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Tory's LRT fence-sitting leaves door open for political opportunists

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti really doesn’t like the planned Finch West LRT.

Before October’s election, he expressed his distaste for the project by renting a large truck and having it pull a U-turn across Finch. It was a confusing attempt to show that the LRT right-of-way would cause traffic tie-ups. He later charged the cost of renting the truck to his councillor expense account.

Now with an inexplicable new mandate, Mammoliti’s hatred for the project endures. Last week he pledged to bring a motion to council’s first meeting that would cancel the LRT and redirect the roughly $1 billion in project funds toward mayor-elect John Tory’s SmartTrack. He told the Toronto Sun that this would be a “little gift for the newly-elected mayor.”

Tory, to his credit, didn’t embrace the idea. But he didn’t do enough to dismiss it either.

“Transit decisions in this city will be made, of course, by the city council working with the province and the federal government, and I've indicated my top two work priorities, which are the Scarborough subway and SmartTrack,” said the mayor-elect.

Priorities! And not just regular priorities, but “work priorities!” It's the same basic message we heard variations of a thousand times throughout his campaign. Tory doesn’t oppose the LRTs, but he’s not exactly an enthusiastic supporter either — they’re just not his priorities.

We should all be really tired of this.

Tory’s fence-sitting on LRT projects was frustrating during the election, but at least his stance was sort of understandable from a political perspective. Mayor Rob Ford and Coun. Doug Ford polluted the transit debate enough that Tory needed to remain somewhat neutral on the LRT issue, lest he alienate voters who had bought into the Ford’s subways-or-nothing rhetoric. It was cynical politics, but that's the game.

But the election is over. Tory will be mayor through 2018 — at least. As we’ve learned repeatedly over the last four years, it's pretty much impossible to remove a sitting mayor of Toronto. Short of committing a capital crime on live television, Tory has got the job no matter what.

So it’s time to stop hedging and start making some decisions. This notion that Tory can only have two top transit priorities is absurd. A good mayor must have a whole bunch of priorities. There’s no bandwidth limit here.

And besides, it’s not as if the LRT projects on Sheppard and Finch even require that much work. They’re as close to shovel-ready as transit projects in Toronto get. The funding is in place from the provincial government. The master agreement contract is signed by all parties. The Environmental Assessments are complete and have been approved by council.

About the only thing this council has to do to see these projects built is not muck with them — or give the provincial government cover to muck with them.

But without a clear indication from Tory that he wants to see the LRT projects go forward, councillors like Mammoliti will enthusiastically wade into that muck. He and several others have shown over the past four years that they’re willing to tolerate delayed transit and huge cancellation costs if it means scoring political points.

Tory has a chance to put an end to that, but it won’t stop if he sticks with vague talk of LRTs not being his “work priorities.” That kind of  hedging is best left on the campaign trail.

Tory needs to make a decision, and he needs to be clear about what that decision is. Either he's willing to make the LRTs on Sheppard and Finch part of his transit plan or he isn't.

It would be nice if he could let us know which way he’s leaning before guys like Mammoliti take his fence-sitting as an opportunity to screw with Toronto’s transit plans some more.

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