“Let them do their work,” pleaded Toronto Mayor John Tory early Tuesday morning when City Council first sat down to discuss budgets and transit.
And thankfully, most of those councillors listened.
At Wednesday’s meeting, city council voted to approve the transit network plan as proposed by staff — including the controversial single-stop express subway in Scarborough.
A few amendments were tacked on to the motion, including a promise to study alignments and associated costs of the corridor. Staff will also be looking at a Sheppard subway extension and the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling Station to Sherway Gardens.
But even with these unexpected add-ons, the approval of the transit network plan is a win for both the mayor and the golden horseshoe area.
“Following this vote we must now put an end to years of inaction and delay and move ahead with a comprehensive plan to serve our city’s needs.” Mayor Tory said in a statement
And there’s the rub. Despite the positive results of the city council meeting, progress was nearly delayed because a handful of councillors were pretending to be transit experts in their attempt to garner media attention.
In every municipal government, there are elected officials — who often have a variety of skills, including some experience in management, customer service, and politics— and then there are city staff, who are hired based on their particular expertise.
This week’s city council transit kerfuffle is indicative of a lifelong politicians working the issue for media attention to gain recognition for the next election. A handful of councillors ignored recommendations provided by Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (who has a Master’s in Environment and Planning), City Manager Peter Wallace (who served as the provincial Deputy Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury Board), and Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford (with over 15 years of Transit operations), among others.
There are certain city councilors who have been pushing their own transit agendas, ignoring the sound advice from staff. Councilor’s like Josh Matlow have gone as far as recommending council revert to the original transit plan proposed before former Mayor Rob Ford was elected — citing high costs and new polls that indicate residents want an LRT instead.
Matlow (whose extremely thin resume has school board trustee, and co-director of an environmental non-profit) put forward a motion to return to the 24-stop LRT plan, saying that someone needs to think about the taxpayers and how best to invest funds.
Other councillors used the opportunity to try and promote projects for their voters, like the Sheppard subway extension. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti even suggested diverting funds from the Finch LRT — which is already in its procurement stage — to fund the Scarborough subway.
The problem? Consistently changing plans costs tax payers a fortune and would have resulted in a two-year delay, leading up to another election in which a new council may have different ideas. Essentially, Toronto would be forced to start from scratch. “It would be problematic to pull apart this optimized network,” Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat reminded council.
At the end of the day, the experts were able to argue their case and explain the high-costs and the severe consequences of changing the transit plan yet again. If there is one thing that should be taken away from Wednesday’s exchange, it’s that there are a few councillors focused on only one thing: re-election. Councillors are pretending to be more knowledgeable than the experts because it makes them look good to their constituents.
City staff work year after year trying to hold together a broad transit plan they understand that Toronto needs to start building now or else it will take another 50 years before residents see any relief on the Yonge Line.
The experts did their job — now it’s time for council to just sit back and listen.