Councillor Josh Matlow

Now Magazine: At Transit Town Hall, Bumper Sticker Slogans are Easier to Sell

March 1-8, 2012


Despite the recent council decision to resurrect Transit City, political manoeuvring continues unabated both inside and outside City Hall.


On Tuesday, February 28, as Rob Ford was lobbying hard to win back key swing votes on council, the mayor’s opponents on the transit file took their case directly to the public.


TTC chair Karen Stintz and Councillor Josh Matlow, both of whom were instrumental in the February 8 council vote that rejected Ford’s subway plan, hosted a 300-strong town hall at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre.


Matlow says he hopes such events will help counter the mayor’s pro-subway message, which has ramped up in recent days. Ford made underground transit the focus of his new radio show on Sunday, and last week penned an op-ed on the subject.


[Ford’s] bumper-sticker slogans are easier to sell, admittedly,” says Matlow. “What we’re doing is getting out there and sharing the truth.”


But while Matlow and Stintz were pushing surface rail to the public, the mayor was shopping his own plans. Councillor John Parker, who also attended the town hall, revealed that Ford has been contacting councillors and asking them to endorse a plan that would see a subway built on Sheppard one station at a time, as funding becomes available.


Parker, who backs surface rail, told Ford he won’t support the idea, and it is unlikely the mayor has won over enough councillors to get approval.


Meanwhile, the panel convened by council at its February 8 meeting to decide between LRTs and subways on Sheppard will report on March 15, and discussions with insiders reveal it’s expected to recommend LRTs.


But with many voters still skeptical, Stintz and Matlow aren’t taking any chances. At Tuesday’s event, they enlisted Anna Pace of the TTC’s transit expansion department and professor André Sorensen of the U of T’s Cities Centre to make the case for LRT. Both argued that light rail would best suit the density of Toronto’s suburbs.


While a majority of the audience appeared to support LRT, many were unconvinced. The two-hour meeting became heated at times, suggesting that the mayor’s agenda still has some traction with voters.

One woman argued that surface rail on Sheppard would disrupt local business. “What is the plan with regard to lawsuits that are going to happen when those roads are ripped up?” she shouted to enthusiastic applause.


Parker admitted there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to counter the mayor’s media blitz. “We’ll keep chugging away,” he said.


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