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Why Harper Should Help Fund the Proposed Toronto Scarborough Subway

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I would like to echo the immortal words of Prime Minister Harper when he described the virtues of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Harper and his Conservatives providing additional funding to build the new Scarborough Subway (the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre) is a "complete no-brainer."

Let me elaborate.

Firstly, the option of a subway line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre makes very good sense from a public transit standpoint.

According to the recent report by Toronto City Manager Pennachetti, whereas the Light Rail Transit (LRT) option would cover a larger geographic area -- including seven stations and come at a lower cost -- the subway extension option, with only three stations, would have higher speed, higher quality service, higher ridership and no transfer for passengers from one mode to another at Kennedy station.

Thus giving commuters a fast, transfer-free ride to and from Scarborough. And although the cost of the subway is high, subways last 75 to 100 years, as opposed to about 40 years for LRTs, so it will be worth the investment in the long term.

Secondly, I would argue that providing Scarborough's 625,000+ population (about 24 per cent of Toronto's entire population) even a quarter of the public transit benefits that Scarborough's much more affluent neighbors in Old Toronto (Danforth, Beaches, Rosedale, Annex, West Annex, Forest Hill, High Park) have enjoyed for decades, is the fair, equitable and even the morally right thing to do.

As I have previously written, unlike their affluent neighbors in Old Toronto, many Scarberians do not live close to where they work, so they cannot generally walk or bike to work. Many Scarberians do not have the extra cash flow to own or lease cars. Their only option is public transit. Which in Scarborough, means -- for the most part --waiting for overcrowded buses in Toronto's freezing cold winters. Or riding the TTC's hot and overcrowded buses in Toronto's humid summers.

Therefore, common sense, fairness, equity and even morality, dictate that the priorities of public transit should be directed to helping out those in Toronto's outer lying suburbs, like Scarborough, where public transit is more of a necessity than in Toronto's affluent neighborhoods.

Thirdly, by providing new federal funding to this Scarborough subway, Harper cannot be accused of favoring the mythic conservative base or favoring federal ridings held by exclusively conservative representatives. As four of the current Scarborough federal ridings are held by either NDP or Liberal MPs.

However, this is where things can become very interesting, politically speaking.

I believe all the four Scarborough ridings held by the NDP or Liberals are in play. The Conservatives were competitive in each of these ridings in the last federal election. Harper's renewed interest in the needs of Scarborough residents, especially their particular public transit needs, will have a positive influence on Scarborough residents in the next federal election.

Fourthly, contrary to the desires of certain provincial premiers and mayors, when it comes to infrastructure funding, Harper and his government just do not want to hand over a blank cheque to the premiers or the mayors to fund comprehensive ongoing infrastructure projects. Harper's government prefers project-by-project funding in which the federal government plays a significant role, and accordingly, obtains some credit for its substantive role.

The proposed funding of the Scarborough subway is consistent with these principles, where the Ontario government and the City of Toronto have "skin" (capital) in the game, and where the federal government's contribution and its role are critical to the success of this project.

Fifthly, Harper has a once in a political lifetime situation where the sitting Toronto Mayor is even more socially and fiscally conservative than Harper. Ford is also sincerely friendly to, and supportive of, the Harper government and has a warm and genuine relationship with Finance Minister Flaherty. And Ford has based a large part of his mayoralty on delivering, "subways, subways, subways."

So if Harper can step up to the plate and deliver the fed's capital portion -- say, 600 big ones ($600 million) -- and nail down the Scarborough subway deal, you know that Mayor Ford and his many supporters would be extolling the virtues of the Harper government, from now until through the next federal election. Talk about a huge bang for the federal bucks!

Sixthly, the populist appeal of Rob Ford. I have been closely following Canadian and American politics from the 1960s. I have followed such forceful and charismatic leaders as the Kennedys, (John and Robert), Trudeau, Mulroney, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. I know some of you may think that I am off my meds or smoking illegal substances, but the populist appeal of Rob Ford is the real deal.

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I recently attended Ford Fest in Scarborough where over 15,000 people of all ages, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds (95 per cent in attendance were non-white) came out to see, hear and have their photo taken with Mayor Ford. Not for the free food or beer, but to be with Ford.

This extremely diverse crowd really love this guy. They identify with and trust Ford because they sincerely believe that he will not waste their hard-earned income on unnecessary taxes and unnecessary expenditures. They love the fact that for many years when he was just a political outsider, he did not ding the taxpayers for his office expenses. He also did not abuse their taxpayer money, like so many so-called leftist councillors, who flew all over Canada and the world on the taxpayers' dime.

Ford's simple message of guarding the public purse, cutting waste and providing subways, resonate with the hard-working and striving immigrant communities and the general public throughout the GTA, outside of the elites of downtown Toronto.

My point is that Rob Ford's support and the support of his very real and growing Ford Nation, can contribute to Harper making further inroads into the GTA in the next federal election.

Seventhly, and perhaps the most interesting point. Harper's recent Cabinet shuffle indicates that Harper will continue to play to his strength, that is, his administration's desire and ability to prudently manage the economy, balance the budget and cut taxes.

But I agree with Jamie Watt, well-known political consultant. Harper has to do more. He has to do something fresh. Something innovative and a bit out of the box in order for his party to definitely succeed in the next election.

The Keystone XL pipeline is no slam dunk. Neither is the Canada- EU Free Trade agreement. And both are outside of Harper's control.

By contrast, I think an innovative urban transit initiative is worth pursuing -- deal-bydeal, project-by-project -- but fast-tracked (pun intended).

Using the federal funding of the new Scarborough subway as a template for a successful tripartite co-operation between Ottawa, Ontario and the City of Toronto. In which all three parties have skin in the game. It's a win, win, win, for everyone.

Then using this model aggressively in other urban centres in Ontario, Quebec and other parts of Canada.

The policy objectives are clear and achievable:

  • Reduce gridlock.
  • Provide better public transit to urban immigrant communities. It is time Canada gave to these immigrant communities the respect they deserve and the better means to access work and their homes.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Intensify live/work environments along the public transit lines.
  • Attract government agencies, and public and private companies (with incentives, if necessary) to set up shop along the transit lines. And thus attract jobs. Increase employment.
  • And thus, reduce car usage, carbon emissions and preserve the environment.

So, Mr. Prime Minister: It is time to let your hair down and let your freak out! It's to go large on urban transit, and all its collateral benefits.

And it starts with Scarberia.

Game on, Mr. Prime Minister.