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The St. Clair Ruling

Too busy at work to read the newspaper, I was late to find out about the court ruling against the St. Clair Streetcar project. (Blog coverage at: Transit Toronto, Spacing Wire, and Paved.)

The short story is that local opponents to the plan -- a dedicated streetcar right-of-way along St. Clair, similar to what we find on Spadina -- won a victory in court just as construction was beginning. The ruling hasn't been released yet, but Save Our St. Clair (SOS) argued that because the 2002 Official Plan hasn't been approved yet, the City needed to conform to the 1994 Official Plan. And, because the 1994 Official Plan wasn't amended to permit "rapid transit", this project was in violation of tha plan.

Now, I find it a bit odd that the Official Plan -- which is normally ignored by City and builder alike -- now suddenly has so much power. I also find it odd that the City is having so much trouble getting its new Official Plan through the OMB. And it seems dumb to me that the St. Clair project would be called "rapid transit". However, I don't agree with commentators like the Editor at Spacing who suggests that the approach taken by SOS is invalid and childish because it depends on semantics of the law.

After all, if they were trying to build a 400-series highway down St. Clair Avenue, wouldn't we also use any available means to delay or block the project? It is hypocritical to bash our opponents for tactics we would use.

I attended one of the public hearings during the environmental assessment for this project. What was clear then, and what is clear now, is that the process we have for mediating between what different elements of the public want is a messy, imperfect process. It just has to be a messy, imperfect process because there is no easy solution.

In situations like this one, St. Clair streetcar supporters may be questioning why our democratically-elected City Council can't just do whatever they want. We elected them with the authority to, among other things, build our transportation network, so why can't they just do it? However, over the years there have been many times where elected governments have pushed through appalingly bad projects. The ability to stall these projects through protests and procedural tactics has frequently been an essential part of democracy, by allowing the public mass to organize, educate and build a consensus against a bad proposal.

In the end, I think that most good projects eventually get through, and many bad ones are stopped. In this case, I'm certainly with the majority and hope the St. Clair Streetcar goes ahead. (I'm not going to go into the reasons here... I've written on this subject many times since the beginning of my blog.) It will probably happen, unless SOS is able to build a broad base of support and prove that the community really is opposed.

I'm comfortable supporting the tactics of project supporters, such as a those who want a boycott of SOS stores. At the same time, I hope that City Council moves as quickly as possible to rectify their legal situation, and find clearance to proceed.

However, I think it is wrong to bash SOS for their tactics when I know I would support, and have supported, similar tactics in the past.

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