Mayor Rob Ford has proven himself almost entirely incompetent when it comes to transit policy and planning.
That’s the only conclusion I can come to after learning the details behind the mayor’s meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty. Early speculation had it that the meeting — held early yesterday morning — would be about potential uploading and cost-sharing strategies to mitigate the city’s 2012 operating shortfall, but that actually ended up as seemingly only a small part of the agenda. The real dominating topic, at least according to media reports, seemed to be the mayor’s plan to expand the Sheppard Subway west to Downsview and east to Scarborough Town Centre. While Ford had expressed nothing but confidence throughout his first eight months in office that he would be able to build the extension solely with funds from the private sector, it became clear today — when the mayor asked for some $650 million in provincial funds for the project — that that confidence has been shaken.
Here’s the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:
Mayor Rob Ford insists his prized Sheppard subway extension will be built, but he needs the provincial government to put up $650-million sooner, rather than later, to help make it happen.
Mr. Ford issued his plea to “accelerate” provincial funding in order to nail down money from Ottawa during a closed-door meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty on Wednesday, before he goes into full provincial campaign mode.
This is not the first time Mr. Ford has acknowledged that government money is required to tunnel under Sheppard. But his demand of the province betrays a more urgent tone, with critics noting that the private sector won’t jump on board a major transit project until the public sector is committed.
The only way to read this is as a tacit admission that the Sheppard subway plan, as it’s been explained to us for months now, is a total pipe dream. Private companies are not going to roll the dice on a low-ridership transit line with limited opportunities for residential and commercial development when the public sector won’t sit at the table with them. The Sheppard Subway deal, as pitched by Gordon Chong and the rest of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited, is a high-risk, low-reward affair, and they’re trying to sell it in the face of a world economy that is fraught with peril and bad news stories.
That the plan isn’t workable isn’t a surprise. But yesterday’s events, which all add up to a public indication that the mayor might actually be wrong about something, are definitely interesting. Rob Ford is not one to readily admit his own mistakes.
How Rob Ford might cost the Toronto more than $300 million in committed transit funding
The numbers behind Ford’s request to McGuinty tell a fascinating story of their own. In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and McGuinty emerged from a streetcar at a TTC maintenance shop and announced joint funding for the Sheppard East LRT, which was to be the first line constructed under former mayor David Miller’s Transit City plan. That line was to cost about $950 million, with the province kicking in about two-thirds of that figure, leaving the federal government to pick up the rest of the tab.
When McGuinty agreed to roll over all Transit City funds into the new transit plan announced last March, the province’s portion of the Sheppard funding got moved over to the now all-underground Eglinton LRT. It would now appear that the mayor’s office made an oversight with the remaining federal funds — which total more than $300 million — and they now risk losing them.
In short, the federal funds for Sheppard will expire if they’re not used by 2014. They seemingly can’t be moved over to projects. And the kicker: now that the province is providing no money for any transit project on Sheppard — ostensibly at the mayor’s own request — the agreement between the federal government and the city may be rendered entirely invalid. Without the province’s share of the cost, the federal money won’t flow without a new deal.
It seems likely that between the three levels of government, something will be worked out and the federal contribution for transit expansion won’t be lost. But that this administration has even put themselves in a position where we risk losing that money is demonstrative of their continued inability to effectively manage the transit file.
It’s worth noting, as always, that the Sheppard East LRT would have opened before the next municipal election, improving the daily commute for thousands of Scarborough residents and providing the basis for a network of light rail transit lines across suburban Toronto.
No talk of uploading for TTC operating?
Notably not part of today’s conversation between McGuinty and Ford, according to media reports: the potential uploading of a portion of the TTC’s annual operating costs. Ford’s silence on the issue is conspicuous, especially in light of an item, passed 41-1 with the mayor in favour at the July council meeting, calling for a reinstatement of the previous “fair share” funding agreement for transit, which saw the province pick up half the cost of the TTC’s annual operating budget.
Actual analysis of the City of Toronto’s budget from the mid-1990s until now reveals that the downloading of TTC operating costs onto the city — a ‘gift’ from Mike Harris — correlates with the beginning of Toronto’s budget problems. A return to a 50/50 agreement with the province would wipe out almost all of the so-called structural deficit facing the city.
But why would the mayor want that?