The performance of our new mayor, John Tory, Is slipping.
He is turning out to be a polished politician, not a visionary city-builder.
Tory is eloquent, almost to a fault.
He utters all the right words but his words lack real meaning. He is a man who started his term in office by commendably declaring his aim was to decide issues on the basis of facts, not political expediency.
Unfortunately he has failed badly in his two first major city planning tests.
ory’s first failure is his determination to continue the heavily, politically influenced, former council decision to build an expensive, 3-stop Scarborough subway requiring a property tax increase for many years.
For reasons of political convenience, Tory still dismisses the less expensive, 7-stop, surface LRT in its own right-of-way completely funded by the province.
The originally intended subway route is belatedly being challenged by Tory’s own, much promoted, nearby SmartTrack proposal. New subway routes will cost considerably more.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper supports Tory.
With an eye fixed on the coming federal election Oct. 19, Harper has just offered an election goodie of $2.6 billion in some undefined future representing one-third of the assumed-but-not-firm $8 billion SmartTrack cost.
Tory’s second failure is his recent choice of the future of the elevated Gardiner Expressway East between Jarvis St. and the Don Valley Parkway.
On one hand he claims to be fiscally responsible. On the other, he chooses to keep the existing, crumbling, elevated Gardiner Expressway (misleadingly still called the Hybrid) at great cost. The alternative is a less expensive, wide, landscaped, surface Boulevard like University Ave.
The Boulevard has the support of knowledgeable citizens and officials. Our energetic, public-spirited chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat and all former chief planners favour it.
So does David Crombie, our former “tiny, perfect mayor” who had supported Tory in his election bid last fall.
In the intensive Gardiner debate, Tory sadly misled the public.
Among his many public utterances, he omitted to say the Boulevard would free up more land for valuable development than the Hybrid.
He ignored that the city will have to pay developers for their expensive land required by Hybrid ramps around Cherry St. He overlooked the fact many world cities have removed old elevated expressways with positive results.
The city council vote on June 11 was set to be extremely close.
Suburban and urban councillors were evenly split. Tory squeezed through a razor-thin victory with three votes, 24 to 21. He was forced to buy two crucial supporters, council’s new Lone Wolf, Jim Karygiannis, and old Clown-Prince Giorgio Mammoliti.
Tory had to agree to direct city staff to waste their already crowded time on a former tunnel proposal favoured by these maverick councillors.
This proposal had much earlier been rejected for reasons of construction problems and excessive cost.
Action on Tory’s slim victory, however, is not assured. Actual Gardiner East action will be delayed, probably even a few years.
There is still the complication of a council-directed study of an alternative Hybrid route with a report in September.
There are probable, complicated, expensive lawsuits by private land owners.
The Environment Assessment (EA) may also trip Tory up. EA’s examine in detail all possible implications of a proposed project. They are very time consuming.
The Gardiner East EA has yet to be completed. It must then be evaluated and approved by the province. This process includes public input.
Present indications are that the Hybrid is not doing well meeting the EA terms of reference.
Our city’s next major planning issue will be the private proposal to add jets on an expanded Toronto IsIand airport. The jet issue will again pit business interests against comprehensive city building.
Tory has bought himself some time on the jet issue by declaring a conflict of interest.
His son is commercially involved in airport activities. But Tory’s backroom influence may well be brought to bear.
The Gardiner East public debate reignited our destructive urban/suburban division.
The division was solidified 17 years ago in 1998 by Conservative Premier Mike Harris.
He forcefully imposed this “megacity” based on the wrong assumption one size fits all.
Although Tory’s main voter support is urban, he now woos right-wing suburbs.
His true Conservative pedigree seems to be revealing itself.