Bless Mayor John Tory’s boyish enthusiasm. While myopic cynics denounce the federal government’s recently announced transit funding program as the shadow of a future mirage — nothing more than a wishful “to do” list for someone else to undertake at some more convenient time — Tory triumphantly hailed his fellow Tories’ trickery as “a major step forward for Canada and for Toronto.”Open policard for MayorJohn Tory
“Finally, and for the first time in history, Canada has a permanent national fund for transit that will soon add up to $1 billion annually for transit projects,” he said.
Finally, the job is done. Soon it will be about to happen. At last the circle is squared.
Myopic cynics will remember the last time the Harper government announced an exciting transit initiative in a budget speech. The finance minister was Jim Flaherty, the year 2008, and the promise was a high-speed rail link between Toronto and Peterborough.
The plan was a bolt from the blue that short-circuited many more pressing transit priorities but did land squarely in the popular finance minister’s political backyard. “At least 900 Durham and Peterborough-area commuters are about to get the kind of rail service to Union Station that would make thousands of transit-hungry GTA commuters cry with envy,” this newspaper commented.
But it was a promise, announced in the budget to boot, and everybody likes “high-speed rail.” Flaherty had planted his pot o’ gold way over the rainbow in Peterborough, and it was good.
It was good enough, at least, to get local MP Dean Del Mastro re-elected — but least is where it stayed. The rest of the tale is farce.
Today the so-called Shining Waters Railway is the forgotten shell of an inert enterprise that last appeared in public to beg a reluctant Peterborough council for $2,500 to maintain the insurance on its non-operations. It has no trains, no track, no money and no future. The most recent “update” on its website is a four-year-old story from the Peterborough Examiner with the headline, “Del Mastro says trains will run by 2014 — THE LATEST.”
One needn’t hate Tories to see the essential folly of promising to do something in a future that none can predict. The late minister might well have followed through had unkind fate not intervened. Del Mastro might have applied himself more steadily to the task had he not been forced to resign his seat in shame with the law on his back.
But there is something essentially Toryish about such dissembling. After all, they just did it again — making a big transit promise in a budget on whose balance sheet it does not appear. Who knows where we’ll be in 2017 when this government, if it exists, promises to spread funds across Canada that are only capable of building a single subway station? The plan is not even worth thinking about.
In this condition, the Conservatives show themselves as the ironic victims of their own success. Having succeeded in shrinking government by eliminating programs, cutting taxes and driving down debt, they have proportionately shrunk their capacity to deliver the goods.
Ideologically, the lack of such goods is a sign of success. Practically speaking, it’s a problem. Hence the need for lucky charms and pots o’ gold and other magic incantations. The “five-year projection,” a favourite Tory phrase, is budget-speak for over the rainbow. With new spending inadmissible, the substance of their budgets is fun with figures.
As we are seeing with the even more recent provincial budget, the established pattern requires the province to tackle necessary work largely on its own nickel. But without federal assistance, even Charles Sousa’s more earnest and substantial promises are perilous.
Just ask Peterborough, whose transit fate was quietly palmed off on the province after the federal promise evaporated. The province now runs GO buses down to Oshawa, where Toronto-bound passengers can board a train for the balance of the journey. Meanwhile, the private-sector bus companies that once offered direct transit between the two cities have cut service in the face of competition from GO.
The unhappy result is that direct public transit between Toronto and Peterborough has never been less convenient than it is today, more than a century after the first steam train puffed through the hills to the east.
Harper also is expected to restore British insignia and rank designations to our air force and navy.
“This takes nothing away from the Maple Leaf,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay said defensively in making the official announcement on Monday.
“There are other places which the Maple Leaf is honoured,” he added, insisting the move is merely a return to tradition and in no way diminishes Canada’s image as an independent nation.
How does this not hurt our image?
With this change, Harper has taken the main distinctive Canadian symbol off our military uniforms, the one the world would instantly recognize as “Canada.”
And why order the change at all? There was no obvious pressure either from the public or the military to make the switch, especially after 45 years of having our own insignia and military ranks.
It’s especially odd given all the issues facing the military at this time, particularly the huge budget cuts that are coming and the growing concerns over the military’s handling of personnel returning from Afghanistan.
The real answer likely lies with Harper’s love affair with British symbols and traditions.
When “Royal” was put back into the navy and air force names, MacKay said it was done to correct a “mistake,” a reference to the 1968 decision made by the Liberal government as part of its program to unify the forces.
As Harper moves to promote our outdated British ties with silly moves such as ridding the army of the Maple Leaf insignia, most Canadians have long tired of honouring the British royalty and traditions.
On Friday, for instance, lawyers will argue in a Toronto courtroom that it is against the Charter to force applicants for citizenship to swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen and her heirs based on their belief that the “monarchy is an anti-democratic relic of the past.”
Also, Democracy Watch, a non-profit citizens’ group, launched a national petition two weeks ago to elect U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert as “King of Canada.” The gimmicky campaign is aimed at getting Canadians to think seriously about replacing the Queen with an elected head of state.