Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

John Tory’s Scarborough subway divisiveness a failure of leadership


After people like me complained about Mayor John Tory’s divisive Toronto Star op-ed about the Scarborough subway last week – the one that sort of implied people opposed to the subway are xenophobic, Scarborough-hating jerks — the mayor was quick to dismiss our criticism.

But I’m not outraged, Mr. Mayor. I’m not even mad. I’m just disappointed.

In case you missed it, Tory’s op-ed was the usual defense of the $3.2 billion subway plan, which would extend the Bloor-Danforth subway by a single stop at Scarborough Town Centre. He brought up people’s desire to end this debate and the fact that several Queen’s Park politicians seem immovable in their zeal for a subway.

But then Tory went off the rails.

“But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada,” he wrote. “When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city.”

It was a disappointing tactic in a couple of ways.

First, it’s not true. As a consistent — and, I suppose, loud — critic of the Scarborough subway, I’ve never once suggested that Toronto is spending too much on Scarborough.

In fact, between the Scarborough LRT, the Eglinton East LRT, the Sheppard East LRT, Kingston Road transit and expanded GO train service, I’m on record as supporting somewhere in excess of $5 billion worth of Scarborough transit projects.

Hell, I even support raising my taxes to pay for all of it.

This debate has never been about whether to invest in Scarborough transit. It’s about getting the most value for that investment. Tory knows that.

Second, I’m disappointed the mayor stooped to this level at all.

As mayor, Tory is at his best when he is at his nerdiest. My favourite thing about him is how seriously he takes the job. He reads every report and he gets the facts. It’s a marked difference from his predecessor.

So when Tory decides to set aside evidence-based arguments and instead make political hay by mischaracterizing his opponents’ positions, he’s resorting to tactics he shouldn’t need to use.

Between the potential cost of reverting to LRT and the provincial government’s implicit preference for a subway, Tory has enough factual arguments to mount a reasonable case for the project.

People would still disagree, sure, and it would make for a more challenging debate than one in which Tory simply casts his opponents as rabid latte-sipping Scarborough-haters, but that’s the job the mayor signed up for. Stoking divisiveness is a failure of leadership — the facts should always be enough to win.

This post was originally published at on 2016-07-04T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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