City Council away from home at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.
City Council is holding a special meeting today to debate funding for what has turned out to be a rather controversial fleet of new streetcars. Relocated from City Hall due to the strike, councillors convened at 10 a.m. at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to work through an agenda that consists of precisely one item: whether to rejig the TTC budget by delaying other planned capital expenditures and reallocate that money to 204 new Bombardier-built streetcars.
Mayor Miller opened proceedings with an impassioned speech that spent little time addressing the streetcars themselves and a great deal more on the plight of small-town Ontario workers and the glories of Transit City, a way of indirectly addressing his critics’ charges that the streetcars did not meet the requirements for federal stimulus funding (which the City applied for and did not receive) and also that he lacks a coherent, comprehensive vision for transit in Toronto. The roster of councillors lining up to question him grew rapidly as he spoke; one of the first was Denzil Minnan-Wong, who challenged Miller to defend delaying a planned bus rebuilding program (one of the capital expenses that city staffers have recommended putting off in favour of the streetcar buy). Miller’s response? “I know you’re in contact with your colleagues in the Conservative Party all the time… If you could call them now that would be very helpful.” His point? Councillors on the right have been fond of saying lately that we cannot limit road capacity (insert reference to the idiotic claim that there is a war on cars here) until and unless we build out an adequate public transportation system, and it is time for them to work towards finding the money to do just that.
The bottom line is that Council is now in the position of having to choose between various transit projects when it desperately needs funding for all of them. The Bombardier bid on the streetcars came in at five-hundred million dollars less than the next best offer, and that price is only good until midnight tomorrow. Because these 204 streetcars are actually only the first piece of a larger potential purchase (an off-the-shelf model of these same cars can run on the Transit City lines), the stakes are even higher, and so the majority of councillors will likely (and should) end up lining up behind the mayor and choosing to fund the streetcars. The political ill-will that has been created at all levels of government along the way, however, is a worrisome indication that this is going to be far from the last of such messy and entirely avoidable disputes.