Skip to main content

Forgive John Tory if he seems a little exasperated these days. Eager to move ahead with ambitious plans for Toronto, from reforming the police service to fixing up public housing to creating a grand new downtown park, the first-term mayor instead finds himself refighting an issue he had every right to consider settled: the fate of the Scarborough subway.

City council voted way back in 2013 to extend the Bloor-Danforth line deeper into the populous eastern suburb. Both the provincial and federal governments are on board with hundreds of millions in support. Mr. Tory ran for office in 2014 on a promise to push ahead, arguing it was time to stop talking and start building. Yet, three years later, backers and opponents continue to spar over the project.

They were at it again when city council's executive committee met on Tuesday to consider a new progress report. By Mr. Tory's reckoning, it is the ninth time councillors have debated the subway. Its foes, he said, are using everything but poison-tipped umbrellas and exploding cigars to kill it. Enough is enough, he says. Time to get on with it.

Story continues below advertisement

He is surely right about that. Toronto has fallen decades behind other major cities. City councillor Chin Lee showed the meeting subway maps for cities from Singapore to Beijing to Kuala Lumpur that started building after Toronto. They now have webs of mass transit that put Toronto's to shame. Yet, Mr. Lee said, "Here we are arguing about one extension of a subway line."

One reason Toronto has lagged so badly is that politicians keep changing their minds. Transit plans are drawn up and approved only to be redrawn or thrown out, a vast waste of time and – because transit-building costs climb as the years pass – money. Over the past decade, the city has seen a bewildering series of proposed transit plans come and go: light-rail, subway, back to light-rail again, and on and on ad infinitum.

Are critics of the subway honestly suggesting Toronto should reverse itself yet again? That it should go back to Ottawa and Queen's Park and tell them the project they endorsed and funded is now off? That it should instruct transit officials to discard millions of dollars worth of planning work for the subway and go back to preparing for light rail? That it should tell the residents of Scarborough that the subway they were promised in federal, provincial and municipal elections is off the table? The last thing Toronto needs is another transit flip-flop.

The project's opponents talk as if it were some madcap scheme scribbled on the back of a politician's napkin. In fact, transit planners have been considering a subway to Scarborough, where one-quarter of Torontonians live, since as long ago as 1985. A plan called Network 2011 envisioned a line spanning the top of the city and terminating in the Scarborough town centre, the same place the new Scarborough subway would end.

The $3.35-billion cost of the project is high, yes, and in the way of such things, it keeps going up. But its opponents gloss over the fact that the alternative – replacing the outmoded light-rail line to the town centre – would come at vast expense, too. According to a rough Toronto Transit Commission estimate (disputed like just about everything else on this issue), it could cost $3-billion, not much less than the subway.

If Toronto is going to spend that kind of money, why spend it on another light-rail line along the same route, the transit equivalent of reshingling the roof? Why not go up a step and build something better and more lasting? Why not offer commuters a fast, one-seat ride downtown that saves them the time-consuming transfer from light rail to subway?

Developers told Tuesday's meeting that with a subway link, the Scarborough town centre could evolve into a busy city hub. The subway itself will be busy, too. Despite a new, lower estimate for the number of new riders it would attract – Mr. Tory's SmartTrack rail project has complicated the projections – ridership on the new line promises to be robust. The town centre station is expected to have about 30,000 boardings a day, making it the third busiest station on the Bloor-Danforth line. The station will be near highway 401, so drivers and bus riders could stop there then ride into the city by subway.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Tory argues that in a few decades time, when the city is vastly bigger and more built up, no one will be wondering why the city extended a subway line to serve Scarborough. What they might be wondering instead is why city leaders spent so much time arguing instead of building.

From Toronto's first streetcar suburbs to the planned community of Don Mills to today's booming Greater Golden Horseshoe, take a closer look at why the Places to Grow Act became necessary for building a sustainable future. The Globe and Mail
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter