Rob Ford’s Transit City II: how will the mayor get it from campaign promise to reality?

Rob Ford’s Transit City II: how will the mayor get it from campaign promise to reality?

When Mayor Rob Ford announced that “Transit City is over” and that he was replacing it with “Transportation City” (gutting all the LRT lines and building a Sheppard subway instead) the most basic question was how, exactly, he would get the TTC, Metrolinx, the city and the province, all of whom have various political and financial stakes in the ground for Transit City, to roll over for him. As the city continues to wait for the details of Ford’s changes—the plan was supposed to be out late January, now expected sometime in the next few weeks—it’s becoming clear that Ford doesn’t have to push too hard to get what he wants. He might not even break a sweat.

The alpha and omega for city planning is “what the province will let us do.” So LRT loyalists were happy when Queen’s Park, through Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, said she wanted a full council vote on Ford’s proposal, contradicting the mayor. However, more recent conversations with Wynne’s office show a softening on what had been a hard line. Wynne’s press secretary Kelly Baker told The Informer that while the Province would still hope for a full council vote, “we will respect the local decision-making process” at the city.

Like all good press secretaries, Kelly Baker didn’t want to answer hypothetical questions—and didn’t rule out the province accepting a plan approved by the TTC alone, instead of by a full council vote. Metrolinx’s CEO Bruce McCuaig is similarly conciliatory. This is a problem for Transit City diehards because the TTC commission was named by Rob Ford and would vote for a revised transit plan with less fuss than the full city council. If he brought the vote to council, of course, Ford would have to contend with former members of the David Miller team like Joe Mihevc and Shelley Carroll. Mihevc, echoing previous comments from Carroll, thinks that approving any new plan by the TTC alone would be wrong.

“The TTC can’t approve this alone, because it’s not just their money. The city itself could be on the hook for cancellation fees,” says Mihevc. If the mayor and council disagree for now on transit planning, then Mihevc says at least the city can start building projects that they agree on like the underground section of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Since most of the money for Transit City is scheduled for later years anyway, says Mihevc, “the stuff we all agree on soaks up most of the early money anyway.” And gives the pro-LRT people more time to do things like canvass neighbourhoods to try and raise opposition to the Ford plan.

Peter Milczyn acknowledges that some parts of any new plan will have to go through the city’s budget committee at least—and that committee’s recommendations will be voted on before council. However, he doesn’t see a council vote to approve the new plan as necessary: “If the old plan didn’t go to council, why should the new one?” asks Milczyn. Transit City was approved as a whole by the TTC and then by council in bits and pieces over several votes, some of which Rob Ford himself supported.

Ford’s opponents say a change of this magnitude needs to go to council, but Milczyn says that the city has already had more discussion around the current transit situation than it did over Transit City. “When David Miller was running for mayor in 2006”, says Milczyn, “he didn’t run as the Transit City mayor,” while Ford was quite clear about his intentions. Milczyn is fudging things here: it may not have been as central to the 2006 election as subways were in 2010, but Miller certainly did run on a pro-LRT platform.

Multiple requests to speak with the mayor’s office and TTC chair Karen Stintz were unanswered.

The whole TTC-versus-council argument may very well be irrelevant. Even a full council vote may not give the Transit City side the win they’re looking for. Maria Augimeri, member of the TTC and one of the councillors whose ward will almost certainly be left out with the change from LRTs to subways, says simply and bleakly, “it’s early in the mayor’s term. How could he lose? People are selling their votes, and selling them cheap.” Augimeri is particularly upset that the Finch line—which would have served three “Priority Neighbourhoods”—looks likely to be axed in favour of a rapid bus line. But she wasn’t the only councillor to sound a bleak note about the prospects of a council vote.

So from the Province, down through Metrolinx, the TTC, and even Toronto city council itself, Ford and his subway plan seem to be pushing on open doors. It’s hard to see what, if anything, the pro-LRT side can do to stop the oncoming subway.

(Images: human figure, iStockphoto; Ford, Shaun Merritt)