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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, left, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, right, pose in front of a new subway car following a joint transit funding announcement at the Wilson car yard in Toronto, March 31, 2011. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. MOCZULSKI)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, left, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, right, pose in front of a new subway car following a joint transit funding announcement at the Wilson car yard in Toronto, March 31, 2011. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. MOCZULSKI)

Marcus Gee

Despite handshakes, McGuinty and Ford part ways on transit projects Add to ...

It was all smiles and handshakes when Mayor Rob Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty got together this week to announce a $12.9-billion plan to expand mass transit in Toronto. The two even mugged for the cameras in the driver's booth of a brand new subway car.

But what looked like a happy wedding was in fact a divorce. After negotiating for months over Mr. Ford's demand for an all-underground transit plan, the two sides are going their separate ways: Queen's Park to start work on a new crosstown light-rail line, City Hall to draw up plans for the mayor's hoped-for Sheppard subway extension.

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At Thursday's announcement, the Premier and his officials were at pains to draw a line between the two projects. The crosstown line is to be an all-provincial affair, run by the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, and paid for with provincial government funds. The Sheppard line is an all-city job, quarterbacked out of the mayor's office and paid for who knows how.

Despite the handshakes, this is not really a joint transit plan at all. It is two distinct projects, the province's fully funded, approved and ready to go, the city's still only an idea in the mayor's head.

The province is making it clear that, while it wishes Mr. Ford well with his "innovative" scheme to finance his subway out of future development revenue, that is entirely his lookout. If he can make it work, good on him. That's the city's business.

Meanwhile, the province will push ahead with its own project at all possible speed. Giant tunnelling machines should begin soon to dig the hole for the underground stretch on Eglinton Avenue. Mr. McGuinty will be able to boast about the project in this fall's election campaign, no small advantage for a government that is way behind in the opinion polls.

Provincial officials say they are excited about getting to work after so much wrangling and pleased with the shape of the crosstown project, which will whisk riders from Jane Street in the west to Kennedy in the east, then north to Scarborough town centre. The line should be done by 2020.

The Sheppard line, by contrast, is so far little more than a line on a map. It will take years to arrange the financing, do the engineering and design work and get construction under way. Whether it will happen at all is an open question, given the uncertainty around Mr. Ford's sketchy plan to fund it.

This leaves the city in a tough spot. Before Mr. Ford came to power, Toronto was partners with Queen's Park in the Transit City project. The money was committed, the prep work finished and early construction begun. Now the city finds itself going freelance on a $4-billion subway project. No money has been put aside for it. No other government has committed funding.

Provincial officials are acting pretty pleased with themselves, and no wonder. They get to claim credit for the crosstown line while Mr. Ford twists in the wind over Sheppard. Councillors from the Toronto suburbs, the mayor's own turf, are already attacking him for killing the proposed Transit City light-rail lines along Sheppard and Finch in favour of a Sheppard subway that might never get off the drawing board.

They rightly dismiss his throwaway pledge on Thursday to build a subway on Finch within 10 years. Before he has a firm plan to pay for Sheppard, it's irresponsible to promise Finch.

When he was running for mayor, Mr. Ford never suggested that he would go it alone on a Sheppard subway. Instead, he told voters that he would demand that Queen's Park give him nearly $4-billion earmarked for Transit City so he could use it for Sheppard. "If the province says no, it's not going to happen," he said then, but, "I don't see the province saying no to the taxpayers."

Well, Queen's Park did say no. Mr. Ford decided to go ahead with Sheppard anyway. Now Toronto is all by itself, without a partner or funds. It's a divorce all right.

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