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Former mayor Mel Lastman laments Scarborough subway extension

A one-stop subway will leave “a lot of unhappy people,” Lastman says, wading into the contentious debate while at city hall for a ceremony.
July 12, 2016
By Betsy Powell

Mel Lastman, the first mayor of amalgamated Toronto, suggested Tuesday that an abandoned light-rail transit project made more sense than a single-stop subway extension in Scarborough.

But it’s also too late to reverse course again, he said.

“I love subways, please, I would accept a subway over anything,” said Lastman. He and other past mayors and chairs were at Toronto city hall for the unveiling of pre-amalgamation photo display.

“But when somebody says to me, ‘Here’s a couple of billion dollars and we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay the operating cost, and everything else,’ I couldn’t pass that up, never,’” Lastman told reporters.

Council, which began meeting Tuesday, is being asked to revive the seven-stop LRT line to the Scarborough Town Centre and scrap a proposed extension backed by Mayor John Tory.

The LRT’s cost ($1.8 billion in 2010 dollars) was fully funded by the provincial and federal governments before council voted in 2013 to build a costlier subway extension instead. (The province agreed to negotiate LRT operating costs, but no arrangement was ever reached.)

The switch was regrettable, suggested Lastman, who championed the five-stop Sheppard subway that remains the least-used line in the TTC network.

“Now, that they’re (Scarborough residents) going to get one station - one station and a lot of unhappy people, because they build the one station, then they have to take a bus or something back to where they want to go, and it’s just going to be chaos, and it’s too bad,” the 83-year-old said.

However, Lastman said council should stick to the subway plan even if “everybody loses.”

“The taxpayers for sure, because they’re not going to get what they think they’re going to get, and it’s going to cost taxpayers money.”

Tory, who long ago served as Lastman’s campaign co-chair, joked that the occasion felt like old times, when he tried to manage the notorious shoot-from-the-lip politician in his media scrums.

Lastman, who said he is “living a wonderful life,” said politicians today don’t understand how many people, particularly seniors on fixed incomes, are struggling to make ends meet.

“Take a look at the price of food - you go in to buy apples, take a look at the price, to buy a celery or a lettuce, eight bucks, six bucks - it’s crazy,” Lastman said.

While council was debating next year’s budget direction, Lastman warned councillors there will be “in trouble” if they start to raise taxes that hit Torontonians, because “people can’t afford it.”

“They’re going to get fed up with politicians completely . . . it’s the middle class that are getting hurt, they’re getting hurt bad. There’s not going to be a middle class the way things are going right now.”

Lastman served as mayor of the former city of North York from 1973 until 1997, when he was elected the first mayor of the amalgamated city of Toronto. He served two terms, until 2003.