Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Sweaty subways, shabby sidewalks: Time to get angry about Toronto city council

Mayor John Tory arrives at Kipling Station with Bianca Spence following their sweaty Sept. 7 ride on Line 2.
Mayor John Tory arrives at Kipling Station with Bianca Spence following their sweaty Sept. 7 ride on Line 2.

Over my years watching Toronto city hall, I’ve learned something about municipal politicians. They make a lot of assumptions about the average voter — about the stuff we value and the things we care about.

The biggest assumption? Most of them think the only thing voters ever get mad about is taxes.

Sure, they know people also gripe about things like traffic, parking and proposals for tall condominiums. But taxes, the theory goes, are the thing that get voters into a rage. The only thing that seriously threaten a local politician’s ability to keep their job.

It’s because of this that I was glad to see Bianca Spence last week succeed in her push to get Mayor John Tory to take a sweaty subway ride on Line 2 – where a lack of maintenance has meant 25 per cent of all subway cars haven’t had air conditioning all summer long.

Spence got so frustrated with the state of affairs in this city that she worked to get the mayor’s attention. She’s a public example of someone who is angry about more than taxes – and someone who is willing to make sure the mayor damn sure knows about it.

Toronto needs more like her.

There are so many things in this city worthy of our anger. So many problems that rank higher than the number at the bottom of the property tax bill.

There’s the general mediocrity of our public spaces. The fountains that don’t work and the playgrounds that sit in disrepair. The beaches that are only groomed a few times a week. The sidewalks that are a shambles of cheap asphalt patches hiding utility cuts.

There’s the state of the transit system, where the problems go way beyond the busted air conditioning in the subway. The 250,000 people who ride the city’s streetcar system each day continue to find themselves held up by single occupant vehicles making left turns. And making the transit system fully accessible has been given less priority than building a single subway stop in Scarborough.

And don’t forget the half-measures on active transportation: protected bike lanes that seem to invite cars to drive right into them and pedestrian crossings that require multi-minute waits.

None of this would be acceptable in any city. It’s doubly unacceptable in Toronto, where there’s a growing population and no shortage of wealth.

But our city, I worry, suffers from a collective reluctance to really get mad about this stuff. That needs to change.

Like Spence, Torontonians shouldn’t be shy about expressing their daily frustrations, and shouldn’t be reluctant to demand our politicians do better.

Tell them – loudly, publicly and with righteous anger – that you want a whole lot more from your city than low taxes.

Tell them you’re mad.

This post was originally published at on 2016-09-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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