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City views: Mayor Ford quickly delivers campaign promise

by David Nickle

Everyone who dreams of light rail was very shocked when Mayor Rob Ford used his first hour in office to kill the light-rail Transit City plan. It wasn’t the shock of surprise - Ford has long been clear he doesn’t like streetcars and separated light rail, and thinks subways are the way to go.

He campaigned on it.

Still - it’s the difference between being told you’re going to get punched in the stomach, and actually getting punched.

Mayor Ford’s fast move to stop any more movement on Transit City had the effect of the latter. He said he was going to do it - but nobody believed that he was really good for it.

It’s too bad. Transit City is not a perfect transit plan. In relying on light rail to carry commuters over great distances, we give up the speed and capacity of a full-sized subway, and also expose riders to the elements. They get in the way of cars that want to turn.

But it has the advantage of being funded, more or less, and underway, definitely.

And it fulfills a need. Linking up Scarborough and North York and Etobicoke with public transit networks that are affordable to build and operate.

Scrapping the plan, as Mayor Ford is attempting to do, means that in a best case scenario, those communities will have to wait many more years to have reliable public transit beyond the level of buses servicing their communities. While motorists won’t have to contend with construction and then dedicated transit lanes on Sheppard and Eglinton, they’ll still have to contend with one another. So congestion won’t get any better.

Now, that may eventually improve, if Ford can somehow convince the provincial government to fund proper subway construction. He can, based on his decisive victory at the polls this fall, claim that there is a strong public desire for subways over streetcars, and demand that the provincial government provide subways on that basis.

That could result in more money for subways. Maybe.

What it does do is put Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in an awful situation, going into an election next year. Ford, an unabashed Progressive Conservative, has spent this past year building a base of voters in Toronto that are unhappy with the McGuinty government and the things that government has enabled in this city. They don’t like the Personal Vehicle Registration Tax, they really don’t like the Land Transfer Tax, and they don’t like Transit City.

Until Ford awoke that mass of voters, McGuinty might have thought that Toronto was fairly safe territory.

In the first year of the Ford administration, it is anything but.

If the province sticks to its guns and keeps building Transit City - or worse, just pulls all the funding - then McGuinty is seen as being insensitive to Torontonians’ needs and wishes. If McGuinty caves, and provides significantly more funding to Toronto, then he’s seen in other parts of Ontario as being soft on Toronto - a position that’s never won an election in this province.

Either way, the Liberals go to the polls with a serious handicap - delivered by Mayor Rob Ford.

Clearly then, light rail supporters aren’t the only ones feeling the shock of the gut-punch this week.