Queen's Park Watch: Provincial Pols Pick Sides in Transit Wars
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Queen’s Park Watch: Provincial Pols Pick Sides in Transit Wars

With the future of transit in Toronto far from decided, even the politicians at Queen's Park are jumping—or being pushed—into the debate. Will the senior level of government bring a new maturity to the discussion? In a word: No.

The battle over how Torontonians should get from point A to point B continues to heat up, with provincial politicians lining up behind their ideological counterparts at City Hall.

This morning, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak held a public event with representatives of the Emery Village Business Improvement Association to convince the public that Finch West needs subways and not light rail.

The get-together was essentially meaningless, since the only time anyone’s hinted that Finch might get a subway was an off-the-cuff remark by Mayor Rob Ford back in March of last year, when he promised underground transit within a decade to replace the light rail line he had just killed. Since then there’s been no discussion of, let alone planning for, the funding or building of the thing.

Despite that, Ford’s casual multi-billion dollar commitment (and councillor/Ford lapdog Giorgio Mammoliti’s presence on the BIA board) were apparently enough to inspire the group to retract their earlier support for LRT along Finch.

In conjunction with the BIA rethink on light rail, Team Hudak issued a press release today opining that “truly world class cities build underground,”—no doubt causing considerable heartache in newly-demoted metropoli like Berlin and Shanghai, which have invested heavily in LRT technology. He also said he would table an Opposition Day Motion on March 6, calling on the government to back Ford Nation’s call for subways. (Funnily, he told reporters today he didn’t think the province should add any more cash to the pool of money they’ve already committed to Toronto transit.)

It’s not the first time Hudak has weighed in on the whole mess; he trotted out the same “world-class” cliché back on February 8 when city council voted to reinstate most of Transit City. The press conference however, marked a ramping up of the PR effort, with Hudak for the first time seeking out the spotlight to honk the horn on the Ford subway. Most likely, the move is motivated by pressure to support his erstwhile ally the mayor, and a recognition that if Hudak’s ever going to sit at the grownup table, he’ll need to find an issue more compelling to Hogtowners than rural wind farms.

The Liberal government has been involved in the issue much more actively, since the biggest chunk of the funding comes out of the provincial piggy bank. However, until recently McGuinty didn’t express much of a preference except to keep the expense to a minimum; first agreeing to Transit City (although later “deferring” $4 billion in promised funding), then cheerfully acquiescing again when new mayor Ford demanded the money be reallocated to a few subways instead of a lot of light rail.

However, with City Hall on the verge of civil war, and competing committees of experts, pundits, and hangers-on offering pre-ordained opinions, the Grits have decided to take the safe route and side with the majority on council.

McGuinty and his underlings have reiterated numerous times since the February 8 vote that they will support the decisions taken by the majority of city councillors, and not the whims of our ebullient Etobicokan mayor and his posse. In other words, unlike Hudak, the Grits aren’t taking a stand on what type of transport we should be investing in, but only on how decisions around Toronto transit should be made.

The NDP have yet to jump publicly into the fray, but it’s reasonable to suppose that they’ll align with the Transit Citizens on council, since a Dipper-Ford entente is about as likely as a mongoose taking a cobra out for beers.

Whether or not you think the mayor will find funding to put something underground besides Toronto’s hopes and dreams, it’s a bad idea for Hudak to be jumping in at this stage, promoting solutions based on dogma rather than the rule of law. Torontonians elected a council to make these decisions; let them do it.