Rob Ford can’t win Sheppard vote without a realistic plan

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Likely votes for the March 21 Sheppard transit vote. "Target" indicates a swing vote councillor that is being pressured by both sides.

Rob Ford is probably going to lose again at council next week.

The item council will be considering – an expert panel’s recommendation on transit options for Sheppard Avenue – doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. The panel’s report strongly endorses light rail as the preferred option for the corridor, and recommends construction begin as soon as possible. The panel has released a detailed collection of background documents, which include presentations and reports from Metrolinx, the TTC, City Planning and City Finance. All of their data points to the same conclusion the panelists reached.

Ford, of course, dismissed all this preemptively. He called the panel “biased.”

It’s known that Ford’s office is aggressively targeting swing councillors in an attempt to win them to his side on this issue. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll win much support of the remaining undecided or wavering councillors – at best, there’s seven of them – when he still doesn’t have a plan for building anything beyond a two kilometre stump of subway tunnel financed with provincial money.

This week, the mayor’s been dismissing the need for planning altogether. He told reporters yesterday that he just wanted to get “shovels in the ground” and start building. “There is too much talking going on,” he said. “and not enough doing. I’m a doer.”

Unless his team manages to produce a more detailed funding and construction plan next week, I can’t see Ford winning the support of many middle-aligned councillors. Spending a billion dollars of public money on a short subway extension without any plan to continue building anything beyond is bad policy. It’s a simple waste of money.

Without a realistic plan, the mayor’s subway promise dies next week.

The case for compromise

The mayor continues to be the architect of his own defeat. He’s ignored or rejected at least a half-dozen compromise solutions since this debate began in January. Had he simply worked with Karen Stintz, council likely would have found broad consensus on a transit plan that would have seen a small extension of the Sheppard subway. With that, the mayor could have moved on to other things and we wouldn’t be mired in an endless debate where people yell a lot and make ridiculous claims.

Still, even after all the procedural nastiness and name-calling, the mayor still has a workable compromise solution available to him: a two-stop extension of the Sheppard subway followed by light rail on the rest of the corridor.

Here’s how the expert panel lays out the financing for that option:

Panel report: Financing transit on Sheppard

The “hybrid” option – subway and LRT – requires between $500 million and $800 million in extra funding – an achievable amount if the city uses some of the revenue tools laid out in Gordon Chong’s report. The mayor could quite easily win some support on council if he backed this plan and presented a strategy to raise the missing funds.

This would be an outcome both sides could live with. The mayor gets to claim he’s fulfilled an election promise while the rest of council gets to deliver transit expansion on a large scale. Everyone goes home happy.

The mayor probably won’t go for it, however. He’s been offered this compromise before and rejected it out-of-hand.

Programming Note

Sadly, I’m going to be away all next week and so I’ll miss the meeting. For always-good City Hall coverage, keep tabs on OpenFile Toronto and Torontoist. I also recommend the Twitter-stylings of David Hains, Neville Park, Daren Foster, Jonathan Goldsbie, Don Peat and so many others.

I’ll be back next weekend with some thoughts on the meeting and its fallout.

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