Toronto’s mayoral race is heating up on the issue of transit, as Olivia Chow revealed new details of her transit plan – including the possibility of a tax hike to fund a downtown subway line.
Ms. Chow made her announcement in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Tuesday, vowing to scrap the planned Scarborough subway extension and requisite 1.6-per-cent tax hike in favour of above-ground light-rail transit. Instead, she would introduce a new levy for the same amount to raise up to $1-billion which, if topped up by funding from the provincial and federal governments, would go toward both keeping the system in a “state of good repair” for the Toronto Transit Commission and a new downtown relief line.
If realized, the subway levy would mean Ms. Chow would break her earlier campaign promise to hold tax rates at around the rate of inflation. Ms. Chow’s plan also would reopen the years-long debate that resulted in last year’s Scarborough subway decision – which includes funding agreements from both the province and Ottawa, and which Mayor Rob Ford has trumpeted as one of his key accomplishments in his re-election campaign.
“We’re saying to the provincial and federal governments that we’re willing to put money on the table, up to $1-billion if they join us, if they partner with us,” Ms. Chow told reporters Tuesday.
“If it means a property-tax increase, we will do it, but we need the other two levels of government to join us.”
Ms. Chow’s downtown subway plan is contingent on funding from the upper levels of government, though she would not reveal how much she would ask from them. She also specified that the funding would be used for both the new subway line and repairs to the existing system – including fixing tracks and signal systems, and purchasing new subway cars. She would not say which of the two would be a priority if funding falls short, saying “I don’t think it’s an either or. I think it’s both.”
Ms. Chow’s announcement came on the same day her rivals also made transit their priorities.
Candidate John Tory told reporters Tuesday that he was “disappointed” by Ms. Chow’s downtown-relief line announcement. “This is not a high priority with her. It’s a long-term priority as she calls it,” he said while attending an open house on transit congestion in North York.
In a statement, he also accused Ms. Chow of “ripping up agreements with other governments, lecturing them about their moral obligation and reopening old debates.”
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Tory’s team launched a Twitter campaign dubbed “Twister Chow” – a reference to the classic board game – to illustrate what it says is Ms. Chow’s constant change in position on transit. Mr. Tory has pledged to start building a downtown relief line immediately on top of existing plans to build a Scarborough subway extension, though he has not yet released funding details beyond saying that he’s against raising property taxes past the rate of inflation.
Mr. Ford, for his part, has also attacked Ms. Chow for her vow to cancel plans for a Scarborough subway. He has also pledged in the past to build subway lines under Sheppard, and Finch and a downtown relief line.
Candidate Karen Stintz made her own transit announcement Tuesday, vowing to fund a downtown relief line, in part through the sale of over half of the city’s share of Toronto Hydro, more dedicated revenue from parking tickets, and a $3 price increase on Green P parking downtown.