The Toronto Sun’s Christina Blizzard Is Wrong About Transit (Again)
Sun columnist criticizes the Globe, gets basic facts wrong, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Alongside the likes of Margaret Wente, Conrad Black, Rosie DiManno, Joe Warmington, and Christie Blatchford, the Toronto Sun‘s Christina Blizzard is considered an institution at her newspaper. Like these other Venerable Elders, she has wide liberty to write about whatever she wants for what is ostensibly her Queen’s Park column. Consequently, she swoops in to analyze issues outside of her beat, and does so with limited knowledge and context.
Sometimes this means opining about Justin Trudeau, or discussing municipal politics, or begging Caroline Mulroney Lapham to run for the Tory leadership because apparently Mulroney is Justin Trudeau’s worst nightmare, or discussing Brexit, or gossiping about how Kate and Will are visiting Canada and also Justin Trudeau. Justin Trudeau, last we checked, does not work at Queen’s Park, but then again I spent seven years writing a TV column for a municipal news website and making jokes about Say Yes To The Dress so, you know, glass houses and stones.
That having been said, the Blizz certainly does benefit from not actually having to be right about facts.
This was on display in her Monday Queen’s Park column, where she complained at length about how a recent Globe and Mail editorial described the Scarborough Town Centre as a “remote shopping mall,” and—not unfairly—castigated the Globe editorial team for downtown snobbiness, because the Scarborough Town Centre isn’t a remote shopping mall. It is a shitty shopping mall, with the dead-eyed soullessness of a young, ambitious MBA looking for their first score, but it’s definitely right there in the middle of Scarborough.
However, if the Globe editorial was inaccurate in how to dismiss the wastebland that is the Scarborough Town Centre, it was correct in everything else. Namely, that the Scarborough subway extension would serve fewer Scarberians than the seven-stop LRT extension, and for more money. Its principal benefit is that it allows John Tory, Toronto’s pillar of mediocrity bearing the title of Mayor, to continue pretending that SmartTrack is a for-real thing and not just the name for whatever the province wants him to endorse at any given moment, and also to fend off any challenge from Doug Ford in 2018 because Tory will then be able to say “see I love subways, I love them so much,” and hopefully John “Mayor By Default, Basically” Tory won’t lose another election.
(Okay, the Globe didn’t really say that last half, and they never would because John Tory’s comforting managerial-style hairdo is a soothing balm to their troubled souls. But they should have done.)
Blizzard’s response to that argument is a sight to see:
Yes, there’s a shopping mall there—and it’s only slightly smaller than the downtown Eaton Centre, which is served by two—count ’em—subway stops.
And the so-called one-stop subway isn’t actually new. It will replace the existing LRT—a poorly-constructed piece of work that breaks down in cold weather and is long past its best-before date. Four LRT stops will be eliminated.
It was built by former premier Bill Davis because it was better than nothing. Subway builders got as far as Kennedy, then ran out of money. So they put up the cheapest alternative. Scarborough has suffered from it ever since. It’s decrepit proof that LRTs have a short shelf life in Canada’s harsh climate. Subways are more reliable and last longer.
So let’s count the number of things that are wrong with this passage.
1. The Eaton Centre is “served” by two subway stops because those stops also happen to serve Dundas and Queen, which are two of the busiest arteries in the downtown core. They aren’t there to make sure people can get to the mall more easily—which, given that Dundas and Queen Stations were both built in the 1950s, and that the Eaton Centre completed initial construction in 1977, should have been fairly obvious.
2. The existing transit line serving Scarborough Town Centre isn’t an LRT. It’s the Scarborough RT (rapid transit). You can tell that it isn’t an LRT because it doesn’t have the word “light” anywhere in there. The Scarborough RT is the result of a provincial attempt in the 1970s to promote a new rail transit technology which nobody wanted at the time. It was, frankly, kind of a boondoggle, and it’s rather amazing Blizzard didn’t mention this because it’s the sort of government cockup she normally loves to dish about. And Bill Davis pushed for the use of this technology instead of an LRT line.
3. LRTs currently run successfully in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Minneapolis, Oslo, Stockholm, Kiev and several other cities that are colder and snowier than Toronto. The SRT being unreliable has a lot more to do with it being the SRT than it does with being a surface rail line.
4. Subways and LRT have roughly equivalent lifespans—the track has to be replaced every 20-25 years for both types of rail, and the vehicles every 30-40 years. Subway proponents like to suggest that subway tunnels increase this lifespan, but in practice they don’t—and the tunnels themselves need regular maintenance as well to maintain their integrity.
This is pretty amazing, because most Toronto pundits spread out their collection of wrong facts over the length of a column. Blizzard, on the other hand, has chosen to concentrate all of hers in the space of three paragraphs. (To be fair: Blizzard has not been able to understand that the Scarborough RT is not an LRT for literally years. She has always been consistent on this point, and furthermore always supported further subway construction as Toronto’s primary new transit mechanism while also supporting less government spending, because conservative pundits are always for less spending except when they want a thingy.)
However, the most amusing part comes closer to the end, just before Blizzard starts arguing that the Globe editors are trying to have it both ways by arguing that Scarborough is both “remote” and also possessed of significant political power. Which is a terrible argument, because remoteness (which, as agreed, does not exist) and political power are not things which contradict one another – but that’s not the fun part. In order to set up this supposed conflict, Blizzard throws in this tidbit:
There’s a certain hypocrisy to former mayor Mel Lastman denouncing the Scarborough line last week. He pushed through the Sheppard line to nowhere. It should never have been built, but fit his political ambitions.
What Blizzard is trying to do here is conflate Lastman’s supposed hypocrisy with the Globe’s supposed self-contradiction, but what she has actually done is undermine her own argument with bad writing. If Mel Lastman’s opinion about the Scarborough subway line is hypocritical because he supported the Sheppard line for political reasons rather than good transit planning, it logically follows that the Scarborough extension is also being built for political reasons rather than good transit planning—otherwise, Lastman couldn’t be hypocritical about it—and that gainsays her entire column’s point.
And that’s what really disappoints about Blizzard’s column. Trusting her to get basic facts right about transit is a fool’s errand, but one could at least hope for a little rhetorical flair while she’s doing it.