John Tory is Lying About the Scarborough Subway
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John Tory is Lying About the Scarborough Subway

We break the mayor's latest op-ed down, line by line.

John Tory’s greatest power as a politician is his veneer of respectability and reasonableness. No matter how irresponsible a position Tory takes, he is masterful at presenting himself as someone who has considered all positions and chosen the most moderate and reasoned course. Because Tory is a politician, people can often forget that this is strictly a veneer, a mantle he adopts to cloak policies that are unreasonable, ill-advised, or just plain stupid.

The latest terrible idea Tory has chosen to advance during his mayorship is the Scarborough subway. Unfortunately, the Scarborough subway is so evidently a bad idea that widespread opposition has risen to it, because it is an enormous waste of money on a bad transit strategy that the general public actually doesn’t want as much as they want the Downtown Relief Line. As the months have progressed and people do not magically agree that his terrible policy initiative is actually really good, Tory progressively gets more and more upset. The latest iteration of this is a truly mendacious column in today’s Toronto Star, which probably could have done with a once-over from the paper’s fact checkers before it hit print—because it is full of shit.

“Throughout my time in office, I have tried to be completely honest with the people of Toronto so I will make this admission: the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway is an issue with which I’ve struggled.

“We are a city that likes to draw lines and take sides, especially when it comes to transit, and it’s easy to characterize people as either ‘for the subway’ or ‘against.'”

Well, yes. It is easy to characterize people as being for the subway or against it, because it’s a binary option. Either we build a subway or we don’t. Being for or against the subway is not the same as being for or against transit generally, which is what Tory is dishonestly suggesting here.

Also note that Tory here is also setting up one of his favored rhetorical ploys: to present everybody else as divisive and himself as a neutral problem solver. The issue with that is that this is a divisive issue, and Tory has chosen a side. He is not above this particular fray.

“But this does a disservice to me and to everyone who cares about our city and its long-term success.

“There is no doubt the original decision to cancel a planned LRT in Scarborough and extend the subway instead was made without enough information or process, but I cannot let the mistakes of the past cloud my judgment on what Toronto needs for the future.”

“John Tory is committed to making the same mistake over and over again.”

“We are decades behind when it comes to transit and as mayor I’m driven by one principle: to move this city forward, productively, responsibly, and collaboratively.”

This comment is particularly frustrating because, if one assumes that one has to make a choice bewteen LRT and subway in Scarborough, there is actually no question that the LRT can be implemented faster, not least because the planning and environmental assessments have already been completed; actual shovels-in-the-ground construction could begin immediately. Steve Munro explains that the Scarborough LRT would take in between five and six years to construct; in comparison, the Scarborough subway—and again, remember that we are talking about one stop—would take, by the City’s own estimates, a minimum of seven years.

“There are those who argue we should cancel the planned subway extension into Scarborough because of its projected cost, even as our city clearly requires a major network expansion to improve service and connectivity throughout the city.”

This is Tory presenting a false dichotomy. Opponents of the Scarborough subway are not arguing against expanding the city’s transit network. They are arguing, instead, that the LRT option presents more service and connectivity for less money and can be built faster.

“I have considered the Scarborough extension with an open mind and have found compelling reasons to proceed.

“Opponents of the Bloor-Danforth subway extension seem to take for granted that cancelling the subway would result in the immediate construction of an LRT.

“There is no discussion of what the real aftermath of another about-face would be, whether the LRT remains feasible, or would have the support of Metrolinx and our government partners.”

There is no discussion of whether the LRT “remains feasible” or whether it would have Metrolinx’s support because Metrolinx has confirmed that the LRT remains feasible and would have its support. Every time that Tory suggests that the City cannot simply go back to the LRT plan—a plan, let us reiterate, that is entirely paid for by the Province, has more stops, and can be built sooner—he is lying through his teeth.

“There would be sunk costs from three years of planning and engineering work, on top of the $85 million incurred by the City after cancelling the LRT.”

Beyond the sunk costs of $85 million paid by temporarily cancelling the LRT agreement (and, again, that agreement can be resurrected whenever the City wishes), the LRT would cost the City zero dollars, because the full cost of the line would be covered by the Province. The Scarborough subway is partially funded by the Province and federal government, but the City will still be on the hook for at least $860 million of its costs, much of which will have to be funded by bond issues (and therefore increase the cost to the City).

Tory is complaining here about a cost that is literally ten times less than the additional cost he demands the City incur.

“The proposed LRT corridor is now also shared by SmartTrack, which proposes to provide local commuter service on the Regional Express Rail network, with Scarborough SmartTrack stops at Lawrence and Finch East. Multiple lines in this corridor would require further study and would likely delay both projects, while cancelling local service on the SRT for years.”

Here, Tory shows his cards by mentioning SmartTrack, which is really the motivating factor for him. After all, if the City goes with the LRT plan, this latest iteration of SmartTrack might not work. And we can’t have that, because SmartTrack is Tory’s biggest transit and governance priority during his mayoralty, and always has been.

Granted, instead of “SmartTrack,” it should just be called “the made up fantasy transit plan that exists primarily in John Tory’s head.” SmartTrack was originally conceived as a surplus transit line that would be built for pennies on the dollar, but as Torontoist has written multiple times, that didn’t actually work. Right now, it appears that SmartTrack has morphed into simply a rebranding of increased GO train service, except that the City of Toronto is going to pay for some of it, as opposed to previously, when we didn’t pay for any of it.

You might ask, “Why is it a good thing that the City is paying more for GO service which serves the larger GTA area generally?” And the answer is because it allows Tory to save face and not admit that his half-baked transit plan—which was his key issue during the election—was, in fact, bollocks. Granted, the City is going to pay possibly somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1 billion to make John Tory look a little better, but, you know, priorities.

“The Council-approved extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway has committed funding from our provincial and federal partners, both of whom continue to support the extension. With a change of plans, there is no guarantee their contributions would remain committed to Scarborough transit, and you couldn’t blame them for taking their investment elsewhere.”

Again: the “committed funding” for the Scarborough subway leaves the City on the hook for, at minimum, $860 million. The LRT is, per the Master Agreement that Metrolinx has confirmed is still in place, funded by the Province. This is more or less the guarantee Tory is seeking.

But let’s play pretend and assume that, because of magical pixies, the Province suddenly refuses to fund the LRT construction they have already agreed to fund. In this scenario, the City spends $1.4 billion to build a seven-stop LRT that services areas in need of transit, as opposed to the Scarborough subway, which does not. For $600 million more, six more stops would be added, which would serve more people and likely have greater ridership.

“Toronto is at a critical juncture, preparing to receive up to $840 million from the federal government over the next three years to make unprecedented investments in the reliability and performance of our transit system and advance the planning of our major transit projects.”

Discussing the $840 million the City will receive from the government for the subway without mentioning the additional $860 million the City will have to pay itself—additional money the City would not have had to spend on the LRT—is simple dishonesty.

“With so much at stake, we cannot afford to deliver a self-inflicted blow to our credibility, resources and timelines.”

As we have pointed out already numerous times in this piece: Tory has blatantly lied about multiple aspects of this transit debate and is arguing in obvious bad faith for an enormously expensive and relatively small subway extension that will not provide ridership in anywhere near the levels necessary to justify it. If there is any “self-inflicted blow” in this debate, it is the one that Tory himself has dealt to the City.

“Earlier this year, Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came forward with her department’s analysis of what good transit looks like in Scarborough.

“They found most people taking transit downtown from Scarborough are students who want to connect directly into the core, which makes multiple stops along the way unnecessary—on an LRT or a subway. The analysis favoured an express subway extension above the original light rail.

“Transit ridership in Scarborough is also much lower than the rest of the city and greater high-speed connectivity from the Scarborough Town Centre will help get people out of cars and promote social equity and employment opportunities.”

With the exception of the fact that Keesmaat’s analysis favoured the subway over light rail, this is not true.

“Development and investment in the region has stalled, a problem we cannot give up on considering our rapid growth and affordable housing challenges.

“As an architect recently noted on Twitter in relation to the project, ‘Amalgamation was a deal for equality of conditions. Connect all City Centres.'”

Keesmaat herself said in 2013 that the LRT was superior for economic development in Scarborough, not least because it had wider connectivity and supported more neighbourhoods.

“Of course, we will work with the TTC to bring down the $3-billion price tag for the extension. And yes, we need to talk seriously about how we will pay for transit projects, a process that is already underway.”

Serious discussion about how to pay for transit projects would be welcome. Thus far Tory has demanded service cuts instead of exploring actual revenue generation via property tax increases, so he does not get to complain about a lack of serious discussion when he is the one refusing to engage in it.

“But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada. When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city.”

Remember, readers: if you oppose a wildly irresponsible and inferior transit plan for Scarborough, you’re the real racists! (Sidenote: John Tory, this morning, complained that his comments created “manufactured outrage.” This is ironic, considering he is the one who manufactured it.)

“The optimized Scarborough transit plan is part of a proposed 15-year network expansion, one that finally presents projects, including the Relief Line, SmartTrack, and Waterfront LRT as an interconnected network, rather than a zero sum game of competing priorities.

“For those reasons and more, changing tracks on Scarborough is not the answer. It will delay transit for those who need it, introduce new problems, new costs, and a weakened position for our city.”

We will repeat:

1. Changing to the LRT plan will result in transit being constructed faster, more cheaply, and for more riders. It is possible that Tory does not understand this (which is possible, because the ineptness with which he has handled the transit file makes one wonder if his long-assumed air of managerial competence was the result of nothing more than a particularly serious tone of voice, a proper executive-looking haircut, and managing to successfully run one of the two companies that compose Canada’s internet duopoly); if he does not, he is actively advocating for a worse plan.

2. The one point that is certainly true is that the subway plan is optimized to work with the made-up fantasy transit plan that exists primarily in Tory’s head. (See? It’s not as short and pithy as “SmartTrack,” but it has a certain ring to it.)

“I will continue my work to find the best path forward for the people of Toronto. Those who fight to move backwards must ask themselves where that journey ends.”

And we will further repeat: no matter how many times Tory says that our transit choice for Scarborough is between the one-stop subway extension and nothing, that does not make it true. Shame on him for lying about this, again and again.