Rob Ford met with Dalton McGuinty this morning, and in the process blew most of his own governing ethos out of the water.
Ford, private sector champion, previously negotiated with the province to reallocate most of the funding that had been set aside for the Transit City light rail plan, and direct it instead to the Eglinton line from that plan—except now the plan is to bury the central portion of that route underground, a much more expensive proposition. Part of the understanding in that earlier negotiation was that Ford would find private sector funding to build the Sheppard subway line he so wants (another revision to Transit City, which had Sheppard getting a light-rail line rather than a subway). For months, Ford has told anyone who would listen that we don’t need
public taxpayer money to build Sheppard, that his new style of governance would tap the hitherto unplumbed depths of corporate honeypots, and that companies would line up to invest in the subway based on a promise of future revenue.
And yet, despite his commitment to private sector financing, despite his repeated protestations that “there is only one taxpayer,” despite years of condemning his mayoral predecessor for asking the province for money rather than spending less, today Ford marched into McGuinty’s office today and asked for $650 million.
That figure isn’t random. The previous version of the Ford/McGuinty agreement stipulated that if there was money left over from building the Eglinton LRT and one other transit project (rebuilding the seriously worn-down Scarborough RT), up to $650 million of it would be put towards the Sheppard subway.
The problem, from McGuinty’s point of view, is that he has no idea yet if or how much money will be left over from those other projects—seeing as they haven’t been built yet. (Both the Star and the Globe have full reports on how the meeting went.) But the other problem for McGuinty is that he is heading into an election and Ford keeps threatening to summon “Ford Nation” and work for his defeat.
For the moment, McGuinty isn’t saying much. “I think I’ve got a slightly different take on the $650 million,” he commented, according to the Star—leaving him plenty of wiggle room to fold in a few weeks if that’s what his political advisors recommend.
We hope he ignores them if they do. Ford won his mayoralty on the strength of his promise to bring fiscal reform to city hall. Many doubted the viability of his plan for building the Sheppard subway from the outset, and everyone else can now see that plan for the ill-informed piece of wishful thinking that it is. If McGuinty gives Ford his $650 million he’s not only risking money he may not have (if the Eglinton LRT doesn’t leave the province with leftover funds), he’s propping up the fantastical notion that Ford has a real plan for building this subway, and that he’s adhering to the principles of sound fiscal planning on which he campaigned, and on the basis of which many voted for him.