Doug Ford can't be trusted with uploading Toronto's subway
The Doug Ford Conservative government is planning to pull off one of the most ambitious power grabs in recent memory — taking the entire subway system away from the TTC and the people of Toronto. This would tear apart an integrated system of buses, streetcars and subways that moves over a million and a half people every day — over 80 per cent of all passengers in the entire Greater Toronto region. And it would open the door to creeping privatization of public assets and services.
The Conservatives say the province will take over responsibility for building and maintaining new and existing subway lines, while allowing the city to operate the subway system. But a careful look at history shows that scheme is fraught with danger. Ontario’s transit projects feature 30-year deals with companies like SNC-Lavalin and Bombardier for maintenance of vehicles, stations, signals, and tracks — which is where the surplus is generated for years to come.
Both those companies have troubling records on performance, but SNC’s stake in Highway 407 manages to reap huge profits from commuters every day. In British transit privatization deals, bankruptcies of private contractors have landed billions of dollars in liabilities on the shoulders of the public.
What is the real motive behind this takeover move? Many observers point to the desire of the premier to decide where new subway development takes place — favouring Conservative ridings over improving service across the system. Others point to the drive by developers to get their hands on air rights over stations and other TTC properties. But nobody can answer the question of where the money will come from. Particularly from a government that has slashed its own revenue by billions of dollars, even while inflating deficit numbers to rationalize cuts to education, health care and social services.
There is a huge backlog of repairs and maintenance needed to keep the subway running safely. And there is an urgent need to build new transit lines. The Conservatives are promising to find money for all this without saying how they will actually pay for it. The idea that private developers will pick up the full cost is dismissed by experts as pure fantasy — local neighbourhoods would have to accept huge clusters of highrise buildings to generate anywhere near the fees required.
But we do know this — the only city council to ever cancel transit projects was the one run by the Fords; and the only provincial government to cancel subway construction was the Harris Conservatives. They threw away $100 million just to fill the in excavation for the Eglinton line. If they really cared about riders, we could have had rapid transit to the Scarborough town centre, the airport and York University decades ago.
Currently, the TTC is accountable to the people of Toronto. Ordinary citizens can make deputations and talk to their councillors about every aspect of transit service. If the takeover goes ahead, the subway would be transferred to the province’s transportation agency. Metrolinx board meetings do not allow in-person deputations, including by local politicians or city councillors. It may take a bit of time for decision-makers to listen to the people, but democracy actually matters when it comes to aligning public services with the public interest.
But more importantly, after the tainted effort to appoint a Ford crony as OPP Commissioner, the arbitrary firings, the millions of dollars in penalties due to the Ford regime’s interference in Hydro One, and the obsession with punishing political opponents — can any of us trust this government to not politicize and distort transit decisions in the future?
The TTC generates $1.2 billion from fares and the subways carry 230 million passengers. It gets the lowest amount of financial support from senior levels of government of any transit system in North America. That was caused when the previous Conservative regime abolished the traditional funding formula that saw the province and city equally cover the operating subsidy. And it never got fixed. Riders are asked to pay more, wait for crowded vehicles, and face growing uncertainty in getting from point A to B.
We all have a stake in ensuring that transit in Toronto is efficient, accessible and affordable. It is no accident that four former Toronto mayors signed a joint letter opposing the takeover. The answer to improved service is not breaking apart the TTC. The solution is to fund the system properly, and to keep all transit publicly owned, operated and maintained.
John Cartwright is the President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council