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Transit City: Ford's solo act makes no sense

In a troubling development, Mayor Rob Ford wants to axe Toronto’s light rail network without even putting it to a city council vote. For him to undo this $8.15 billion plan without first hearing from Toronto’s elected representatives would be thumbing his nose at years of consultations and approvals.

“There was never a vote on council for Transit City,” he told reporters Tuesday, after a meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty.

That’s a legalistic argument that ignores the democratic process to date. This project, as a whole, was unanimously supported by the Toronto Transit Commission board, not city council. In pointing that out, Ford seemed to suggest that Transit City could be killed the same way, by a majority of the TTC’s governing board — a panel hand-picked by the mayor.

In fact, Toronto city council voted on Transit City-related issues more than a dozen times, during debates on the capital budget, land acquisitions and transit study recommendations. Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynn has made a point of expressing her willingness to work with Toronto’s new mayor “and council” on public transit plans. Wynn’s statements, and those of McGuinty, are notable for their restraint and point to a reasonable course of action.

First, all parties should wait until research, now underway, delivers a better understanding of just what it would cost to stop Transit City and switch to subway construction. It’s also important to learn how many kilometres of subway could actually be built for the same dollars, and how long it would take to deliver underground lines as opposed to surface rail.

Armed with that information, Toronto’s mayor and council could have an informed debate and vote on the best way forward. Any major changes they endorse would then have to be submitted to Metrolinx, the provincial agency in charge of planning transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton. Once Metrolinx concludes that a proposed change makes sense, it would be up to McGuinty to decide on shifting funding to the new transit plan. He’s far from having to consider that now — simply on Ford’s say so — especially since council has yet to be heard from.