Council Needs to Re-evaluate the Scarborough Subway
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Council Needs to Re-evaluate the Scarborough Subway

The old John Tory wouldn't have stood for this.

Photo by BruceK from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by BruceK from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The Scarborough subway: by any measure this scheme will become Toronto’s whitest of elephants, a taxpayer-funded $3-billion subway station that will cost more than the shopping mall it’s meant to serve.

There is plenty of blame to go around for it, including the perpetually campaigning provincial cabinet, which is making Metrolinx’s mission statement more meaningless each day; 24 members of 2013’s rudderless Toronto City Council, swayed by then-TTC chair Karen Stintz and current TTC chair Josh Colle; City of Toronto and TTC staff, who regrettably engaged in decision-based fact making. I also blame myself, because my earlier opposition should have been broadcast publicly as an individual taxpayer, rather than urgently discussed in City Hall offices.

Regardless, the one person who owns it all now is Toronto’s sophomore mayor, John Tory. The billion-dollar cost increases, the property tax hikes, imposing another decade of duct tape and hope upon riders of the Scarborough RT: all of these mistakes are Tory’s preferences.

Politically, the word “Tory” suggests government restraint, governing without waste, valuing taxpayer money held in trust for the public. Mayor Tory has run on this repeatedly, in many campaigns over a long political career, and he can still be a Tory in the truest sense. As Brian Mulroney once famously said, “You had an option”—and Tory still has one.

As Metrolinx’s CEO Bruce McCuaig told Toronto Life in 2014, “Council has the right to reverse its choices.” He also said that the Scarborough LRT was the best solution, as “we’d already invested $80 million in the project.” Since McCuaig shared his opinions two years ago, Tory has somehow cut out two (out of three) subway stations while adding $1 billion to taxpayers’ bills, all without a shovel breaking ground.

Last decade at Queen’s Park as opposition leader, Tory would have railed against such awful decision making. Last term on Newstalk 1010 as a radio talk show host, Tory would have said such waste should cause heads to roll. Now, at City Hall as mayor, Tory insists, “We just need to build something,” and major transit projects devolve into retail therapy, using my credit card.

A politician should have clear values. It is inconsistent to reflexively champion fiscal restraint whenever tens of thousands of dollars are in issue, then blithely disregard planning and cost/benefit analyses when unspecified billions of taxpayer dollars are to be spent on a project. Toronto experienced it last term and does not want that repeated. Historically (or charitably, depending on your point of view), if a Tory politician is inconsistent in this way, it must be because the project furthers a higher value.

But in this case, it doesn’t. The Scarborough subway does not improve transit more than the LRT would, and certainly not when the subway’s now well and truly confirmed low ridership will cost the rest of the TTC tens of millions in operating losses annually, on top of the unfathomable $3-billion-per-subway-station cost. It doesn’t lay a foundation for future residential development or business growth and increased employment, and certainly no more so than the mall and the current developments should have done by now. This subway decision absolutely hurts Malvern, the north east of Toronto, the people Raymond Cho and Ron Moeser have represented for so long.

So, what does this $3-billion dream of a subway do now, as it did in 2014? It buys votes, but that’s not a value. Indeed, “vote buying waste” criticism an Ontario conservative would levy against Dalton McGuinty or Kathleen Wynne can now also be levied against Tory.

Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), Council’s leader of the opposition when it comes to this subway boondoggle, said as recently as June 8, “Council has certainly not voted to change the master agreement.” We can still save Toronto taxpayers billions of dollars by reverting back to the LRT. Nothing has begun! Should Premier Wynne decide that her government will back away from the LRT Master Agreement, Council could go to the most sensible, cheapest solution: modernize TTC’s existing Scarborough RT and its vehicles. No matter what, this subway is now completely ridiculous, an awful deal for Toronto taxpayers which is getting worse by the day. A billion here, a billion there—it’s starting to make gas plants look like gas stations.

If our mayor persists in abandoning his traditional Tory values in favour of John Tory’s political gain, those whose desperate needs are no longer met because they’re not affordable—indeed, all affected taxpayers—will be justifiably furious. Whether TCHC, flood prevention, Wheel-Trans or DRL, Torontoist laid out what $2.7 billion could better provide for Toronto’s residents.

Of the 24 who voted “yes” to the Scarborough subway in 2013, only 19 remain on Council. One, Anthony Perruzza, has said he’d change his vote if given the chance. Let’s vote on it again, with all the facts, before we move on to another unvetted, underfunded political transit scheme of dubious quality: SmartTrack.

Jean-Pierre Boutros was advisor to the TTC chair, from 2010 to 2014.