Five reasons Queen’s Park should take over the TTC
Councillor Karen Stintz must be enjoying the catbird seat today. Back in October, she was the first to say that the city should hand over the TTC’s subway routes to Queen’s Park. Now Premier Dalton McGuinty has pronounced himself in favour of the Stintz Doctrine. It would be unwise to underestimate the premier’s will on this one, because this is about more than just transit. Here are my top five reasons why Queen’s Park should—and probably will—take over all or part of the TTC.
1. Fixing uploading once and for all. This spring, Queen’s Park is due to release a report that will set out how it plans to reverse the Harris-era downloading. It says here, and says still, that anyone who thought Dalton McGuinty was just going to turn back the clock and reinstate the old, pre-Harris formulas had their head up their wazoo. This is the best opportunity McGuinty will ever have to make some radical, lasting changes to the old who-does-what equation. Clearly that’s what he plans to do, and if you ask me, those are good instincts. The funding formulas that were perfect for the 1970s are not necessarily perfect for today.
2. Toronto is bigger than you think. Queen’s Park sees the GTA for what it is: a single, highly integrated region. By contrast, local councillors think in Balkan terms. Today’s papers quote TTC chair Adam Giambrone saying, “It’s critical that we retain control for the benefit of the residents of Toronto.” But the city is not an island, and the TTC’s effectiveness depends on how well it moves non-Torontonians in and out of the city. Giambrone is also quoted as saying that Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority on whose board he sits, would never approve a TTC takeover. That’s not the whole story: the province controls the makeup of the Metrolinx board, and again, do not underestimate McGuinty’s will. Ten bucks says Giambrone is off the board by this time next year if he keeps it up with his don’t-take-away-my-toys routine.
3. National unity. I’m sure this seems far-fetched, but, believe me, it’s not. The logic goes like this: the future of transit depends upon an infusion of federal cash, but the constitution says that Ottawa should stay out of areas of exclusive provincial responsibility, including municipalities. This is a huge issue in Quebec, where people take great exception any time the feds circumvent provincial jurisdiction. Last year, when Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay was here for a big city mayors’ conference, I asked him about this issue. It was clearly one of his preoccupations: he was trying to figure out how to route the money from Ottawa to Montreal via Quebec City so that no one got their knickers in a knot over the writing of the cheque. The current federal government, because it is keen to win votes in Quebec, is loath to fund municipalities—and their transit agencies—directly. But if the transit agency were provincially owned and operated, well, that would make everything a helluva lot simpler, wouldn’t it?
4. The city is still broke. Don’t let the balanced budget fool you: Toronto is still hard up. Taking all or part of the TTC off the city’s books would give it some fiscal elbow room. And doing that would allow the city to…
5. Have new ambitions for a change. Ever since I moved here, I have been amazed at the amount of civic pride, ambition, identity and symbolic power that is invested in the TTC. Until now I have avoided saying out loud what I really think, which is that all that energy is terribly misplaced. There is something about reading the comments on Steve Munro’s blog that sometimes feels like being at a Star Trek convention: you are among über-keeners who are far too invested in the tiniest details. Our obsession with public transit is a form of extreme introspection and introversion, because it so intensely focuses discussion within our own boundaries. It’s all bad for the civic soul. Toronto is more than its transit commission, and losing the TTC would probably be a blessing in disguise.