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Schulich to McGuinty: Spend boldly or begone

By JOHN BARBER

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 Page A13

E-mail John Barber Read Bio Latest Columns As I boarded the 196 “Rocket” express bus from Downsview station to York University yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking about an opinion that Seymour Schulich, benefactor of York’s Schulich School of Business, recently expressed about politicians.

The bus was a rattling old General Motors “New Look,” a model out of production for decades, most likely scavenged by the cheeseparing TTC out of some other transit agency’s scrap heap to be rebuilt here — and almost certainly, along with the other ancient New Looks still “rocketing” up and down Keele Street, one of the oldest city buses still in service anywhere in North America.

Thus I was reminded of Mr. Schulich’s e-mailed eruption in response to a recent column that documented the general paralysis of initiative in shabby Toronto the Good Enough — and included, as one example, dithering on the question of whether to extend the Spadina subway line to York or to order another container of baling wire in hope of keeping the old buses banging along.

“Our politicians have the vision of snails!” the esteemed businessman and benefactor (more than $70-million so far, mostly to Canadian universities, most of all to York) declared. And his proposed remedy was straightforward. “Premier [Dalton] McGuinty should go into the 30-year-bond market (cost under 6 per cent) and borrow $10-billion to $20-billion. Then, build the roads, subways, waterfronts and infrastructure that Ontario needs.”

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Up on the ninth floor of the grim Ross building, overlooking the new heart of a campus now dominated by buses from three agencies making 1,200 appearances every day, York president Lorna Marsden may think along the same lines, but dares not say so. The logic of a subway extension “just seems so clear,” she said. But “people have got to be comfortable on the money side.”

Obviously, they’re not. Despite Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara’s enthusiastic endorsement of the subway extension, the TTC continues to muddle ahead with an allegedly temporary solution to speed up the 196 Rocket by stitching together an exclusive, bus-only route through industrial Downsview and along the Finch hydro corridor into York.

Thus the snails slide on.

But the subway logic remains, according to Ms. Marsden and her staff. In their view, York will be only one of dozens of beneficiaries of the new line. Among other wonders, they promise that it will fundamentally transform regional travel patterns, provide critical relief for the Yonge line, revitalize underused industrial lands and help bring the residents of the Jane-Finch area closer to jobs.

Ms. Marsden promised, the new line will act as a catalyst for rebuilding a neglected area. All it would take is a few billions. What’s not to like?

Unconcerned with the inertial politics that encumbers the president as she laboriously “raises consciousness” about northwest Toronto, Mr. Schulich offers a cunning rationale for his proposed fiscal daring. By raising that much debt on its own nickel, he maintains, Queen’s Park tells Ottawa, ” ‘You may control the printing presses, but if you don’t want your biggest province to go broke, you better start giving Ontario dollars and not dimes.’ “

“Meanwhile, Ontario gets the infrastructure it so badly needs.”

Ms. Marsden gently encourages Mr. Sorbara, her famous alumnus, to recognize that “this is a really important part of the new Toronto” and to give it the subway it needs. Mr. Schulich, on the other hand, is decidedly ungentle. “They don’t build statues to cost-cutters,” he noted. “The gang of wimps at Queen’s Park better wake up or they’re going to be one-term footnotes in the history books.”

jbarber@globeandmail.ca




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