September 25, 2014
It is time I addressed John Tory’s Smart Track.
John Tory may win the Toronto election based on other ideas and the ability to have a consistent message. But with the biggest issue being transit, I don’t know how someone can make claims simply based on selling this idea as bold and finally getting to yes. I agree that the region is far behind in transit planning. I have been extremely frustrated myself. Financing SmartTrack using tax increment financing, which was low on Metrolinx’s Investment Strategy and within the Transit Panel goes to show that his team will do anything to sell ideas on a tired and frustrated, yet naive public wanting transit to be built now.
The voters already know there are deep concerns with large infrastructure projects being financed by this mechanism. San Diego and Brooklyn’s Hudson Yards have been known failures.
I will throw out another quote which stemmed from the Edmonton arena debate. TIF, which was aptly named a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) was addressed by then Councillor (now Mayor) Don Iveson in 2013:
..the success of the CRL is contingent on the surrounding development going ahead, and I will say that if the surrounding development does go ahead, this will all work out.
But there is a bet here – because if the development doesn’t go ahead then regular taxpayers will wind up on the hook. So that billion plus dollars better be invested tomorrow.
Iveson was one of several councillors who voted against the CRL.
Edmonton isn’t exactly a hotbed for development. So there is even a greater risk there. The Rogers Arena will go ahead as planned and be built by 2016. But will the financing be there? The risk will be there. Truth be told, this is a low risk politically but there are plenty of unknowns.
The Tory campaign has laid off showing the map because of its structural flaws, but also its references to Stapleton Airport’s TIF. Even the right wing think tank Cato Institute has some serious concerns about TIF funding large infrastructure projects. TIF in the United States has been used to redevelop blighted neighbourhoods. This is a known fact. Some of the questions I would have as a concerned resident of eastern Toronto (refuse to say Scarborough) looking for immediate transit relief would be:
- Which areas along the SmartTrack corridor are blighted?
- Who will be displaced?
- Will there be any upzoning and rezoning of industrial lands? Where will those jobs go?
- What will be the financial risk to developers if this financing plan goes ahead?
- Why haven’t other revenue tools been addressed to fund SmartTrack and where is the financing plan?
This should not be about favouring one transit mode or another nor is it about not taking risks. GTA’ers, not just Torontonians, want a viable transit plan with the financial certainties. This is what the Big Move and the Investment Strategy were all about. This is the plan what we should be moving forward with.
Metrolinx is already studying the operational feasibility of a Regional Rail service. But does eastern Toronto deserve faster service over the regional GO Lakeshore Line? Does Eastern Toronto deserve better service than the transit ghetto of Northwestern Toronto, better known as Rexdale? This is just merely playing politics where the Fords controlled the message and the Liberals won on during the by-election.
It should be the collective leadership of Toronto and the other cities and regions, as well as the province to come up with the best financing plan possible. Not something that has low political risk that can get you easily elected. Leadership is about taking risks. SmartTrack is a plan that’s setting up as a leadership fail. It is also just a big marketing flop.