When it comes to the future of Toronto transit, Ontario’s Premier and the city’s Mayor have begun to sound like players in a game of broken telephone.
Dalton McGuinty and his transportation minister have told reporters again and again that they intend to follow the lead of city council, which voted earlier this month to resurrect most of the light-rail network Rob Ford killed on his first day in office.
The Premier repeated that line Monday, saying, “I think we’ve all been very clear in this regard that we have a responsibility to listen to decisions adopted by council as a whole.”
But Toronto’s pro-subway Mayor doesn’t seem to be getting the message.
Mr. Ford suggested during the debut of his Sunday radio show that the issue isn’t settled because he hasn’t heard directly from Mr. McGuinty that the province will side with council, not the Mayor alone.
The Mayor is sticking to his campaign promise that all new transit lines be buried. He keeps urging the Premier to ignore council’s preference for a largely above-ground rail network.
To do otherwise would be “political suicide,” the Mayor said on the air and again in a scrum Monday.
“[Mr. McGuinty]is the one who’s going to lose seats and votes,” Mr. Ford told reporters. “I listen to the voters. Every poll you see is 70 or 80 per cent want subways. So if he wants to, you know, cater to the 30 per cent, I don't see him winning many seats at 30 per cent.”
The Mayor’s on-air comments could explain why the Premier went from expressing optimism that the Mayor, council and the province could unite behind a single vision – “Hope springs eternal,” he said last Thursday – to saying his government was “coming to the end of our rope” on Monday.
The apparent and ongoing miscommunication between the Mayor and Premier comes as city council awaits the recommendations of an expert panel on how best to extend transit on Sheppard Avenue East.
Council is expected to vote on the line’s future before March 21.
Mr. Ford suffered the worst defeat of his mayoralty earlier this month when council voted 25-18 to revive most of Transit City, the light-rail network championed by his predecessor, David Miller.
The council insurrection, led by TTC chair and erstwhile Ford ally Karen Stintz, saw Mr. Ford’s plan to bury all new transit lines scrapped in favour of a mix of above- and below-ground tracks on Eglinton Avenue and Finch Avenue West.
Ms. Stintz said Monday that she believes the Premier has been unwavering in his support of council’s position.
“[The Premier]understands … that council has made a decision on Eglinton and Finch. Those projects have been confirmed by council and can move forward. The only outstanding question really is what do we do for Sheppard.”
Perhaps it would be easier for the Premier to get his message across if he, too, took to the airwaves.
“I gotta get a radio show, obviously,” Mr. McGuinty joked.
With reports from Karen Howlett and Elizabeth Church