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Transity City confidential

A guess as to why Rob Ford is gunning for Transit City

by Enzo di Matteo

Here’s a Transit City conspiracy theory for you.

What if Mayor Rob Ford’s pledge to put a spike in the plan to build a system of designated lanes for light rails across the city is just a ruse for something more devious, like cutting council in half?

It’s sheer madness, of course, that Team Ford would even consider killing a plan which is being paid for by the province and feds - and in the process throwing away something like $40 million of city cash already spent on Transit City, and another $140 million committed for 2010. To say nothing of the financial penalties and lawsuits that certainly will follow the cancellation of contracts. Stop the gravy train and all aboard the cuckoo train.

The province seems willing to play ball - at least, the Premier says he’s open to finding what he calls common ground on the issue.

But a very different message is coming from Ontario Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, who notes that $137 million has already been spent and another $1.3 billion committed to Transit City.

Despite McGuinty’s public pronouncements, it’s unlikely the cash-strapped province will derail Transit City completely (Metrolinx has prioritized five lines). Unless, that is, the issue is put to a vote and City Council decides to do Ford’s bidding and put a screeching halt to the plan.

In which case, there will be more pressure on the Libs to go along for the ride. There are seats to protect in Ford territory in the burbs, more than in the downtown core, in fact.

Under that scenario, the door wouldn’t be completely closed to an Eglinton line from Laird to Black Creek as envisioned under Transit City. Most of that line is to be built underground anyway. The light rail vehicles envisioned in that plan could be replaced by subway cars, I’m told, without much more than a widening of the underground tunnels and an adjustment to the tracks to carry subways cares instead of light rail.

The question is, what to do with the 200-plus light vehicles that have been ordered? Their specifications may be too unique to sell to other cities.

But it’s not a give that council will in fact back Ford on Transit City, although a conservative count suggests he has the 23 votes to win it. A lot will depend on which way the half a dozen to eight or so councillors who make up the mushy middle decide to go.

There may be a few surprises among right leaning councillors not in Ford’s inner circle who are freaked at the prospect of flushing $200 million or more of city money down the drain - especially if the legal advice from the city solicitor is that the city would also lose any legal challenges that would be brought by companies already contracted to do work.

The light rail vehicle prototype scheduled for delivery in early 2011 is already undergoing testing, I understand. The TTC has also still to come back with its numbers on what canceling Transit City and going with subways would mean financially.

Doesn’t make sense that the guy who rode into office on a promise to get the city’s financial house in order would be flushing all that cash down the drain. The theory here is that air rights sold to developers along the subway plan Ford’s pushing would more than make up the shortfall. Nuts, I know.

But the Ford Team may be picking this big fight out of the gate for another reason - namely, to lay the groundwork for his other major pet project - the reduction of council from 44 to 22 member. And herein lies the conspiracy.

Even in the unlikely event that Ford should lose a vote at council on Transit City - the election was not a referendum on Transit City, after all - if that should happen, Ford can go to town to claim that it was the obstructionist Millerites who stopped him.

God help us, then, if there are any cost overruns associated with Transit City, which there no doubt will be given its size. Ford will have all the ammo he needs to beat that piƱata as reason he needs to further centralize power.

And so off with the heads off 22 councillors it will be, especially is some guy named Hudak is in the Pink Palace by next fall.

Brilliant, isn’t it?