Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Tory lets 'common sense' overshadow facts on the Gardiner

By: Metro Published on Wed May 27 2015

During the Gardiner-focused part of his chat with TVO’s Steve Paikin, Mayor John Tory just couldn’t seem to stop using the words “common sense.”

I counted five direct appeals to common sense over the course of a 10-minute segment, all in the service of defending his support of the so-called hybrid option for the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway.

Five! That’s at least one “common sense” every two minutes. It seems like a lot.

“I believe it is the common sense thing to do that takes account the reality of life in a big city,” explained the mayor, as Paikin started gently grilling him on his position. “Which is, yes, you want to have as much public transit as you can, but there are still people and goods and services that need to use cars and trucks to get around.”

Then, shortly thereafter, the mayor continued: “The common sense option says you build this new small stretch — it’s like one-and-half or two kilometres — keep [the expressway] up.”

Then again, on the process that led to him supporting the hybrid: “I had arrived at the right, balanced decision that made common sense.”

And further: “I believe this is the common sense thing to do that is best for the economy, best for families, and best for the development of the [Unilever lands].”

This has become a bit of a trend with Tory. Despite fashioning himself as a policy wonk who pores over staff reports, the mayor often defends his positions with populist appeals.

In addition to his common sense stuff, Tory has also defended his support for keeping the elevated Gardiner connection by conflating last year’s election — in which all three leading candidates expressed at least some sort of hybrid solution, though an entirely different hybrid than what we’re considering now — as a referendum on the subject. He’s done the same thing with the Scarborough subway and SmartTrack.

But the “common sense” thing bothers me most of all, because I just don’t get it.

Is “common sense” just a synonym for uninformed? Or apathetic? Because I get how someone with only a basic knowledge of the issues surrounding the Gardiner East would feel strongly that we should just keep the expressway (mostly) as-is.

It’s easy to shrug and think, “Well, transit is limited and crowded, and the Gardiner as a whole seems really busy. So I guess we need to keep it.”

That kind of gut feeling contrasts with hundreds of pages of accumulated analysis and reports.

It contrasts with a growing consensus among experts like Paul Bedford, Michael Kirkland and the city’s own chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat.

It contrasts with models that consistently show the impact on travel times will be minor: two-to-three minutes.

And it’s contrasted by cost estimates that say the hybrid option is significantly more expensive — especially when you include foregone revenues from developable land occupied by the hybrid and the potential cost of a settlement with the holders of the property at the foot of Cherry Street.

These tangible things — reports, expert opinion, and costs — should carry a greater weight than plain old common sense on all issues that come across the mayor's desk. But Tory's first six months have shown a troubling tendency to allow what he perceives as popular opinion to shape his views.

I worry that he forgets it’s also his job to do the opposite: To work to shape public opinion, based on what he sincerely thinks is best for the city. That’s what truly great politicians do. They don’t simply pursue what’s popular, or easy.

Toward the end of his Gardiner conversation with Paikin, Tory says he’s confident he will “be known as a city builder.”

Common sense suggests otherwise.

This post was originally published at on 2015-05-27T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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