A mayor who rode to city hall on twin promises to introduce more disciplined spending and build a new subway line has turned to Queen’s Park for $650-million to help bankroll the project.
In a meeting with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on Wednesday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford asked for the provincial funding to kick-start the expansion of the Sheppard subway. He also sought additional money for daycare spaces and the go-ahead to sell 900 social-housing units.
The subway request is a reversal for Mr. Ford. He agreed with the Ontario government in the spring that the city would pay for the $4.2-billion extension of the Sheppard line east into Scarborough with money from the private sector while provincial taxpayers would underwrite the $8.2-billion cross-city light-rail line under Eglinton Avenue.
The visit may also signal a shift in the balance of power between the mayor, elected last year with a substantial majority, and a premier facing an election in seven weeks.
The subway expansion is a flagship project for Mr. Ford, one he campaigned on during last year’s municipal election.
“I’m looking for all the money we can find,” he told reporters. “I’m looking for federal, provincial, private-sector money.”
The mayor suggested that Ontario’s governing Liberals could lose support from voters in Scarborough in the coming provincial election if they do not help fund the subway project. Municipal voters, he noted, overwhelmingly supported his platform.
Mr. McGuinty gave the green light last March to the mayor’s plan to completely bury the Eglinton LRT line and build the subway extension, helping him fulfill his pledge to kill Transit City.
“I campaigned on the Sheppard subway,” Mr. Ford said. “He knows that. I know that.”
But much has changed since the right-leaning Mr. Ford swept to victory on a promise to stop the “gravy train.” In recent weeks, the once unassailable mayor has come under enormous criticism over a core service review suggesting deep cuts to city services in order to erase a $774-million deficit.
At the same time, the fortunes of the Liberals appear to be improving. While they are still lagging behind the Progressive Conservatives, the gap is narrowing, according to a new Nanos Research poll.
Mr. McGuinty did not promise to pony up any money for the city during the meeting. But he did pledge to work together with Mr. Ford to encourage Ottawa to advance $333-million in federal grants sooner. The Premier’s conciliatory tone, observers say, could make it difficult for Mr. Ford to campaign against him.
The mayor threatened earlier this year to unleash “Ford Nation” and make sure the Liberals do not win a third term on Oct. 6 if they did not agree to his request for $150-million in funding.
Mr. McGuinty told reporters in a separate media scrum that he did not ask Mr. Ford whether he still plans to campaign against him.
“We didn’t get into that,” Mr. McGuinty said. “We had a cordial, civil, productive meeting. “My responsibility as Premier is to find some common ground. I’m called upon to work with all kinds of representatives and my heavy responsibility is to find ways to advance the greater public interest.”
For his part, Mr. Ford said he isn’t asking the province for new money for the subway. Under the old Transit City plan, Ottawa and Ontario had agreed to fund an LRT line along Sheppard Avenue. But Ottawa made its $333-million in grants conditional on the money being spent by 2014.
Mr. Ford is worried that the city will lose the federal funding if the province does not come through with its Transit City funding. The province has now re-allocated its $650-million share of the funding to the Eglinton LRT.
Mr. McGuinty said he will give some thought to Mr. Ford’s request, but he said he has a “slightly different take” on the $650-million. The province could make up to $650-million available but only once costs are determined on the Eglinton LRT.
“And it’s pretty hard to make that determination at this point in time,” he said.
Mr. Ford said he plans to meet with opposition leaders and make the same request of them. But the Progressive Conservatives appear non-committal and the New Democrats would outright reject the request for subway money.
Progressive Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer declined to comment on the subway project but said her party has pledged to spend $35-billion on infrastructure in the province, including public transit and roads.
New Democratic MPP Michael Prue said his party would not make any funds available for the project.
“He said that the private sector would build and we hold him to his word,” Mr. Prue said.