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Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) headquarters on Yonge St., Toronto January 31, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) headquarters on Yonge St., Toronto January 31, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Adam Radwanski

Public transit: a game of give and take Add to ...

The words "Rob Ford" and "compromise" do not typically appear in the same sentence.

But on public-transit policy, at least, Dalton McGuinty's provincial government has had an easier time negotiating with the current Toronto mayor than with his predecessor.

There is a perception in some circles that Mr. McGuinty meekly caved in to Mr. Ford's demand for new subways. Certainly, the Ontario Premier was eager to avoid a public fight with a mayor whose popularity is currently much higher than his own. But the transit deal that will be announced on Thursday required concessions by both sides, and the ones made by Mr. Ford were at least as big as the ones made by Mr. McGuinty.

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The province's "give" was essentially determined on municipal election day. There was little chance of proceeding with new aboveground light-rail transit lines, the province's preferred form of new development, after Mr. Ford successfully campaigned on putting down subway tracks instead. The best Mr. McGuinty could really hope for was to avoid paying any more for the new project than had been allocated for the old one, and to keep alive plans for a crosstown line along Eglinton Avenue - the route that could most credibly provide regional rather than just local benefit, and that goes through some potentially vulnerable provincial ridings.

The province achieved both of those things, because Mr. Ford proved surprisingly obliging. His big victory is that the Eglinton line, built almost entirely at provincial expense, will now be underground - making it, for all intents and purposes, a subway. But he has also accepted that the province will not fund an extension of the Sheppard line, the new development that he's hell-bent on. Instead, he will try to pay for it by raising funds from the private sector - an ambitious effort that may or may not lead to anything actually getting built.

The city, sources say, will also compensate the province for the costs incurred thus far on the cancelled light-rail lines. For the cash-strapped municipal government, that's another significant concession.

It's all a far cry from the reaction of former mayor David Miller, who went absolutely ballistic - launching a full-out public relations campaign that involved piping his voice into subway stations - when he felt he was getting short shrift from the province.

In fairness, Mr. Miller was reacting to a slowdown in previously announced funding, rather than the province's reluctance to fund lines it had never agreed to in the first place. But provincial officials have still expressed some surprise at Mr. Ford's eagerness, for all the bluster about "Ford Nation," to reach an agreement even if it wasn't exactly what he wanted.

Whether all this compromise adds up to an especially good deal for Toronto, of course, is a different matter. Plans for a new transit line along Finch Avenue, which would have served a high-need part of the city, have been jettisoned altogether. If construction along Sheppard never comes to pass, the city will be getting much less public transit for the province's $8.2-billion.

An argument could be made that Torontonians were better served by a mayor who was relentless in pressuring the province to invest in the projects he believed in. But it's an argument that Mr. McGuinty's Liberals, who rather enjoy having Mr. Ford absorb some of the costs and many of the biggest risks on the city's behalf, would be loath to make.

Follow on Twitter: @aradwanski

 

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