It may look like an editorial about Toronto's inadequate public transit infrastructure. But if you were to make it to the last paragraph, you will discover the story is about Mayor John Tory's "modest ambition" of a second term to see his SmartTrack and toll plans come to life.
While the current issue of The Economist magazine is full of praise, it contains many errors about Mr. Tory's transit plans. "Toronto's mayor tries to improve transport" reads the headline. However, soon the editorial morphs into an advertorial for Mr. Tory's bid for a second term.
I find it odd that a publication that covers socio-political developments and finance across the globe would dedicate space to praise "a new light-rail line ... and adding six stations to existing commuter rail lines."
While The Economist credited Mr. Tory for SmartTrack, it failed to mention the more comprehensive provincial government plans to expand the rail transit network under the Regional Express Rail initiative that predated Mr. Tory and encompassed frequent service on Mr. Tory's proposed SmartTrack.
Traffic along Toronto's Queen Street. (Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The Economist didn't stop there. It added that Mr. Tory intends to fund SmartTrack by generating revenue from tolling the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, the two highways that serve downtown Toronto. This is entirely wrong.
Mr. Tory's campaign was based on his plans to fund SmartTrack with Tax Increment Financing (TIF). I was quick to point out in 2014 that TIF-based financing of such magnitude (almost $3 billion) is unprecedented and full of risk. Later, my research, published by the Institute of Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto, exposed the loopholes in the mayor's TIF plans.
In October 2016, City of Toronto's staff reports also concluded that TIF was insufficient to fund SmartTrack. "City staff said that tax increment financing ... to pay for the city's share ... would not be enough," reported The Globe and Mail.
The Economist's scribe points out that $200 million dollars per year are expected from planned tolls to pay for SmartTrack. Not true. The city staff report revealed that after paying for tolling-related costs and the costs to maintain the two highways, fewer than $44 million per year will be available for transit-related investments, which is a piddly sum given the high capital costs of rail transit.
He has been instrumental in ensuring that public transit investments in Toronto are based not on scientific evidence, but on political brinkmanship.
But what takes the cake is The Economist's assertion that the one-stop Scarborough subway extension, an unnecessary replacement of an existing rapid transit line that will gain no new transit riders and will cost over $3.5 billion, is a misstep of the federal government. It quoted unnamed critics who mentioned "federal backing for a proposed six-kilometre subway extension" as an example of "silly projects" that cities embark on with free federal dollars.
For the record, Mr. Tory has been the one promoting the subway extension in Scarborough. Transit experts in the city, Metrolinx, academia and independent consultants, have pointed out that there are no real benefits to expanding the subway in Scarborough. They advised the mayor not to waste scarce public dollars on transit infrastructure that will worsen transit accessibility for riders by eliminating existing light rail stations.
Mr. Tory, however, did not pay heed to the expert advice and arm-twisted the council to approve his subway plans. What motivates the mayor to pursue the unnecessary subway extension in Scarborough? If you guessed Mr. Tory's re-election bid, you guessed it right.
Mayor John Tory speaks at Bathurst station, redone to look like local discount store Honest Ed's. (Photo: Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
The mayor knows he will have to compete against Doug Ford, who outpolled Mr. Tory and Olivia Chow in the last mayoral elections in suburban Scarborough and Etobicoke. Mr. Ford has championed the Scarborough subway given his suburban political base. Mr. Tory is acutely aware of the political calculus, and hence he keeps backing the subway plans even when the costs continue to inflate.
Mr. Tory is no transit messiah. In fact, he has been instrumental in ensuring that public transit investments in Toronto are based not on scientific evidence, but on political brinkmanship. The Economist did not notice that on December 13 last year, Mr. Tory voted to defeat a motion in the city council that advocated for evidence-based approaches to prioritize transit infrastructure spending.
How is it possible for The Economist to get so many facts wrong in one story? For a magazine whose 174-year-old history includes railway publications, getting so many facts wrong on a rail story is disconcerting for its loyal readers.
We don't know the identity of the unnamed critics responsible for pivoting the blame for the misguided subway plans from Mr. Tory to the feds. They were smart enough to fool The Economist. But will they be smart enough to fool the electorate in the 2018 mayoral elections?
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
Given the key in: 1998, when he appeared at the SkyDome in front of 45,000 students for "Mandela and the Children" Nelson Mandela toasts Canada at a downtown Toronto hotel, June 18, 1990. (Patti Gower/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 1998 Bobby Rahal Molson, Indy '96, July 14, 1996. (Photo by Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 1998 Mickey Rooney (Photo by John Mahler/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 1999 Celine Dion, at Canada's Walk of Fame in 1999. (Photo by Ken Faught/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 1999
Given the key in: 1999 Yo-Yo Ma 12/13/01 Yo -Yo Ma rehearses with TSO on Dec. 13, 2001. (Photo by Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 2000 J.K. Rowling entertained a large crowd of schoolkids, and a few adults, at Skydome, Oct. 24, 2007. (Photo by Tony Bock/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 2000 Desmond Tutu, May 30, 1986. (Photo by Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 2001 Jackie Chan at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, 2005. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)
Given the key in: 2001 Italian Actor Sophia Loren laughs during a news conference discussing her new film 'Between Strangers' which was written and directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 13, 2002. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Given the key in: 2001 Sylvester Stallone, March 3, 1997. (Photo by Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Given the key in: 2002 Muhammad Ali during Muhammad Ali in Person for 'The Greatest Good' at Skydome in Toronto, Oct. 20, 2002. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
Given the key in: 2002 Tiger Woods watches as the Toronto Raptors play the Orlando Magic in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at Amway Arena on April 28, 2008.
Given the key in: 2003 The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards along with concert promoter Michael Cohl (2nd from left) receive Keys to the City from the Mayor of Toronto, Mel Lastman (2nd from right) (Photo by KMazur/WireImage for Molson Sports and Entertainment)
Given the key in: 2003
Given the key in: 2010 The Dalai Lama greets Justin Trudeau before speaking to approximately 25,000 people in Toronto, Sunday April 25, 2004. (Photo by Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Follow Murtaza Haider on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@regionomics