Ontario budget targets traffic gridlock and a subway to York

The daily commute in the Toronto area should get easier thanks to a provincial budget that will provide funding for a Toronto subway to York University and Vaughan, reported the Toronto Star March 24. The gridlock-battling proposals got the green light as part of the $1.2 billion in new infrastructure spending outlined in the Ontario budget. While there are still some funding issues to work out – the province will pay one-third of costs but local governments and Ottawa will have to fund the rest – the early indicators are encouraging. The federal government has indicated it is prepared to discuss the various transit projects, and the province said it will help cities find ways to raise money to pay their share. The Greater Toronto Area was the biggest beneficiary with $838 million committed by the province for transit funds. And much of that money will go to the Spadina subway extension. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the province will place $670 million into a trust fund by next Friday to help Toronto and York Region expand the Spadina subway to Jane and Highway 7, where Vaughan hopes to build a “downtown”.

Subway extension is a $2-billion project, but the provincial commitment is irrevocable, the Star said. “We want the subway,” Duncan told reporters. “We put our money in the trust. That money is not coming back to the province. It’s there for public transit. This is the city of Toronto’s top priority. This is the Region of York’s top priority. We’re clear. This money is for public transit.” The Spadina subway extension, which could take up to seven years to build, will carry about 100,000 riders, eliminating 83,000 car trips a day, while taking some commuting pressure off the over-packed Yonge Street line, Duncan said. It could also help unite a region, which too often acts like a house divided. “That link is a critical transportation link in Toronto because it links downtown to the 905 and creates a new transportation hub in Vaughan,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller. “We should be city building. These links should have been done years ago.” It will also spur development, helping create a “downtown” Vaughan at a new terminus at Jane and Highway 7. That is now a hodgepodge of car shops, parking lots and big-box stores. “We’re talking about jobs and businesses locating in those areas,” said Bill Fisch, York Region chairman.

York University officials were also ecstatic about the prospects of improved service for 65,000 students and staff but pointed out it was just as significant that the subway crossed the 416-905 divide, the Star said. “It’s one of the few projects that talk about knitting the region together,” said Bud Purves, president of the York University Development Corporation. “There is a city of Toronto but there’s really an Ontario growth strategy. That’s what this is all about.” The budget contemplates the creation this spring of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority to plan and co-ordinate transit between Toronto and its neighbours, the Star also reported. 

In other coverage of the budget and the subway:

  • In a story that noted the bulk of the provincial government’s budget was directed at Toronto, the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post reported March 24 that spending includes $670 million to extend a subway line to York University and beyond, a project that is at least 10 years from completion, according to officials. Toronto’s transit commission will also receive an additional one-time bailout in the form of $200 million in operational funding.The transit spending is the single biggest investment of its kind since the mid-1970s, officials said.
  • In its budget coverage, the National Post reported comments by Toronto Mayor David Miller that funding contained in the provincial budget will allow Toronto to limit its 2006 residential property tax hike but will not head off a TTC fare increase. Miller said the city’s budget woes are now over. However the budget is unlikely to avert a 10 cents hike in the price of TTC tickets and tokens planned for April 1. If approved, the $2-billion project will add six kilometres of track to the system and five stations, including one at York University. Miller said the city “would have to work” to find money to contribute towards the construction.
  • The Globe and Mail reported that the budget would improve transit service to the 65,000 people who commute to York University, which is the second-largest generator of single-person auto use in Greater Toronto after Pearson International Airport.
  • The Windsor Star reported that Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was immediately pounced upon by critics in the opposition parties and media for his generosity to the vote-rich GTA, which will receive a $1-billion transit bonanza by month’s end, of which about $670 million will go toward a subway line to York University and beyond.
  • CFTO-TV (Toronto) took a detailed look at the provincially funded TTC subway extension to York on its evening news progam.
  • Noah Zatzman, a fourth-year student in York’s Faculty of Arts, and Bud Purves, president of York Development Corporation, were interviewed on CBC-TV (Toronto) after the subway extension was announced.
  • Sebastien Reinstien, first-year student in York’s Atkinson School of Administrative Studies, and Jaswant Bahra, first-year student in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, were interviewed about the expected announcement of the Spadina subway extension on Global TV March 23.

Subway seen as long overdue – or creating more sprawl 

Commentators were quick to offer opinions March 24 on the Ontario budget’s funding of the subway project. Toronto Star provincial affairs columnist Ian Urquhart wrote that boiled down to its basics, the provincial budget amounts to this: The government found itself with a $3 billion windfall in unexpectedly high revenues and low interest payments and pondered what to do with it. The government had several options, among which was make a one-time investment in major infrastructure projects, including the extension of the Spadina subway to York University in Toronto. It was the right choice economically. The investment is long overdue, given the growing gridlock problem in the Greater Toronto Area. The Toronto subway system, once the city’s pride and joy, has fallen behind Montreal’s Metro, which started a decade after the Yonge Street line first opened.

National Post columnist Terence Corcoran noted in a front page column that the biggest fiscal gambit of the budget takes $1.2-billion in windfall revenue this year, money that could have balanced the budget, and “invests” most of it in a “trust fund,” the money to be spent at some far-off time to reduce the “transportation deficit.” The bulk of the money will be allocated to a major expansion of Toronto’s massively mismanaged subway system and to fund a new mega-agency, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA). Around the world, subsidized public transit expansion has been the biggest spur to urban territorial expansion, or sprawl. Build a subsidized transit system, and people will follow it. By adding another extension to Toronto’s subway system out to York University and beyond, McGuinty, the Greenbelt activist, would increase the incentive for people to move to the suburbs.

What level of sports keeps kids fit for life?

In a story about a study by Joe Baker, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, on sport specialization in children, the Toronto Star March 24 reported that early specialization, favoured by many sport programs, has been linked to increased injury, decreased enjoyment and a reduction in the length of the athlete’s career. Baker is bothered by the idea “that you can train kids like they’re mini-adults” and that we seem to be moving away from the idea of sport as play. “I think this has to do with the over structuring of sports these days,” Baker says. “The idea of going to play pickup hockey is rapidly disappearing. Now, if kids want to play hockey or soccer, they’ve got to do it through a structured organization.” Baker says he specifically didn’t study master skaters or gymnasts, partly because those sports experiences are so intense that they could rarely lay the groundwork for continuing fitness. Add to that the damage that many young gymnasts and skaters do to their bodies, which makes them unable to continue in the sport for very long.

For Lions’ Foley, farming’s in the blood

York Lions football player Ricky Foley has absorbed enough football knowledge to go along with his natural athleticism to be a potential first-round pick in next month’s CFL college draft, reported the Toronto Star March 24. Foley, 23, is among 50 players who are going through a battery of physical and skill tests before a horde of CFL coaches, general managers and personnel co-ordinators at the two-day evaluation camp in Mississauga and Oakville. Making it with a CFL team is not only an end in itself, but also a means to an end for the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder. He’s counting on a successful CFL career to return one day to the farm life that he admits he dearly misses.

Foley was an excellent decathlete who honed his skills at York University, said the Star. When the track coach learned he wanted to play football he recommended him to York football coach Tom Gretes. A few days before the start of 2002 training camp he was accepted into York. Foley’s growth as a football player was a slow, steady and often lonely trial. And he makes no pretence of the fact he’s at York to become a professional football player not a scholar. It’s his way of one day returning to the farm.

Investment in responsibility

Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar on March 24 focused on York alumnus Ran Goel (BBA ‘02) and his efforts to organize a campaign for responsible investment at the University of Toronto where he is studying law. “This isn’t a hotbed of activism,” he says with a slight smile. But Goel cares deeply about the environment, human rights and corporate ethics. And he thinks a university campus is the right place to start acting on these issues. The second-year law student, holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a business degree from the Schulich School of Business at York.

Ex-CAW strategist, now York professor, raps ‘concessions’

A former top strategist for the Canadian Auto Workers is criticizing the union’s leadership for accepting recent workplace changes at General Motors and setting a “dangerous precedent” for the labour movement, reported the Toronto Star March 24. Sam Gindin, Packer Visiting Professor in Social Justice in York’s Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, and the retired long-time assistant to CAW president Buzz Hargrove and former president Bob White, says the changes amount to significant concessions at GM’s Oshawa operations and are a sharp reversal of the union’s own principles in opposing them. Furthermore, Gindin, who was also the CAW’s research director and economist for many years, said the moves to save jobs by the formerly militant union at what already are GM’s best assembly plants could have serious consequences for workers elsewhere. “The past role of the union gives the latest reversal a heightened significance,” Gindin said. “Moreover, the status of the Oshawa facility means that concessions here set up the most dangerous precedent for not just other auto workers, but all workers – if here, why not everywhere?”

However, Hargrove and White, who remain friends with Gindin, rejected his remarks, saying GM workers didn’t give up any wages and benefits and the union continues to fight concession demands vigorously. Gindin, who now teaches political economy at York University after 26 years with the union, said that opening up the local agreement in Oshawa threatens to end an era in which the CAW led the labour movement’s fight against concession demands by companies. “The CAW was born in the early 1980s out of fighting concessions when everything seemed to suggest it was impossible,” he said in an interview. “The great insight of the leadership of the CAW lay in understanding the longer-term costs of voluntarily opening up collective agreements to surrender past gains.”

Karademir is putting Turkey on winter sports map

The odds seem stacked against her, but York student Tugba Karademir is helping put Turkey on the winter sports map, reported Canadian Press March 24. She was Turkey’s flag-bearer at the Olympics last month, and she finished 21st in the women’s figure skating event. At the world championships this week, she has advanced through qualifying and will skate in the short program Friday. “I’d love to be the first Turkish medallist,” she says. “That’d be awesome.” Maybe someday. The 21-year-old skater has already come a long way, and moving to Canada eight years ago started her on her way to success in the sport she loves. She trains at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont., coaches children on a part-time basis, and also is a first-year biotechnology student at Toronto’s York University. She has dual citizenship now, but it will always be her native land that she represents. “Winter sports aren’t big in Turkey, but since I was at the Olympics it’s got a lot more buzz,” she says. “Maybe in the future there’ll be more Winter Olympians from Turkey.”

 On air

  • Stephanie Martin, professor in York’s Music Department, Faculty of Fine Arts, joined in on a discussion of favourite music and musicians on TVO’s “More to Life” March 23.