Toronto Star: Councillor tries to reopen Scarborough subway debate
December 11, 2013
The Toronto Star
The long-running, topsy-turvy debate over whether the Scarborough RT should be replaced by light rail or subway seemed to be settled for good, finally, when council voted 24-20 in October in favour of a subway plan.
Councillor Josh Matlow, a vocal proponent of the light rail option, plans to put forth a budget motion asking council to reject the 0.5 per cent subway tax levy currently proposed for 2014, and to delay any spending or borrowing on the subway project until 2015 — after the next election.
Matlow’s motion would put the subway on hold until a different group of city councillors, and possibly a different mayor, take office. The new council could then, hypothetically, decide to go with light rail.
A midtown councillor, Matlow said Wednesday that council doesn’t yet have the answers it needs to make an informed decision to proceed with a subway. The city has not yet determined, for example, how to cover the cost of operating the extension after it is built.
Matlow argued that subway-supporting fiscal conservatives should vote for his motion out of prudent caution. But he made no secret of his desire to eventually convince council to revert to a light rail line, which would be far cheaper, include seven stops instead of three, and would — in October, at least — have been fully funded by the provincial government without a city tax increase or city debt.
“If I’m asked whether I can support increasing the city’s debt by $1 billion and raising property taxes to pay for a project that was based on politics rather than evidence, I can’t in good conscience support that, and I have a responsibility to fight it to the end of the earth. And that’s what I’m doing,” Matlow said in an interview.
As currently planned, the subway tax increase will be 0.5 per cent in 2014, another 0.5 per cent in 2015, and another 0.6 per cent in 2016. It will stay at the 2016 level for about 30 years.
Mayor Rob Ford is generally anti-tax. But he argues that subways are inherently superior to light rail vehicles, and he won perhaps the biggest victory of his term in helping to persuade council in October to abandon its previous light rail plan.
“I think it’s pretty clear council wants to start building the Scarborough line,” Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, told reporters on Wednesday.
Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, a Scarborough representative who supports the subway, said Matlow’s motion will likely be ruled out of order by Speaker Frances Nunziata, since council has already made a decision on the issue.
Motions that would “re-open” matters settled within the last year are generally not ruled out of order, but the re-opening requires the support of two-thirds of councillors rather than a simple majority. Matlow said he has been told by city manager Joe Pennachetti that this motion does not require a two-thirds vote, since it is merely about financing and budgetary matters, not about choosing a different form of transit.
“It is completely in order,” Matlow said. “And if it were ruled to be out of order, that would be a political decision rather than an honest one.”
The federal government has committed $660 million to the subway project. A spokesperson for federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt did not respond to a request for comment about Matlow’s proposal.
Bruce McCuaig, chief executive officer of Metrolinx, refused to speculate on whether the provincial agency would be willing to reconsider the issue one more time.
“At this point in time we have a position from city council, we have a position that’s not just a position on what they would like to build but actually a commitment to contribute to the funding of that project,” he said. “I’m presuming and assuming that project that has been defined, is moving forward, and that’s what we’re working with the city and TTC on now.”
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