The Progressive Conservatives are hoping to ride a new east-west subway line to a political breakthrough in Toronto.
In a white paper on municipal policy Thursday, PC Leader Tim Hudak pledged to move the downtown relief line to the top of the province’s transit priority list if elected Premier. He also promised to extend the subway system further into Scarborough, north to Richmond Hill and west to Mississauga.
“Ontario’s cities are never going to be the very biggest in the contest, but they can be the very best,” he said.
The seat-rich provincial capital and its suburbs will be key to an election widely expected next year, but the Tories have had a hard time winning here over the last decade. The PCs are putting a heavy emphasis on transit in hopes of changing that.
Under the TTC’s plan, the relief line would start at Dundas West station, run south to either King or Queen Street, head east across downtown, then swing north to connect with the Danforth subway at Pape before continuing to Don Mills and linking up with the planned Eglinton light rail line.
PC MPP Doug Holyday, who holds the party’s only seat in Toronto, said the Tories would build the entire line if elected.
“It’s amazing, really, that in the last few years, you can travel around the world quicker than you ever could, but it takes more time to come in from Etobicoke than it ever did,” he said. “The congestion and the time that it takes people to travel in the city of Toronto is not acceptable, and changes have to be made.”
Transit planners have long argued that the relief line is necessary to take pressure off the overcrowded Yonge subway, and a pre-condition to expanding the system further into the suburbs.
Mr. Hudak accepted this thinking. Along with the relief line, he said, he would extend the Bloor-Danforth line north to the Scarborough Town Centre and Sheppard Avenue and bring the Yonge line to Richmond Hill. Where the Mississauga extension would go was unclear.
Mr. Hudak has previously said he will cancel currently planned suburban light rail lines to focus entirely on subway expansion. LRTs for which contracts have already been signed, however, he would leave be.
The Eglinton line is currently under construction, while lines on Sheppard and Finch Avenue are due to get underway in the next two years. Lines in Mississauga and Hamilton are also on the books, but are not yet funded.
The ruling Liberals are planning to implement a series of new taxes to pay for $34-billion worth of transit expansion, including the downtown relief line. The Tories argue that transit can instead be built by re-ordering priorities and pushing other infrastructure projects to the bottom of the list.
Transportation Minister Glen Murray argued Thursday that Mr. Hudak does not have a realistic plan to pay for all the transit construction he is promising.
“I now know why Hudak PCs call their propaganda sheets ‘white papers.’ It is because they are completely blank when it comes to new ideas,” he said on Twitter.
In a statement, he further attacked the Tories for cancelling the Eglinton subway line and freezing funding for the GO regional rail network for five years when the party was last in office.
Mr. Hudak’s plan for cities also includes freeing municipalities from provincial sprawl-curbing measures and doling out housing allowances as an alternative to social housing.
Asked whether allowing suburbs to build more sprawl would only add to the region’s gridlock, Mr. Hudak suggested it was simply a matter of principle.
“There are two things you can do with a city: you can build up or you can build out. I think both are valid choices,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the province’s role to tell every municipality how to run their city.”