The Mayor Tries to Deflect Transit Questions by Saying Critics Don't Have a Plan
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The Mayor Tries to Deflect Transit Questions by Saying Critics Don’t Have a Plan

His critics aren't the mayor, and they've mostly been right in their criticisms.

Photo by David Hains.

Photo by David Hains.

Like most people, John Tory doesn’t like to be criticized. Except he is the mayor, should expect and incorporate criticism, and show leadership on major files like transit.

When his plans come up short of his promises—SmartTrack will not provide 13 new stations (six are proposed) in seven years (it looks like 12 years), with no new taxes (it needs more money) as he campaigned—you’d think that’s fair game for criticism. After all, he regularly scoffed at Olivia Chow’s pledge to stick with staff proposals for transit, saying that would take too long.

While Tory conceded today that SmartTrack looks different than what he campaigned on, he argued that’s responsible, because he was responding to new information. Sure, journalists and rival candidates provided that information during the campaign, and he and his team dismissed them as nattering nabobs of negativism, but he had a campaign to win.

So what’s his excuse now? Well, his critics don’t have a transit plan of their own.

In a scrum today, he says the following, as transcribed by the Toronto Star‘s Ben Spurr:

I would say to those people who have nothing but criticism about plans that I’m putting forward—what’s their plan? Because at the moment they don’t have a plan.

Sure, his critics, aren’t, you know, mayor. And they don’t have the staff resources or institutional support or the organizing principle to put a plan together. But the great part of this argument is that putting responsibility on your critics (who would gladly come up with their own transit plan, if given the resources!) is a fantastic way of avoiding accountability yourself.

Transit planning, Tory’s argument goes, would just go swimmingly if no one was mean and raised problems. But the evolution of SmartTrack shows that’s not true. Critics have been correct about pretty much every component of Tory’s signature transit proposal so far. They said the Western Leg wasn’t feasible, and it wasn’t. They said SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension would cannibalize each other’s ridership, and City staff said that was true. They said the train frequency didn’t add up, and well, it didn’t. They said the tax increment financing numbers wouldn’t cover the cost of the proposal, as Tory said they would—even with SmartTrack Lite, City staff say that other tax revenues will be needed. They said it couldn’t be done in seven years by 2021, as Tory campaigned. City staff now project it could be done for 2026. They said that John Tory was volunteering to pay the Province to brand transit as SmartTrack for what was really already-planned GO RER service. That was mostly true.

Tory eventually accepted most of these realities, but only after his critics had warned him and he had moved on.

John Tory is a sensitive guy when it comes to criticism—we see that when Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) asks him transit questions on the floor of council, or a citizen presents concerns about the ward boundary review.

That sensitivity can come across as arrogance—that Tory is above criticism, even when his track record suggests he should listen more often. That’s a shame, because there’s a lot more transit details to be worked out. There’s major (and questionable) assumptions about funding from the federal government and GTAA, and taking on the LRT operating and maintenance costs could cause significant operating budget problems in five to 10 years. Going east or west of Union on SmartTrack appears to require a transfer, and the City will have to reconcile significant costs with Metrolinx and the Province.

This criticism comes in good faith. If the mayor is committed to building better transit and showing the leadership Toronto needs, then he should stop being so dismissive, and start listening.

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