And that’s assuming funding shows up for the project this year. This is a gigantic assumption, one that requires a total ignorance of history and the politics of transit funding in Ontario. No matter how you slice it, the relief line subway is a long way off.

But just because Chow’s right on the timelines doesn’t mean her views on the relief line equal full support. In almost direct contrast to Tory, Chow’s comments on the subway project have been marked by a worrying lack of enthusiasm. When Metro’s Jessica Smith Cross and I interviewed her last month, she deflected most relief line questions so she could talk about the Scarborough LRT. She’ll acknowledge the relief line will be necessary to relieve overcrowding, but it doesn't seem like she's fully embraced it as a great and important project for the future of this city.

There’s good reason to worry about that, because it conjures up all kinds of concerns about Chow and historical left-wing opposition to growth and change in Toronto’s downtown core. It was, after all, the late Jack Layton who helped broker the deal that took the relief subway line off the board in the 1980s and redirected the political capital toward the suburban Sheppard subway. At the time, the goal was to limit growth in the core — there was concern about Toronto becoming too much like Manhattan — and try to concentrate development in the suburbs.

That was a mistake — one that we’re still paying for three decades later. And while it’s a stretch to draw a direct line from a decision made in the 1980s to a mayoral campaign being fought in 2014, this is exactly the kind of stuff that gets dredged up during elections.

If I were Chow, I’d be going to great lengths to counter this characterization. That doesn’t mean following Tory and claiming that she’ll construct a fully-functional subway in a matter of weeks, but it does mean talking more about her vision for the relief line and what it could represent to this city’s transit future. It means talking about the relief line not as an obligation but as an opportunity — a chance to build a great city.

Chow doesn’t have to stop talking about her important plan to increase bus-service in the near-term. Nor does she have to ignore the facts about what’s realistic to build in the next decade. But on the relief line, a little more enthusiasm would go a long way.

This post was originally published at on 2014-05-09T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments