You have to feel badly for John Tory in some ways. After months of having the contortionist field all to himself, Cirque du Soleil is back in town, giving him a run for his money on the flexibility front.
I speak, of course, about the TTC's number one priority of a subway relief line. You may recall building one drove Mr. Tory to run once more for mayor. "Job one," he called it, and "a top priority," back when the Jays were in first place.
That changed, naturally, in late May, when with nary a technical or financial plan in sight SmartTrack was born. Suddenly, the boring old relief line was "the wrong line at the wrong time." Overnight, Olivia Chow went from being vilified for not thinking it could be built "right away," to being attacked for supporting it at all.
Except Mr. Tory now says he supports a relief line, after all, while besmirching Olivia for also supporting one. Forget that it's absent from his transit map, and that he's proposed not a penny to invest, or that SmartTrack's gargantuan cost will eat all the cash. Those are facts, small obstacles for Mr. Tory's legendary flexibility to navigate as he re-embraces the priority he, well, ditched.
It's here that you have to marvel at his chutzpah's scale, for he similarly says he supports the LRTs along Finch and Sheppard East. These, too, aren't on his transit map. These, too, would be starved of funds thanks to SmartTrack's many billions (you could build phase one of the relief line, three LRT's, and still have $2 billion left over for the price of SmartTrack, but I digress). And these, too, were so strangely not priorities just a few months ago.
But things change, as they always do with Mr. Tory, and apparently people misunderstood. This is odd, because during the provincial election his successor as Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, said he'd nix them. Toss them aside, along with light rail in Mississauga, because he believes in subways. Subways, subways, subways.
Rob Ford was then in rehab and only four candidates were on the hustings. Olivia said Mr. Hudak was wrong, as did Karen Stintz and David Soknacki. Mr. Tory, however, as with so many things, said nothing. He was as quiet as he is on bike lanes.
The thing about Mr. Tory is he gets sloppy now and then. He says something concrete. In an interview with Spacing magazine, he fessed up to the obvious truth: if he has one priority dependent on provincial funds, other priorities would be delayed. For this reason his transit map excludes the LRTs: because he cannot, as in fact he said, "have it both ways."
Winston Churchill once quipped that, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened." So it is with Mr. Tory, who in August said it was a "total fabrication" to think he'd endanger or oppose the LRTs -- which simple logic, as well as his own words, says SmartTrack would replace.
Mr. Tory wants a whopping $8.2 billion from Queen's Park, right away. There's no confirmation he'll get it. Quite the contrary: Moody's has the province on a negative ratings watch thanks to its fiscal issues. No bother for Mr. Tory, of course, who like Mr. Ford, loves big faraway plans, paid for by no-one, but guaranteed to solve gridlock -- if we're patient and wait to let the pixie dust settle.
Lost in all the contortions, and yet still hidden in plain view, is that despite supporting everything, Mr. Tory opposes the one thing that's the fastest, easiest and cheapest: boosting bus service, right now. Maybe buses are too mundane, but they're part of 60 per cent of all TTC rides, carrying about 900,000 people a day.
It's odd, then, that Mr. Tory says yes to everything except the one thing we can do immediately, all by ourselves to get people moving now.
The name of Cirque's show that recently opened, fittingly, is "Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities." And what a curious cabinet Mr. Tory's transit positions are: supporting everything, attacking things he also says he supports, with a rare dose of clarity on the one thing we all know we can do, right now. On that front, he says a clear no -- which is neither smart, nor what we need.
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