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Last surviving former mayor of Scarborough urges council to build LRTs

"Scarborough for Scarborough is improved LRT," says former Scarborough mayor Paul Cosgrove
July 10, 2016
By Jennifer Pagliaro

It’s been nearly 40 years since Paul Cosgrove has sat in council chambers for a good debate.

But it’s the decades-old controversy over transit for Scarborough that is calling him back to city hall next week.

At 81, the last surviving mayor of pre-amalgamation Scarborough will renew his advocacy for light rail to Scarborough’s city centre. Cosgrove told the Star by phone from his home in Brockville that he plans to be in the gallery on Tuesday when the current 45-member council is expected to again debate whether to build a subway or an LRT connection.

“The Scarborough that I knew were practical people,” said Cosgrove, who was mayor from 1973 to 1978. A high-capacity subway, serving far fewer people, was unaffordable then, he said. Now, at an estimated cost of at least $3.2 billion, he said little has changed.

“I’m somewhat baffled by the debate that we’re having now . . . The capital for the subway is not justified. The ridership is not justified. The future maintenance is not justified.”

In Cosgrove’s day, what was then brand-new streetcar technology was proposed for a line in its own right-of way, costing $108.7 million. It was planned to run from the yet-to-be-built Kennedy station on the Bloor-Danforth line to the Scarborough Town Centre, which opened in 1973.

In 1977, the streetcar line was the largest single investment approved by Metro Council in a 23-8 vote. But it didn’t come without “heated debate,” the Star noted then. Even using the cheaper light-rail technology, council critics argued the cost of the project was not justified.

“It was a battle to get people to think that we could even get LRT into Scarborough,” Cosgrove said, adding talk of a further subway extension at the time was “laughable.”
“My push as mayor was to bring some modern sense to Scarborough . . . My thrust was to build a city as they were building North York and Etobicoke.”

While there was and still is a need to connect Scarborough’s centre to the existing TTC system, Cosgrove said the majority of people in Scarborough are looking for a way to get around within Scarborough - what is confirmed by a recent analysis of transit trips studied by the city.

But after Cosgrove’s municipal days, the plans changed again and the trains that now run as the Scarborough RT were introduced - what was a costly and controversial debate that many have argued left Scarborough residents feeling disenfranchised. The RT line opened in 1985.

Cosgrove went on to work on Parliament Hill, where he bunked with fellow Liberal MP and now Scarborough Councillor Norm Kelly. He was later appointed a federal court judge, a position he eventually resigned amid controversy with the Attorney General’s office.

Today, Cosgrove questions why the RT technology was never improved upon, using the same route to build the modern light rail he once dreamed of. That was what was proposed by former mayor David Miller as part of his Transit City plan. And it is still the funded agreement on paper with the province today, despite council’s backing of a subway in 2013 at the urging of former mayor Rob Ford.

“The politicians used to say, ‘vote for me and I’ll put a chicken in every pot,’ kind of thing. And Mr. Ford came along and said vote for me and I’ll put a subway at your front door,” Cosgrove said. “I’m amazed that that myth has taken a hold.”

As plans to design a subway have moved ahead, with Mayor John Tory championing a revised one-stop “express” extension, Cosgrove said a move by some on council to revive the seven-stop LRT that would serve the Town Centre is an honourable goal.

Cosgrove will be watching.

True, he offered up, it will be good to reminisce about the old days of fighting for his eastern part of the city. But mostly he wants to be in the chamber to hear in person the arguments for a subway he still can’t reconcile.

“I can’t fathom that they would carry the day,” he said.

For Scarborough residents, he said proposed spending on a subway - if it means a trade-off of an “improved way of getting around to work and to other things” in the community - would mean “again, they would get the short end of the stick.”