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How does Scarborough fare in Ontario's bid to take over the TTC?

The Ford government says it wants to cut through red tape, but critics aren’t buying that argument.

Earlier this week, Ontario’s Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek released a terms of reference regarding the province’s proposal to take over the Toronto Transit Commission’s subway system. In it, Yurek cites the Ontario PC Party’s election platform, which committed to assuming “responsibility for subway infrastructure from the city, including the building and maintenance of new and existing subway lines” and to oversee “day-to-day operations, including labour relations, with the city.” Premier Doug Ford described it as a plan that “cut[s] through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster.”

Toronto city council has opposed Ontario’s proposal to take over the subway system, preferring that the TTC remain under the city’s purview. But council acknowledged at a Dec. 13 debate that its hands are tied, and agreed to enter into talks with the province.

Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Jim Karygiannis says the upload is a chance to cut through city council bickering and actually make headway on transit plans. “There’s no subway that’s been built for 40 years [in Scarborough], so we wanted to do something,” he explained in a phone call. “As long as they are talking about building a Sheppard line, I have absolutely no problem.”  

Building the one-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre would be acceptable, but it’d make more sense to build the subway along Sheppard with three or four stops going from Don Mills to McCowan, Karygiannis added. The councillor’s previous proposals to city council to build along Sheppard didn’t get much traction, but he’s optimistic about his ideas now that Ontario is taking steps to move forward with its upload plans.

“Look, we have no choice but to go with the upload, for the simple reason that we are an entity of the province,” Karygiannis said. “It’s just a lot of malarkey, if you ask me. The premier can just take it over. He doesn’t even have to ask us.”

There’s no mention of municipalities in the Canadian constitution, according to Pauline Beange, a political science lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough, who specializes in Canadian and comparative politics. In other words, whether it’s deciding the size of city council or uploading the TTC to Ontario, the province is entirely within its constitutional rights.

“Do they [Toronto city council] have formal powers to reject [the subway upload]? No. But at the same time, the number of voters in Toronto and the GTA is enormous. The government of Ontario is not going to want to alienate those voters,” Beange explained, adding that the city’s budget is between $15 billion to $18 billion. “If the money is not being well-spent, maybe Torontonians are better off with a new arrangement.”

What Toronto really needs is serious long-term transit planning and a commitment to strengthening the subway system, says Andre Sorensen, a human geography professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, whose research interests include urbanization and transportation policies. Along with his colleague Paul Hess, Sorensen published a 2015 study that looked at proposed options to improve transit in Scarborough.

“We really need to get past this pattern of new governments deciding that they should dramatically change course just to score political points,” he wrote in an email. The terrible state of Toronto’s transit is due to a lack of investment by Ontario and repeated changes to plans even after major projects were already underway, Sorensen added, citing the 1995 cancellation of the Eglinton subway and 2010 cancellation of the Transit City LRT plan.

“What is the subway upload all about? Who knows? All the transit experts I know think that it is truly puzzling. The idea that it will cut red tape is hard to believe as a real motive. What is really needed is a commitment to created dedicated transit funding in the range of $3 [billion] to $4 billion per year for the next 20 years or so,” Sorensen explained. “I doubt that the Ford government is going to see it as a priority to significantly increase spending on building transit. Without that, I think that we can just assume that they are making a lot of noise to try to confuse the audience. And public transit in Scarborough will be worse in four years than it is now.”

What do you make of Ontario’s proposal for uploading the subway? Do you think the province will be able to cut red tape and deliver on its promise? Or do you think this is just a political play? Email me your thoughts.

Spotlight

As a member of community advocacy group Voices of Scarborough, Tim Demont wants to raise his concerns about affordable housing with elected officials, such as former Toronto police chief and current Scarborough Southwest MP Bill Blair.

A former chainsaw operator, Tim Demont now lives on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Access to affordable housing and transportation is a top priority for Tim, so he hopes to raise these issues with elected officials in his capacity as a member of community advocacy group Voices of Scarborough. At the moment, Tim pays $500 to his brother for rent, out of the $1,100 he gets each month from the ODSP.

“If I didn’t have a grocery tab at a convenience store, which my friend runs, I don’t know how I’d survive,” he said. “They’re talking about the beautification of Scarborough. That’s fine and dandy, but it won’t be a home for me…unless I win the lottery.”

Story Circle: Transit edition

We have an exciting update! Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Jim Karygiannis is confirmed to attend our Story Circle: Transit edition, which takes place on Thursday, Feb. 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the East Scarborough Storefront.

Even though we expect city councillors to attend, there will be no talking points allowed. Instead, we want you to share your lived experiences with taking transit in and out of Scarborough. Our hope is that, together, we can surface underreported solutions to the suburb’s transit problems. Please RSVP here, and spread the word.

Let’s meet up

  • Feb. 17. Celebrating the Year of the PigLunar New Year celebrations continue throughout February! This event features activities such as calligraphy demonstrations, cultural performances and more. Scarborough Centre councillor Michael Thompson will also be in attendance. Scarborough Civic Centre. 1 to 4:30 p.m.

  • Feb. 18Family Winter Fun Day. Jazz up your selfies with historic props, play some old school board games and join an ice cube scavenger hunt. Then warm up by a bonfire while roasting marshmallows and sampling other treats. Scarborough Museum. 12 to 4 p.m.

  • Until Feb. 23. Next To Normal. This 2008 American rock musical about a mother struggling with bipolar disorder, and its impact on her family, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as three Tony Awards. The show is recommended for ages 13 and up, with parental guidance. Scarborough Music Theatre. 8 to 10:30 p.m.

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