Mayoral candidate makes the case for transit proposals grounded in "a respect for basic math."
The first thing to understand about mayoral candidate David Soknacki is that he’s kind of a nerd: he reads science fiction and watches Star Trek, and when his spokesperson recently mentioned Drake, he was confused as to how a 16th-century British sea captain related to the topic in question. As a local political enthusiast once noted, “He’s David Spocknacki! He just needs the ears.”
And so it was that the first officer of budget wonkery took to the Hilton Hotel on Friday morning to compare his transit plan with the mayor’s. “Rob Ford talks about his respect for taxpayers,” he said, “but it starts with a respect for basic math.” A perfectly logical statement. Nerds are good for many things, one of which, traditionally, is math. So Soknacki stood at his lectern and, alongside a TV screen that read “David vs. Bad Math,” displayed a level of numeracy that has not historically been associated with Mayor Rob Ford.
He argued that if Rob Ford’s subway plans for Finch and Sheppard were to come to fruition, the City’s debt would double, and exceed its debt ceiling. He reiterated that he would work to go back to the Scarborough LRT plan that delivers more transit for less money, and said he would put the money saved—roughly $1 billion—toward paying for the relief line. He alluded to the possibility of reallocating the $600 million pledged by federal government for the project to a different infrastructure project that would represent a better investment. He provided more context about Toronto’s needs, pointing out that the TTC already has $2.5 billion in unfunded liabilities, and argued that if the City is to pursue debt financing, it should do so only for projects that justify the expense.
His numbers, which he conceded were a first pass, were correct. Soknacki offered a sensible and nuanced (dare we say Vulcan-ish?) analysis of policy and figures—the kind you hope a mayor would be able to provide when needed. But if transit were built on policy alone, LRTs would have won the day long ago.
Soknacki’s proposals still leave some important questions unresolved—whether the province would sign off on Soknacki’s proposed changes, how quickly the City would be able to begin construction of the Scarborough LRT, and how much willingness there’d be on the part of the next council to change its mind for the umpteenth time. Today, Soknacki argued that when presented with information about costs and plans, rather than just a question about subways versus LRTs, polls shows that voters respond positively to the LRT option. But whether facts and numbers can cut through the political Gordian knot that is transit planning remains to be seen. Wonkery might not win the last vote, but it is a good place to start. As Spock said, insufficient facts always invite danger.
After the press conference, Soknacki did not make a beeline for a nearby venue to catch the Canada versus U.S.A. hockey game. Instead, he headed off to attend events associated with OpenData Day Toronto, which brings together government officials, activists, and journalists to talk about how freely available data can make for better and more transparent policy analysis. For someone who believes that information can set Toronto’s transit debate free, it was the logical place to be.