Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: There’s still time to axe Scarborough subway extension: Editorial

July 20th, 2015

The Toronto Star



It’s an unjustifiable waste of money, a betrayal of the taxpayer, and a violation of Toronto’s transit priorities. On top of all that, it happened in breach of city council procedure.

Wrong on so many levels — it’s hard to imagine any policy undertaken at Toronto city hall worse than councillors’ feckless approval of a Scarborough subway extension.

Even so, conventional wisdom holds that this is a done deal. Mayor John Tory (open John Tory’s policard) has publicly declared: “My work plan has Scarborough subway No. 1.” Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is committed to the underground route. And most city councillors appear to have little appetite for re-opening debate on the issue. Shame on them all.

In a pair of exclusive stories, the Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro has revealed new details about the mess that is the Scarborough subway, underlining how it should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Given what’s at stake, there’s every reason to change course and fix this mistake.


It’s long been understood that this subway extension is being done to pander to Scarborough voters rather than serve the city’s transit needs. It replaces a fully funded, seven-stop light rail line with a three-station subway that will cost the average Toronto household a total of at least $1,200 in additional property tax.

Toronto’s municipal ratepayers could have had ultra-modern public transit completely paid for by the province. Light rail would have been available years sooner than a subway, and would have put new transit within walking distance for thousands more people.

But political leaders at city hall and the province had other ideas.

Although a light rail line had already been approved — and an agreement to build one had even been signed with Metrolinx — some key people flip-flopped. They included Karen Stintz, a councillor with mayoral ambitions who was then chair of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Pagliaro convincingly shows that debate over the Scarborough subway was reopened through a May 2013 vote permitted in violation of official procedures. According to the rules, it shouldn’t have happened. And now Toronto residents appear to be stuck with the result.

That wouldn’t be so bad if there were at least reasonable grounds for moving ahead with this project. But the official analysis used to justify the subway extension was done in a rush, without due diligence. It’s a process that Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, has described as “very, very chaotic” and “suboptimal.” The result was a grossly unreliable ridership estimate for a Scarborough subway that was instrumental in council’s ultimate approval.

It’s a decision estimated to cost as much as an extra $2 billion – money that could be spent addressing Toronto’s real transit needs.

Councillor Josh Matlow (open Josh Matlow’s policard) says this just might be “the biggest scandal ever to hit city hall.” That seems an overstatement. Having a law-breaking, crack-smoking mayor probably ranks as a bigger disgrace. But the Scarborough subway extension is remarkable for its needless cost and the dubious machinations behind its approval.

Despite conventional wisdom, it’s not too late to change track and make the right decision for public transit riders. TTC chief executive Andy Byford has noted that there’s still a signed agreement in place between the city and Metrolinx to build a Scarborough light rail line. It hasn’t been scrapped, nor should it be.

Instead, city council and Queen’s Park should restore sound policy — and public faith in transit planning — by axing the Scarborough subway extension.


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