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THE CITY: Sheppard LRT delay has this councillor thrilled

THE CITY: Sheppard LRT delay has this councillor thrilled

Scarborough-Mirror April 30, 2015 David Nickle

Jim Karygiannis, the new councillor for Scarborough-Agincourt Ward 39, had what to outsiders might seem a novel reaction to word that a major infrastructure improvement touching his ward was to be postponed, possibly indefinitely. He was, to use his own words, “ecstatic.”

Councillor Karygiannis’ delight in failure is not so mysterious when you look at the particulars: the infrastructure being a light-rail line along Sheppard Avenue East – and Ward 39 being located on the bleeding edge of Scarborough.

Karygiannis won the seat in 2014, campaigning heavily against the Sheppard LRT and promising to fight for what was long ago promised to Scarborough residents: a subway, connecting the foreshortened Sheppard subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. Mel Lastman first promised it when he was Mayor of North York in the early 1990s; Rob Ford promised it in 2010 when he ran for his single term as mayor.

The LRT, delivered it seemed by former Mayor David Miller and former Premier Dalton McGuinty, never stood a chance — at least in public opinion, and as it turns out politically. Former deputy mayor and Ward 40 Councillor Norm Kelly told The Scarborough Mirror’s Mike Adler during the election that he was talking with Scarborough MPPs about delaying the funding for the Sheppard LRT. On Monday, that is precisely what happened. The province announced that the Sheppard line will go ahead after another light rail line on Finch is up and running, which is scheduled to happen in 2021.

The question now is, will the prospect of a Sheppard subway line become a real question? Karygiannis says he’d like to make it so, but he has a great deal stacked against him.

The least of his problems is the money: Toronto Council and Mayor John Tory are heavily committed to a long list of very expensive transit projects, including another costly subway venture in Scarborough, the extension from Kennedy north-eastward, and Tory’s own SmartTrack plan.

Of course, financial impossibility has never stopped big-dreaming politicians before. But there is also a more daunting barrier: political fatigue. There is little appetite among the powerful in Toronto for more public transit debate, and for most on council, little to be gained fighting this fight. In the end, Scarborough transit grouses will likely have to confine their celebrations to a wake for the infrastructure that Karygiannis seems so happy to lose. Small victories are still sweet.