Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are using the Scarborough subway in their campaign for an area by-election, a further signal the province is prepared to build an extension of the Bloor-Danforth line and cancel a previously approved light-rail train.
Meanwhile, TTC chair Karen Stintz, who has been leading the charge for a subway, said she was “confident” city council will get behind the project and agree to a plan to pay for it.
The developments came on the same day The Globe and Mail revealed that the province and the city have been in talks on the subway and that the Liberals have backed away from previous assertions they would move forward with the LRT.
Mitzie Hunter, who is running for the Grits in an Aug. 1 by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, added the subway to her election materials Thursday. In a news release, she blasted one of her electoral rivals, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone, for not building a Scarborough subway when he was in charge of the transit agency.
The statement was distributed by Liberals at a campaign event where Mr. Giambrone, who is running for the New Democrats, was visiting a community centre.
“Only the Ontario Liberals have serious plans to improve transit for all Scarborough residents,” Ms. Hunter said.
Mr. Giambrone fired back, accusing the Liberals of only floating the prospect of a subway to win the by-election. He pointed out that the government has previously changed transit plans on more than one occasion. In 2011, for instance, the Liberals cancelled two other light-rail lines, only to revive them a year later.
“I wouldn’t trust the Liberals very far on what they say in a by-election,” he said. “They’ve flip-flopped on this a couple of times.”
Neither Mr. Giambrone nor NDP Leader Andrea Horwath would say whether they preferred a subway or an LRT in Scarborough. Ms. Horwath suggested the decision should be left to Toronto city council.
And at city hall, Ms. Stintz sounded optimistic that council will opt for a subway when it votes on the issue next week. She also suggested a method to make up the estimated $1-billion extra it would cost to build a subway instead of an LRT. The money could be borrowed and paid back over 30 years, she said.
City manager Joe Pennachetti will release a report on payment options Friday.
“There has been increasing acceptance and council has increased its ability and willingness and it wants to build a subway in Scarborough,” Ms. Stintz said. “I can’t predict the outcome of next week but I am confident, that given the fact that we do have a funded subway plan, that council will find it acceptable.”
Ontario Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray, who met with Ms. Stintz last week and discussed the subway, pointed to the federal government as a possible source of transit dollars.
“We need the mayor of the City of Toronto to be a partner in pressuring the federal government to provide a third of the funds for every project,” he said.
The Liberal embrace of the subway did not, however, meet with universal approval.
Some councillors questioned the wisdom of spending extra money to build a subway in areas that do not have enough transit ridership to require one.
“There are other needs in this city,” Janet Davis said.
The Progressive Conservatives, who have promised to build a subway as part of their campaign in Scarborough-Guildwood, accused the Liberals of stealing their platform plank.
“The Liberal Party is prepared to do anything in order to maintain seats in Toronto and elsewhere across the province,” PC MPP Lisa MacLeod said. “And in particular with Mr. Murray’s back-down, climb-down yesterday and this morning, it’s very clear that the momentum is going in the wrong direction for them.”
One voice, meanwhile, was conspicuously absent from the debate. Mayor Rob Ford, who favours a subway, refused to comment all day.
“Talk to you tomorrow. Talk to you tomorrow,” he told reporters as he left his city hall office. “Like a kid at Christmas, you’ve got to wait till Christmas morning.”