Why the premier's Ontario Line is straight out of the modern leaders' playbook - 2019-07-29
Except on Twitter, where the usual transit suspects are busy debating the finer points of Doug Ford's Ontario Line, the premier's proposed subway has already blurred into middle space. Out in the real world, the scheme was never taken seriously. The assumption, largely unspoken, is that of course it will never be built. Why would it? Even if the discredited Ford weren't its proponent, promises like this are now understood to be little more than a form of phatic communication, words spoken to convey empathy and feeling, not meaning. They speak of what we'd like, not what we expect. They come from a magical land where there are no budget restraints, no bean counters, no politics ... And because of social media, such outlandish claims have become a major part of the modern leaders' playbook.
Such pledges and claims are nothing new — usually they disappear along with the politicians who make them. And if they do materialize, typically they are compromised beyond recognition. Either that or they had little to do with reality to begin with. In Toronto, for instance, the most recent subways — the Sheppard Line and the Yonge-Spadina extension to Vaughan — were intended to serve political ambitions rather than practical needs. Then there's the Crosstown, now under construction several decades after then-premier Mike Harris killed the original Eglinton subway after work had begun. But the new line will be an LRT not a subway, a cheap-out we'll always regret. The subway Toronto needs most, the one that would actually move the greatest number of people, is the downtown relief line. First proposed in 1910, it would add capacity to the system not simply increase ridership. The difference, though crucial, is lost on decision-makers who'd rather extend the metro indefinitely. And so Bloor, Eglinton and Union stations are routinely, sometimes dangerously, overcrowded.