Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Subway debate: Misinformation flies as councillors fail to resolve Sheppard transit

March 22, 2012


If citizens tuned in Wednesday to get clarity and a decision on Toronto’s most important transit decision in more than a decade, they left befuddled.


So often did councillors and speakers misinform and give patently false information in the “LRT versus Subway” showdown that one had to conclude the strategy of deception was deliberate.


And when city council refused to finish the debate, opting to return for a repeat performance on Thursday, it was a fitting end to a very bizarre day.


After leaving his chair empty for most of the day, Mayor Rob Ford tried and failed to adjourn the meeting to April 4, seeking more time to gain a few votes for his sinking subway scheme.


The failure is a harbinger of the vote that will surely come Thursday.


One certainty is this: city council is locked into two camps, with a majority in favour of light rail and a rattled band of Ford allies desperately reaching to save the subway plan.


Scattered and desperate where he should be resolute and focused, the mayor seems to have lost any hope of changing the minds of disaffected councillors.


And the wild claims, duelling numbers and conflicting scenarios only cloud the issue at a time when clarity is essential.


“We’ve had lots of misinformation, a lack of credible information,” Councillor Jaye Robinson said during the debate.


She wasn’t exaggerating.


For example, the mayor’s subway point man, Gordon Chong, said the LRT along Sheppard was not fully funded and that construction could not start until 2016.


Wrong, apparently, on both counts.


The mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, rose to sell the idea that the Sheppard subway has $2 billion in contributions — nearly $1 billion combined from the federal and provincial governments and another $1 billion in “savings from the Eglinton line.”


The “savings” claim was at odds with the truth, and Ford must certainly have known that. In fact, if there are savings, Metrolinx has specifically said the money would not go to the Sheppard subway.


Are subways cheaper to build and cheaper to operate?


Doug Ford swears so. But Councillor Josh Matlow retaliated with claims that anyone who says so is “either misinformed or is misleading” the public.


Which takes more cars off the road — subways or LRT?


Ford allies kept shouting subways. And the opposition asked questions and spun answers to back up their claim it is LRT.


When Councillor Mike Del Grande surfaced with a funding plan for the Sheppard subway — a $100 million-a-year tax on parking lots in the city — reporters couldn’t get a clear read on whether the tax revenues would be used to borrow as much as $1.7 billion to fund the subway.


Finance staff cautioned against the move, claiming the tax would not be welcomed by suburban mall owners and small businesses which would have to pick up the annual $100 per parking space fee since their customers now park free.


The revenue could support a 30-year debenture and deliver $1.7 billion in funds, said chief financial officer Cam Weldon. But there are so many concerns that staff would want careful consideration and consultations before it is implemented.


Two months ago, Del Grande often and vigorously criticized councillors for attempting to add $15 million to the city’s operating budget because, he said, the money would come from reserves and the reserves are needed to reduce the city’s debt load.


Yet here he was proposing to add $100 million a year in parking taxes in what Councillor Paula Fletcher called a “conversion on the road to Damascus.”


“We’ve entered a bizarro world here” with the political right proposing tax increases “and the left justifying why they’re not prudent,” said Councillor Josh Colle, a centrist.


And you expected sanity, wisdom and clearer thinking on the road to a bright transit future.


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