Skip to main content
road sage

Take heed, Toronto commuters and motorists. With Doug Ford leading the Progressive Conservative party, the "war on the car" will once again be declared. Time to fasten your safety belts.

Ford is an avowed motorist who seems to see anti-car conspiracy everywhere. In 2012, he called a proposed light-rail line evidence of the "war on the car" and he has cited the recent King Street pilot as another example. For him, bike lanes and streetcar projects are attacks on regular people, irresponsible experiments cooked up by the lefty, loonie, bicycle-wielding downtown elite. To many observers, Ford's "war on the car" rhetoric is proof of his small-minded, dangerous, right-wing thinking.

The war on the car, which Ford happily fought against before alongside his late brother, ex-Toronto mayor Rob Ford, has traditionally been waged in print and on television and social media. Each side derides the other. The "progressives" paint those who prioritize the automobile over bikes and public transit as Trumpian hicks hell-bent on destroying the planet. The "regular working folk," meanwhile, dismiss bike-lane enthusiasts as champagne-socialist-snowflake space cadets. It's survival of the smuggest.

Politically, this conflict favours Ford because, when he says "war on the car," he really means "war on the suburbs." He's said as much. "Some people just can't take public transit," he said last year on a CP24 interview after the King Street pilot was launched. "Some people out in Scarborough and Etobicoke, they can't just easily hop on transit." The more critics attack him on this issue, the more popular he will become with suburban voters, the same voters who made his brother mayor, the same voters he needs to win in June.

You can call Ford many things, but stupid isn't one of them. Nobody should be surprised by his ascendancy to Tory leader. It is likely Ford realized he had zero chance of defeating Toronto Mayor John Tory, but has a shot against the anabolic unpopularity of Premier Kathleen Wynne. He tested his current provincial platform in a 2016 byelection when he helped get Progressive Conservative candidate Raymond Cho elected MPP in Scarborough-Rouge River. The Tories used three wedge issues to win: transit, hydro rates and the sex-ed curriculum. He must know that transit is a contentious issue he can use to his benefit.

So, as the election gets under way, once the war on the car is renewed, Ontarians will have to decide whether or not to fight. Pacifism is the best choice.

For the anti-car crowd, for instance, that means stop demonizing the suburbs and please, pretty please, stop comparing Toronto to Copenhagen. Copenhagen started its migration away from the car in the 1970s, and its population is a quarter of Toronto's. We will never catch up. A better fit for the GTA would be Bogota's TransMilenio, a bus rapid-transit system that moves 2.4 million people per day. For the record, I hear Bogota has a lot to offer and Copenhagen isn't exactly without its flaws. Denmark's Prime Minister just put forward a "ghetto plan" that would allow police to double punishments in the city's underprivileged areas (but hey, look at all those bike paths).

For the "common sense" car folks, that means admitting that the status quo is a disaster. It means admitting that bike lanes do not cause congestion. It means admitting that while gridlock is a drag, it's nicer to be seated in your air-conditioned vehicle than jammed in an overcrowded streetcar. It means admitting that car fatalities are not the unavoidable cost of getting around but man-made tragedies that can be stopped. It means accepting that increasing your car commute by 10 minutes is worth it if it alleviates the commutes of those who opt to take public transit.

Or we can keep firing sanctimonious tweets at each other from the parapets and then gasp in wonder as Ford is anointed our new premier.

Matt Bubbers takes the earth-shattering Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon for a spin. This ultimate family hauler has over 600 horsepower on tap, but such power comes at a cost; the wagon starts at over $100,000.