Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement on Monday of almost two-thirds of a billion dollars for an extension of the Toronto subway has national implications; it raises natural and appropriate expectations of support for public transit in all of Canada's largest metropolitan areas, and it shows that the federal Conservative Party has not written off its potential for electoral success in the core of Toronto, and other major cities in central and eastern Canada. In other words, the Conservatives are ready and willing to broaden their political base.
The Interim Mayor of Montreal, Laurent Blanchard, was not slow to point out that Ottawa could also help with a plan to add five new stations to the city's subway.
The CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, Andy Byford, is right that the most urgent need for Toronto's subway system is a "relief line," to redirect north-south rush-hour pressure.
But the prospect of much greater access to the subway for the people of eastern Toronto – the former city of Scarborough – is very welcome and long overdue. The particular configuration is not what Mayor Rob Ford first proposed, but his relentless advocacy of an extension well into Scarborough, which at times had seemed quixotic, has borne fruit. Scarborough is not the most affluent area of Toronto, and a better connection to the rest of the city will benefit many lower-income earners.
The route as presented by Jim Flaherty, who is the political minister for Toronto, as well as the federal Minister of Finance, is more practical than the excessively curving Scarborough rapid-transit line, recently proposed by Glen Murray, Ontario's Minister of Transportation. This is a relic of 1970s technology that has not stood the test of time, and is not convenient to major roads. The new plan has three additional subway stations, rather than two, and a new light-rapid-transit line will connect two east-west subway lines.
It is not yet clear how the numbers will add up to pay for this project. Nonetheless, there is reason to hope, after an extraordinarily messy process, that the outlines of an expanded transit system in Toronto are at long last taking shape.