After years of repetitive and frustrating back-and-forth, Toronto is approaching D-Day for the Scarborough subway debate.
No final decisions have been made yet — don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise — but there’s good reason to think the results of the mayoral election and a subsequent council vote tied to the 2015 budget process will seal the deal. Once signed agreements are in place and dedicated money is being spent on the subway plan, even the most ardent LRT supporter will need to back down and welcome our new subway overlords.
For now, though, there’s still a chance for council to back the LRT. But to do that we’ll need to see councillors elected this month who understand why the subway is unnecessary and can effectively argue the merits of the original plan.
Ward 16 candidate Jean-Pierre Boutros is one of those candidates. Though he spent much of the last four years working as an adviser for subway supporter Coun. Karen Stintz, Boutros has announced that he never warmed to his boss’ stance. He’s since become one of the city's sharpest critics of the subway plan and its associated 1.6 per cent residential property tax revenue increase.
At the recent Rogers TV Ward 16 debate, facing off against 13 other candidates, Boutros was at his best when the topic turned to transit.
But before things got there, candidates were asked about public safety and crime. Candidate Terry Mills got things rolling by suggesting that high levels of construction played a role in what was characterized as a recent increase in break-and-enters. Candidate Christin Carmichael-Greb agreed, adding that her “number one concern is that we don’t know who’s supposed to be in our neighbourhoods.”
A few candidates called for specific measures to tackle local crime. Boutros called for more CCTV cameras on arterial routes, while Adam Tanel said the key is getting police officers out of squad cars and into neighbourhoods. Candidate Gary Heaney suggested people get dogs, presumably because dogs will take a bite out of crime.
But many candidates stuck to the vague notion that we need more police officers. Candidates Charm Darby and Dyanoosh Youssefi offered the strongest push back to that idea, with Darby pointing out that “money does not grow on trees” and calling for community-based strategies. Youseffi — very impressive throughout the entire debate — noted that Toronto already spends a ton on policing, and instead called for alternative approaches to reducing crime.
On the transit front, virtually all the candidates stated their support for the downtown relief line. The need for the line is particularly evident in Ward 16, where people heading southbound on the subway generally end up waiting as packed trains roll through Eglinton station.
Thomas Gallezot earned points for jumping right to the funding issue. “There is no way the transit infrastructure of an economic powerhouse such as Toronto can be financed by the sole Torontonians — let alone just TTC users,” he said.
There were some innovative ideas from the panel. Candidate Michael Coll was among a few who called for lower fares on the TTC’s Avenue Road Express Bus. He also wants to expand the city’s underground PATH system to Yonge & Eglinton. Tanel pushed for faster implementation of automatic train control, which he said will add 30 per cent capacity to the Yonge subway line. And, of course, several candidates talked up the benefits of synchronized traffic lights.
Then there was Boutros, who of course turned the conversation toward a project far removed from Ward 16: the Scarborough subway.
“My boss was TTC chair Karen Stintz and I disagree with her on the Scarborough subway,” he said.
“Anyone who agrees with the Scarborough subway in Ward 16 is doing a disservice to Ward 16 simply because we are paying 1.6 per cent more tax for no reason. That money can be allocated for surface transit in Ward 16 and throughout the city. We need to re-prioritize what precious money we have. It disappointed me. I want to correct that and get the LRT agreement back.”
Youseffi backed up Boutros’ view, pointing out that Scarborough isn’t likely to see the higher densities that would justify the subway. She called for a more holistic approach to transportation.
“We need a plan that will increase bike lanes and get people on transit and that will improve WheelTrans for seniors,” she said.
Candidate Sean Conacher wasn’t convinced the city should go back to the LRT. He asked Boutros pointedly if he planned on reversing council’s decision and whether that would hold up badly-needed transit construction.
Boutros responded by saying that the only decision that exists is the LRT decision.
“There has been no negotiation to this point between the provincial government and the city and the TTC with respect to the Scarborough subway,” he said. “I know that for a fact.”
As for the concern that re-opening old debates would just mean more delay, Boutros was emphatic about what needs to happen, declaring “We end the discussion and empower Metrolinx. Once and for all.”
With D-Day for the Scarborough subway debate approaching, voters in Ward 16 and across the city really have to think about who they want on the front lines.
For more on the candidates running in Ward 16, check out the Position Primer, a project by Women in Toronto Politics.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/ford-for-toronto-matt-elliott/2014/10/10/debate-recap-ward-16-candidate-jp-boutros-pushes-for-a-sensible-scarborough-transit-plan.html on 2014-10-10T00:00:00.000Z