Sitting pretty in the driver’s seat, Doug Ford wants subway riders to take a leap of faith

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Sitting pretty in the driver’s seat, Doug Ford wants subway riders to take a leap of faith


Another year, another transit map.

Bigger than ever. Faster than ever.

Best ever — if it ever comes to pass.

On paper, there’s nothing especially wrong with the ambitious $28.5 billion transit plan Premier Doug Ford sketched out Wednesday. Provided everything goes right — not just the money but the technology.

Which raises the $28.5 billion question: Show us the money.

Ford is cheerfully taking credit for “announcing” the total price tag, but without finding the full funding. It’s the Ford formula:

I control, you bankroll. With a straight face, the premier laid out a vision that assumes all will see eye to eye with him as he spends other people’s money while putting up only $11.2 billion from the provincial purse.

Ford has a habit of ripping up previous plans. Now, the premier promises to make his own blueprint work like clockwork.

Reading from a TelePrompTer at a campaign-style event on the eve of today’s provincial budget, he tore up the old transit map. And rewrote the script:

A Downtown Relief Line? The province will build it at twice the length, in less time, and for less money than the city’s best-laid plans — details and subway stops to come.

A Scarborough subway? The premier is going back in time to an earlier design based on three stations.

The devil is in the details, but the premier declared himself to be on the side of the angels by giving a shout-out to his late brother Rob. The ex-mayor’s vision, which was voted down by fellow councillors years ago, is destined to be reborn:

“This one is close to my heart — my brother Rob and I have been the champions for transit in Scarborough since our time at city hall,” the premier proclaimed. “This one’s for you, Rob.”

Those were the days when the Ford brothers turned a fully-funded citywide LRT plan upside down because they wanted “subways, subways, subways.” Now, the premier who is sentimental over a Scarborough extension is embracing a lighter rail concept for the downtown line.

We are watching a remarkable role reversal that puts big brother Doug in the driver’s seat at Queen’s Park to finish what the Fords started at city hall before it all went off track. More than a role reversal, it’s yet another change in direction — and not everyone is standing with him on the platform.

Mayor John Tory pointedly declined an invitation to appear alongside Ford at Wednesday’s announcement, because Queen’s Park had failed to fully brief the city on its latest plans. The premier called him as a courtesy the night before, but kept the mayor in the dark on the details.

If the province and the city can’t break down silos, how will they break ground? And if two Tories can’t co-operate — the mayor, lest we forget, is a past leader of the PC party that Ford now helms — how will Queen’s Park collaborate with a Liberal government in Ottawa to secure needed funding?

Ford breezily promised to make up any shortfall if they don’t pay up — funding if necessary, but not necessarily funding. Beyond monetary matters, however, there is also the mystery of technology.

The province keeps talking up new light rail techniques for the (driverless) Downtown Relief Line that will leapfrog current plans, but is in no hurry to reveal how. It’s a peculiar way to foster collaboration.

Surely we’ve learned after years of Ford-style disruption that subway construction isn’t just about substance but process. When you’re tunnelling across a city, you can’t endlessly backtrack.

And when you’ve remade city council in your own image — Ford blew up city hall last summer by cutting it in half in midcampaign — it behooves you to heed the new councillors. Not bulldoze them aside.

As part of his restructuring, Ford wants to upload the TTC’s subway lines to the province — which I’ve long argued for. Compared to the city, Queen’s Park has a stronger balance sheet, the ability to borrow for capital costs, and a broader regional outlook.

Be careful what you wish for.

While the province is well-placed, this premier seems ill-suited. Queen’s Park has a good map but the wrong man.

Torontonians have seen transit maps come and go. They know only too well that subway openings always fall behind schedule.

Sticking to his script, Ford is vowing to keep transit on track. My way or the highway.

Subway riders will surely have confidence in the new driverless technology for a Downtown Relief Line. But will they have faith in the premier sitting in the driver’s seat?

Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn





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