This sort of ideologically backwards policy debate is partly the result of Mayor Ford's extremely poor grasp on important things like budgets and policies, but it also reveals how many of these debates, no matter how bitterly partisan, can be driven less by ideology than by whichever regional pork barrel councillors wish to fill with tax dollars. In this case, the pork barrel belongs to “Ford Nation” voters in Scarborough, who claim they are second-class citizens without a subway, despite the fact that the current subway in Scarborough loses money on a daily basis.
However, Rob Ford's plan for delivering an out-sized infrastructure project to the suburbs failed. By a vote of 24-19, Toronto's council voted in favour of a light rail transit (LRT) line along Sheppard Avenue East at street level. The Council made the right decision.
The decision to put LRT along Sheppard--in addition to the Eglinton and Finch West lines that were voted for last month--means more suburban commuters will be provided rapid transit, and more commuters will be encouraged to ride it. There is also the oft-mentioned fact that all three LRT lines, unlike Ford's subway “plan,” are fully funded by a promised $8.4 billion from the Province.
But regardless of the financial issue, there have been suggestions, made by former TTC general manager Gary Webster (who was promptly fired by Ford's allies on the TTC Commission), as well as the Council-mandated panel led by urban planning expert Eric J. Miller, that even if the funds were available, LRT would be preferable to subways on Sheppard.
Projections from a TTC report that was buried by Ford last year suggest that ridership will not grow substantially, and in fact will top out at around 10 thousand riders during peak hours, which is well below the minimum 15 thousand usually needed to justify a subway.
There are two great ironies in Ford's inability to force his will on City Council last week. The first is, that despite campaigning on a private sector financed subway extension for Sheppard in 2010, Ford had made little movement towards that goal. The only move he made was commissioning a report on the feasibility of a subway from former councillor Gordon Chong, which concluded that the private sector could not substantively fund the line and a number of revenue tools, in the form of taxes and user fees, would be needed. Ford instead hedged his bets with the completely underground LRT along Eglinton, which he and Dalton McGuinty agreed upon in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed.
The second great irony of Ford's failure to implement his will is that if he had put the MOU before Council last year, when he still had the power to bully centrist councillors into voting in his favour, he easily could have avoided embarrassment.
In 2010, Rob Ford loudly campaigned on changing the way city hall runs. His blustering anti-intellectual persona turned out to be his greatest campaign tool, bringing disaffected suburban voters to his side.
Perhaps a more savvy politician could have succeeded in pushing through some of Ford's more destructive policy goals, but Ford hasn't been able to make those changes because, as a strategist, he is an abject failure. Even his supporters at the Toronto Sun have criticized his methods, if not his goals.
Instead of delivering change, Rob Ford proved just how legislatively weak the position of Mayor is in Toronto. He proved that any Mayor, whether conservative, centrist, or progressive, would do better by building consensus than by bullying.