Long transit commutes an issue in Scarborough-Rouge River provincial byelection
The choice on Sept. 1 in Scarborough-Rouge River seems to be between parties who say “Let’s build the Scarborough Subway,” and those who say it isn’t being built quickly enough.
Blaming the Liberal government for its residents’ long commutes on transit is certainly an option in the northeastern Scarborough riding.
But on Monday morning, when NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and candidate Neethan Shan boarded a TTC bus on Seasons Drive in Morningside Heights for a two-hour journey to Queen’s Park, they did so suggesting, first, that people in the riding suffer because of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s “inaction” in building better transit.
And second, that Shan, if elected, will fight to “make sure the Scarborough Subway finally gets built.”
The party’s release didn’t mention the $3.2-billion subway extension now ends at Scarborough Town Centre, south of Hwy. 401, instead of reaching the riding at Sheppard Avenue, as promised originally.
There was no mention either of the earlier proposal for a light-rail line from Kennedy Station to Sheppard and Progress Avenue as a possible alternative. Horwath and Shan sounded as sold on the merits of the one-stop subway as Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“It needs to happen right away,” said Shan, who lives in Morningside Heights and is also a local school board trustee.
“First thing is to get the shovels in the ground, so we can get moving.”
The Liberal candidate Piragal Thiru said he’s thrilled about the subway.
Yes, it will only go to Scarborough Town Centre, but “overall, people are pleased” and think it’s a great start, Thiru said in a recent interview.
The Liberal government, he added, is making infrastructure investments like no other, and as MPP he wants to “continue to build on these investments,” which include building GO Rail service along the Stouffville corridor which will get commuters from Milliken Station to Union Station “in a little over 35 minutes.”
In a statement this week, he rejected the NDP charge the Liberal governnment, more than 13 years in power, has not significantly improved transit in Scarborough-Rouge River.
Progressive Conservative Party candidate Raymond Cho, a city councillor in the riding for 25 years, wants the subway too.
But Cho said he’s fighting to extend the subway north to Sheppard, though the Toronto Council he sits on has ruled out that possibility.
Cho has also said he wants to build a Sheppard Subway extension from Don Mills to at least as far east as Morningside Avenue. Both projects – if they ever get built – would reach edges of the riding, but the PCs have not offered to pay for them.
There’s been no talk in the campaign about the Eglinton East light-rail line from Kennedy Station to the University of Toronto Scarborough, which council approved this year but left unfunded, putting its construction in doubt.
Earlier this year, a group called 1loveMalvern called for the LRT line to be extended north to Malvern Town Centre, but the request didn’t get much attention.
The Sheppard East LRT line, which is funded and would run along the route of Cho’s imagined Sheppard subway, is meanwhile in limbo, delayed by the province until after 2021. Many believe it won’t be built.
Vincent Puhakka, a volunteer with Scarborough Transit Action, said he’s glad attention is being paid to transit in Scarborough-Rouge River byelection.
But on Tuesday, he said if there’s blame for not improving transit in the riding, it lies with councillors who blocked proposed LRT lines to the riding, which would have been built and running by now, and with MPPs who “played weathervane” and didn’t defend those projects.
Puhakka’s also disappointed with positions the byelection candidates are taking on transit and the Scarborough Subway, which he argued won’t help residents who aren’t headed downtown.
“They’re thinking very small,” he said.
Other candidates in the riding are Green Priyan De Silva, Libertarian Allen Small, Ania Krosinska of the Trillium Party, Wayne Simmons of Freedom Party and Dwight Mclean of The People.