Hit over the head and blamed for falling? The curious case of Scarborough and the Toronto media

When Canada first built its railways, forever remembered in the sepia photograph of the last spike, the idea was that railways spawn communities, commerce, and population growth. It was the undisputed economic model. It is precisely why, along with connecting communities, that both Canada and the United States built their railways in the first place.

But when it comes to the Scarborough subway 130 years later, we have thrown that model into reverse:  we won’t lay the rails down until the communities, commerce and population growth are already in place. Although we are looking at a similar mode of transport, we are treated to a 180 turn of the lens.

And if you agree with the premise that Scarborough doesn’t deserve the Subway because it is not a growth community, then fairer coverage of attractions and events by Toronto media would help Scarborough grow.

The reality is that Scarborough is treated like a foreign land, as some sort of outpost by Toronto’s media even though it comprises 30% of Toronto’s land area and over 22% of Toronto’s population.

In the Scarborough Mirror this week (God help us) there were 8 weekend attractions for the June 24-26 weekend in Toronto and in terms of events we got nada – a giant goose egg – 0 for 8.

Don’t believe me? Here is the link to Inside Toronto:


A similar section in the Toronto Star this week offered events and attractions during the summer. Guess what?  It turns out that Toronto Zoo is the only attraction in Scarborough. Who knew?

But while Toronto’s media ignore us along with the Official Tourist Guide to Toronto[1], the Toronto Star has mounted a full-on campaign against the Subway extension in Scarborough.

Now I personally don’t have strong feelings about the subway one way or the other (sorry!). If there is a better way to deal with Scarborough’s transit needs, then I am all ears. We also don’t have a 400 series north-south, limited access highway when every other district in the GTA has one. But I’d much rather have a ‘green’ north south corridor than I would another 400 series highway. So how we get to transit equity, I am open to listening to new options.

But it is not the Star’s opposition to the subway that bothers me – it’s the way in which they frame their opposition.

Let me take just two passages from recent editorials.

Here is the first:

“Unfortunately, new ridership numbers revealing the inadequacy of the Scarborough subway extension are unlikely to derail the project because it was never primarily about serving this city’s public transit needs. It’s about pandering to Scarborough voters who favour underground transit over a light rail line.[2]

Here we have an example of the populist Toronto Star saying that decision-makers should not listen to the voice of the people. No, we wouldn’t want to listen to voters, would we? Let’s listen to only those elected representatives who are against the Subway.

And just who are the voters in question? They are Scarborough voters. The Star has chosen to narrow the lens so that Scarborough voters form the denominator in question.

And what are the city’s representatives doing? They are pandering to Scarborough voters and entrenching themselves in social media war with one another, where all that really matters is how many followers your smart-ass comments gather, and if that is not many, you can always buy them from http://pistachioconsulting.com/, just to keep the appearances.

Here is how the dictionary defines ‘pandering’:

“Gratifying or indulging an immoral or distasteful desire, or need[3]

Interesting eh?

The Star sees Scarborough voters as having an immoral or distasteful desire and our politicians are indulging this group of ingrates.

So who comprises the audience for this type of journalism? Shall we speculate that it is the 78% of Torontonians that live on the other 70% of Toronto’s land area?

And just what defines that place. Let’s look at a second quote from another Star editorial to find out.

“Relief is sorely needed. But instead of focusing transit dollars where they would do the most good, Queen’s Park and Mayor John Tory remain wedded to an ill-conceived Scarborough subway extension that has more to do with political pandering than with getting riders where they need to go.[4]

That other area turns out to be that place where “…transit dollars would do the most good…”

The editorial goes on to say that the downtown relief line is that place. So the downtown is the place where the riders need to go or return from and they should be the focus.

Certainly, I should not be detecting a bias here. And I should not speculate where Toronto Star editorialists live themselves.

One can only assume that 22% of them live in Scarborough and are therefore truly representative of the city. No doubt the reference to ‘pandering’ is a bit of self-loathing on the part of a Scarborough editorialist.

And I guess I shouldn’t be thinking about the 22% of city residents (Scarborough) who long ago helped subsidize public transit in the downtown community of Rosedale.

Rosedale, with a population of 21,000 is only served by five subway stations (Castle Frank, Sherbourne, Yonge, Rosedale, and Summerhill) and a bus line that shuttles the ‘help’ from cheaper parts of the GTA to the stately mansions of the greenest parts of downtown. Certainly residents of Rosedale could do with a bit more transit equity.

Scarborough, with a population of over 625,000 and 30 times the population of Rosedale is now served by 3 stations and just may get a fourth.

Of course, the five stations that partly surround Rosedale have tens of thousands of riders heading elsewhere but the same observation does not seem to apply to Scarborough. The ‘downtown framing’ of Scarborough always seems to assume that anyone that would take the subway to Scarborough Town Centre is somehow a Scarborough voter. That’s part of the Star’s ‘outpost’ framing of Scarborough.

No one from Pickering or Markham or points north and east would ever take a subway from Scarborough Town Centre to points south and west. Presumably we would issue Scarborough Passports to ensure no one from elsewhere could benefit from the Scarborough extension

I don’t recall the Star ever talking about how unfair it was for Scarborough to share in the funding of the St Clair streetcar line (we don’t have any) or the Metrolinx train from Union to Pearson (nothing goes from Scarborough to Pearson, not a bus, not a train nor a shuttle) yet I go to Pearson at least 12 times a year.

If the metric for transit is where it will do the most good but only in terms of aggregate ridership, then nothing ever would be built outside of the old city boundaries since that is where the densest population is. So much for setting a metric that only downtown interests can win!

OK – so writing this is too much fun. What’s the point?

One point is that Scarborough starts as a poor cousin and an outpost at the end of the line, not an inner suburb with important connections to other parts of the GTA .

And we are voters with immoral and distasteful desires that we want ‘indulged”by decision-makers who are somehow mesmerized by an outpost bloc of rubes.

The second point is that we are not of much interest to either the Toronto Star or Inside Toronto that produces the Scarborough Mirror. We are the only place in the world that would not grow if we had more transit and more corridors because nothing interesting happens here.

The third point is that the disinterest in 30% of the city with 22% of its population on the part of the media  including the Scarborough Mirror itself ( now that’s self-loathing) is entirely related to the campaign to stop the Scarborough subway.

Why? Because ridership is the metric being used and we are the only place in the world where ridership won’t increase with better transit.

And why is that? Well isn’t it obvious? We are Scarborough and we have to leave our district to enjoy what Toronto has to offer. And would that require a subway or a relief line? Or is it time to have a Screxit referendum?

John Stapleton – June 25, 2016, revised June 27 & 28


[1] See: https://openpolicyontario.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2015/11/Scarborough-Wants-In-slide-deck-oct-28r.pdf

[2] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2016/06/02/no-good-case-for-scarborough-subway-editorial.html

[3] https://www.google.ca/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=pandering%20meaning

[4] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2016/06/20/soaring-costs-should-kill-scarborough-subway-editorial.html