By Lincoln DePradine
A demand is being made on the Ontario Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford to compensate small businesses that are being hurt by a further delay in the opening of the first phase of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.
The transit line is being paid for and built by Metrolinx, a provincial government agency, and will be operated by the Toronto Transist Commission.
Years of work on the project, which affects dozens of residential and commercial units, including those in “Little Jamaica’’ – the area from Marlee Avenue along Eglinton Avenue West to Keele Street – have caused business closures, downturn in sales and traffic congestion.
Plans were to open the subway line’s first phase this year; then, it was rescheduled to 2021. However, the opening has now been pushed back to 2022.
“Liberals and Conservatives have bungled the Eglinton Crosstown project so badly that it’s being sidetracked again,” said Dr Jill Andrew, New Democratic Party MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s.
“Doug Ford is turning his back on business owners in my riding as closed signs sprout up along Eglinton Avenue, flying in the face of his claims that Ontario is open for business.’’
Some are blaming the construction delays, in Toronto and other parts of the province, on governments’ involvement in public-private partnerships (P3s). The province’s auditor general found that the former Liberal government wasted an extra $8 billion of Ontario’s money by using P3s for 74 projects.
The current Conservative administration, as part of its response to the havoc created by the LRT construction, has pledged $3 million towards marketing and clean-up supports for Eglinton Avenue.
The government’s action, however, hasn’t halted complaints from the York Eglinton Business Improvement Area (BIA) and Black Urbanism Toronto (BUTO), which is particularly concerned about the future viability of the Black presence in neighbourhoods like “Little Jamaica’’.
“We will advocate for the needs of our community,’’ BUTO’s co-founder Romain Baker told The Caribbean Camera in a recent interview. “We elect politicians to serve us and we aren’t being served how we should.’’
For its part, the York Eglinton BIA is recommending the implementation of a government program that “directly’’ supports owners of small businesses.
“It is small, family-owned businesses that make our streets and neighbourhoods vibrant. We need political leadership from the government of Ontario to launch a financial compensation program to directly support our small businesses suffering from years of financial hardship,’’ said Nick Alampi, chair of the York-Eglinton BIA.
“Quebec City and Montreal have launched financial assistance programs to help retailers impacted by lengthy construction projects that have closed streets, cut off pedestrian traffic, and blocked storefronts behind fencing. In those cities, small businesses were eligible to claim a maximum of $30,000 a year in compensation, if they could prove they’ve suffered a significant drop in sales.’’
Jessica Bell, the NDP’s transit critic, noted that not only has there been construction completion delays with the Eglinton Crosstown project, but Canadians also have witnessed “the nightmare of a rollout on the Confederation LRT in Ottawa’’.
“The Liberals let Ontarians down by pushing public-private partnerships that have seen transit project after transit project blow over budget and past deadlines, and now Doug Ford is taking things from bad to worse by using the same blueprint,” Bell claimed.
“Transit users deserve better than to be left in the lurch by projects that don’t open on time, and don’t run smoothly,” she added. “I’m urging this government to speed up the upcoming transit construction projects by hitting the brakes on public-private partnerships.”
Businesses in “Little Jamaica’’ are “hanging on by a thread’’, said Andrew, the NDP’s critic for culture and women’s issues.
“Businesses in vibrant communities like Little Jamaica, Yonge and Eglinton, and Dufferin and Eglinton, right here in my riding of Toronto-St. Paul’s, are already paying the price, and they simply can’t afford to keep hanging on by a thread, wracked with debt and stress, for two more years,” she said.
“Small business owners in Toronto-St. Paul’s bring a distinct sense of culture, identity and heritage to our community, and they deserve better. I am urging this government to come forward with a plan to support business owners who are struggling until the Crosstown construction is finally complete.”
According to Andrew, “if we don’t use P3s for upcoming projects, there’s a better chance families and businesses won’t have to deal with the additional disruption of lengthy delays”.