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Time To Do for Toronto What Rob Ford Did for Scarborough: Demand Subways
"We need to shout it until our faces are red and our shirts are stained with sweat"

Image via Twitter / @nataliealcoba

It took some kicking and screaming, but the feds have finally shown up to the table. Yesterday morning, flanked by the Fords, Finance Minister Flaherty announced that the Government of Canada will kick in $660 million on top of the province’s $1.4 billion to extend the Bloor-Danforth line (let’s call it the Green line from now on) through Scarborough to meet the reaffirmed (or was it?) Sheppard LRT line. Those who have been correctly advocating for the more affordable LRT line originally proposed by David Miller have been overruled. The city will be stuck raising $1 billion dollars for a project that would’ve otherwise cost it nothing. But it’s a done deal.

It’s time to move on.

This is how it’s going to be. The federal government has made it clear that they will only contribute cash to Toronto transit projects when there are political points to be scored.  There is no reason to believe the hallowed evidence-based, politically neutral, intelligent transit planning regime we deserve is coming over the horizon any time soon. It’s time for smart people who wish transit to be built where it is needed most to adapt to this reality. As Toronto Star‘s Martin Regg Cohn points out, the squeaky wheel gets the subway. Unfortunately, transit will only be built where there are votes to be bought.

The good news? Toronto has votes we can put up for sale.

After the Liberals’ Fortress Toronto collapsed in 2011, the 23 seats in the 416 became anybody’s game. At the next federal election, the Tories and the NDP will be desperate to hold onto their gains, and the Liberals will be desperate to take their lost seats back. You want our support? It’s going to take a subway.

It’s time to do for Toronto what Rob Ford did for Scarborough: demand a subway and keep screaming until we get it. So long as it’s the right subway, of course.

Smart people agree that a new relief subway line is the most pressing transit need in Toronto. We’ve got a map. We’re studying it. But we’re going to need $8.4 billion to pay for it. So, those smart people need to convince all the people of Toronto to speak as one voice, and to use that voice to say that their votes in the coming round of elections will be dependent on that subway being built. If Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau want our support come 2015, they need to know that the only way to earn it will be a significant contribution to that needed city-spanning subway. We need to shout it, shout it, shout it until our faces are red and our shirts are stained with sweat.

A looming by-election in Toronto Centre, like the recent provincial by-elections in Scarborough and elsewhere, will serve as an early test. If Linda McQuaig, Chrystia Freeland or Geoff Pollock want to make it to Parliament Hill, voters should demand nothing less than a substantive commitment to a subway line from Don Mills to Dundas West in return.

No more compromise. No more vague commitments. No more niceties.

As ass-backwards as it seems, we can — nay, we must — learn something from Rob Ford’s bluster. But while he has provided the baffling blueprint, the mayor remains an obstacle on the transit file. With Ford musing about undoing more plans and sinking more costs by upgrading the Sheppard LRT to a subway, it’s time for a certain mayoral candidate (*cough* Olivia Chow *cough*) to stand up for fiscal responsibility, establish herself as the sensible alternative, and champion the right subway.


Michael Kolberg is The Sprawl Editor at Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter for jokes @mikeykolberg.

For more, follow us on Twitter at @torontostandard and subscribe to our Newsletter.

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