Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray said he wants to end the "unrelenting squabbling" over rapid transit in Toronto and build a subway to Scarborough. After three years of shifting proposals and endless point scoring over what sort of transit to build and where to build it, we can all go along with that. But if the dawn of this bright new day of transit progress was anything to go by, the squabbling is not over yet. These folks are just warming up.
Mr. Murray's proposal to build a subway along the route of the present Scarborough RT comes out of deep left field. No one expected this. Karen Stintz, the TTC chair, who led the drive for a Scarborough subway at city council earlier this summer, is miffed that she was not consulted and unhappy with the plan, which would take the subway only to the Scarborough City Centre, not to Sheppard Avenue as she and her allies have proposed.
The federal government says that Mr. Murray jumped the gun. It says that it is still considering a request from Mayor Rob Ford for money to support the city's last subway proposal and is "surprised by Minister Murray's repeated press conferences."
Mr. Murray himself was something short of statesmanlike, using his announcement to take shots at Mr. Ford and boast of his government's wonderfulness. "The only people funding subways is the government of Ontario and the Liberal government," he said, while claiming that Ottawa and Toronto city hall have come up empty. The mayor "has been up to many different things," he said, none too subtly, just not producing the money for the subway that he says he wants so much.
Instead of ending the squabbling and point scoring, Mr. Murray's announcement only set off a new round. Everyone has something at stake. Ms. Stintz is considering a run for mayor next year and keen to attract suburban voters. Mr. Ford is running for re-election as a champion of subways. Mr. Murray's party is in a minority position and will probably face an election next year. Scarborough votes could make a big difference. The federal Conservatives, too, are looking ahead to the next election, hoping to make progress in Toronto.
Mr. Murray's gambit was bold, give him that. Engineers had said that it was technically impossible to put a subway on the surface right-of-way where the RT now runs. The turns were too tight for subway trains.
Not so, says Mr. Murray. He has new advice. And, so, presto, the RT becomes a subway, Scarborough gets the new subway line it yearns for and Queen's Park pays the freight. As Mr. Murray puts it: "I can't imagine that city council isn't going to support a $1.4-billion subway paid 100 per cent by the provincial government."
He has a point. The underground subway proposal backed by Ms. Stintz would cost hundreds of millions more and require contributions from Ottawa and from the city. If Ms. Stintz opposes the Murray proposal at city council, it could come across as sour grapes.
Her sometime ally, Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, embraced the new subway proposal, saying that, even if he would prefer a line going all the way to Sheppard, "There are 40,000 people taking that Scarborough RT today who will be dancing" if they get any kind of subway at all.
Mr. Ford, too, jumped aboard. Instead of replying to Mr. Murray's jibes, he said that he has campaigned for a Scarborough subway and "I want to thank the province for helping me deliver on that promise. … I said we were going to build subways to Scarborough and that is exactly what we are doing."
It takes gumption to claim credit for a project that another level of government is initiating and paying for, but that is how it goes in the weird world of transit politics.