Kathleen Wynne is warning that York Region will not get an extension of the Yonge subway line if her party loses power.
With her Liberals locked in a tight by-election race for the Toronto-area seat of Thornhill, the Ontario Premier blitzed the riding on Monday, meeting with community groups, mainstreeting at a mall and pumping up candidate Sandra Yeung Racco’s volunteers.
And standing next to Ms. Yeung Racco at her campaign headquarters, she broke out a tried-and-true campaign tactic: promising a subway.
“Since 2003, $640-million has been invested in transit in this region, in this area. We need to continue that building,” she said. “If we’re not the government, then that’s not going to happen.”
The $3.4-billion extension of the Yonge Street line, which would run as far north as Richmond Hill, is part of the province’s long-term transit-building plan. But it is not currently funded, and planners argue it cannot be built until a downtown relief line is constructed to take pressure off the already overcrowded Yonge subway.
Ms. Wynne said she does not know exactly when a re-elected Liberal government would build the extension, but that it would.
“I’m a girl who grew up in Richmond Hill, and I know that that linkage between Richmond Hill and downtown – Thornhill on the way – is very, very important,” she said. “I can’t give you a time frame.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has pledged a Conservative government would build both the relief line and the extension to Richmond Hill. Last week, his transportation critic pointed out that the Liberals promised the Yonge extension in the 2007 election, but argued they have made no progress on it.
“People in York Region have heard this story over and over and over again,” Frank Klees said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's spokeswoman told The Globe the party also supports the Richmond Hill extension "to cut down the commuting time for people in the 905-belt so they can spend more time with their families."
Transportation is a major concern in suburban Thornhill. Arterial roads are packed at rush hour, and only in recent years has the province built better transit – dedicated busways and an extension of the Spadina subway to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.
Asked to name the top local issues, Janet Rosenthal, a 56-year-old social worker sitting in a cafe where Ms. Wynne campaigned, said: “Congestion, the traffic. How you get around.”
“I’ve lived in a few places, and this is the worst transit system anywhere I’ve been,” added her friend, Dorete Joyce, 58.
The by-election in Thornhill was triggered by the resignation of Tory MPP Peter Shurman last month. Voters here and in Niagara Falls go to the polls on Feb. 13.
The by-elections will not tip the balance of power in the legislature, but are a prelude to a possible spring general election.
With a report from Oliver Moore