Future transit construction will be in jeopardy if the Liberals don’t remain in government after the June 12 election, Leader Kathleen Wynne is warning.
She is also vowing never to privatize public transit – rebutting an accusation from the NDP, which is battling to save its Toronto incumbents from the Liberal tide.
“Commuters have a choice between our achievable plan to build transit or the Hudak PCs, who have promised to cancel infrastructure projects in the Greater Toronto Hamilton area,” she said at a construction site for the $5-billion Eglinton LRT in Toronto. “Or the NDP, who simply do not have a transit plan at all.”
The Liberals are promising to pour $29-billion into building LRTs, subways, highways and bridges over the next decade. Infrastructure spending is at the centre of Ms. Wynne’s pitch to voters in the congestion-choked Toronto area, a seat-rich region the Liberals hope to dominate in the vote.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has pledged to build the downtown relief subway line in Toronto, as well as subway extensions to Richmond Hill and Scarborough. He has said he would cancel LRTs in the Toronto suburbs to help pay for the subway plan.
Mr. Hudak has not said exactly which LRTs he would drop. In addition to Eglinton, the Grits are currently planning LRTs in Hamilton, Mississauga, and on Finch and Sheppard avenues in Toronto.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who is trying to fight back a Liberal attempt to scoop up her urban seats, hastily unveiled a transit platform last month after enduring months of criticism from the other parties for not having one.
Ms. Horwath favours moving the downtown relief line to the top of the construction list and hiking corporate taxes to help pay for it.
She also accused the Liberals this week of planning to privatize the TTC, because the governing party has hired a private company to build and maintain the Eglinton LRT. The line will, however, be run by the TTC.
Ms. Wynne on Tuesday said Ms. Horwath’s claims are made up.
“[Her accusation] is absolutely not the case. We have said over and over again that public ownership of public transit is extremely important,” Ms. Wynne said. “Are we in the business of privatizing public transit? No. We have never said that, we will never say that and that is just not the case.”
Toronto transit union leader Bob Kinnear, who showed up at Ms. Wynne’s press conference and had an impromptu meeting with her on her campaign bus, said bringing in a private company to maintain the LRT would be more expensive than using his members.
“Any time you have the private sector delivering public services, that is a form of privatization,” he said. “The subsidy levels are going to substantially increase when you have a private contractor maintaining the Eglinton Crosstown for the next 30 years.”
Asked how much cheaper his union could do it for, Mr. Kinnear said he did not know.
“Well, that’s difficult to say,” he said.