Toronto needs a vision, with lack of leadership we haven’t had a strong long-term encompassing vision in decades. Without this vision Toronto gets pulled from extreme left to far right of the political spectrum with each election.
It doesn’t help having opportunistic politicians using our differences to divide rather than unite us. Toronto has fallen far behind other cities precisely because we haven’t united, but constantly fall into division.
You only have to look at Toronto’s decaying transit system to see what years of indecision have done. Transit and subway expansion have fallen dramatically behind from a point in the late 70s when Toronto was once a world leader in subway development. Commute times in the GTA are now the worst in North America at an average 80 minutes. Add to that the cost of gridlock that is estimated 6 billion dollars in lost productivity per year and there is not just a philosophical argument but a strong economic case to be made for ending the partisan division and uniting behind a strong vision.
A strong vision needs a strong effective leader who can build consensus and who will work tirelessly to unify the city. I don’t believe that leader can be found on city council. Here’s why: I’ve spent the past few years working on getting the east west relief subway line on TTC and Metrolinx plans; I’ve also worked to push the idea of dedicated transit funding to pay for the subway and transit expansion in the Toronto region. This required hours spent at city hall, in committee rooms, councillors offices and at city council meetings. It gave me first hand experience at city hall with city councillors. I have watched councillors interact, play political games and fight for what they believe in. There are some who truly want to make the city a better place, some who pretend to want to, and others who can’t seem to see beyond their ward.
I’ve watched councillors I thought had leadership potential ignore many opportunities to lead, especially when it comes to subway and transit expansion.
For example Councillor Karen Stintz, chair of the TTC, has changed positions on the Danforth subway line, and the Big Move transit plan, so many times that I doubt anyone knows what her “vision” will be next week let alone a year from now.
Karen is learning, she is determined, and she carries enough doubt to question everything around her. She makes a good councillor, but her constant position changes don’t provide the stability needed for leadership.
If Councillor Stintz had supported the Big Move plan, and instead of announcing her own divergent plan, if she had worked to add the transit lines she believes necessary to the Big Move plan, she would have earned much more credibility and demonstrated the consistency needed for leadership.
In 2012, Councillor Stintz broke ranks with Mayor Ford and supported Transit City with plans for above ground LRT to replace the aging Scarborough RT. However in the past month, with thoughts of a mayoral run in her head, she now seems to be backing a subway to replace the RT in a move that looks more like pandering for Scarborough votes than strong leadership supporting underground transit.
But what truly lost my belief in Councillor Stintz was her refusal to take a strong stand on funding tools for transit. When leadership on revenue tools was needed earlier this year Councilor Stintz, played political games declaring the tools she would NOT support instead of sticking her neck out and backing the tools that she would support. It’s a subtle difference with a huge impact.
As Chair of the TTC Councillor Stintz could have shown leadership by strongly stating to the Province the tools she and council supported to fund subway and transit expansion, but instead she backed away from taking any responsibility. Her actions and those who supported them set the move toward dedicated transit funding back months, perhaps years. Toronto should have led the region on laying out the transit funding tools that we, as a city, accept. This would have set the stage putting the Province government in the position of having to support those tools or risk looking unresponsive to the need for transit expansion.
By abdicating her responsibility Councillor Stintz delayed and added to 40 years of political indecision around transit funding.
Over the past term I haven’t seen any councillors step up and fill the leadership void at city hall. I’ve made no secret of my support for John Tory. He’s a leader who can unite the city and he understand the importance of dedicated funding for transit expansion.
Transit funding has become a political football at the Provincial level. Dedicated revenue streams for transit expansion are crucial, but it is important that we secure the funding with something like a sunset clause to restrict politicians from using the funding for anything else thus removing it from the political arena. Dedicated transit funding must survive beyond changes in government.
My vision for Toronto is to build an expansive underground transit (LRT & Subway trains) system that supports the Big Move regional transit plan. To do this the Toronto region will need secured and dedicated transit funding – from a 1% sales tax, to development charges and tolls — we have many options, but we lack politicians with the balls and tenacity to stand up for it