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Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray photographed in Toronto on Feb. 20, 2013. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray photographed in Toronto on Feb. 20, 2013. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Liberals and Tories spar over light rail Add to ...

Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray is accusing Opposition Leader Tim Hudak of leaving suburban residents high and dry with a plan to cancel new light-rail lines.

The Progressive Conservative Leader told The Globe and Mail that, if he is elected premier, he would scale back current transit-building plans and focus on expanding the subway system. He also pledged to pay for the extensions without raising taxes.

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But Mr. Murray said such a move would mean residents of low-density suburbs, where pricey subway construction is impractical, would be left without rapid transit.

“He wants to … leave Hamilton, Mississauga, Durham Region, York Region – where he actually has members – bereft of critical infrastructure,” Mr. Murray said at Queen’s Park after Question Period Monday. “It shows a lack of maturity and a lack of experience. It’s a bewildering plan that is really a rail line to nowhere.”

Mr. Hudak’s comments also raised hackles among those counting on new LRTs to anchor their transit systems.

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, whose city has spent several years planning a light-rail line for the busy Hurontario Street corridor, criticized Mr. Hudak for “interfering” in the plan, which has been drawn up with provincial transit agency Metrolinx.

“We’ve got gridlock in Mississauga and we need the LRT,” she said in a telephone interview. “I believe that Metrolinx has done a pretty good job of putting together the capital needs to get transit moving in the GTA. And all the politicians are doing are messing it up.”

She also argued that Mr. Hudak’s promise to build transit without raising taxes is unrealistic.

“Where is the money going to come from? He seems to think there’s a pot of money somewhere that I have not been able to find,” she said. “I take real exception to his interference … into the plan.”

Mr. Hudak’s point man on the transit file, MPP Doug Holyday, contended that the province should not build light rail because it deprives cars of space on city streets.

“It takes away from the road capacity,” he said. “We’ve got to protect that capacity because there’s no opportunity to build more roads.”

He also said he is in favour of building transit to Mississauga – just not exactly the kind Ms. McCallion has in mind.

“Eventually – I don’t know how long down the road this is – but eventually, a logical extension of the Bloor subway to Sherway Gardens or even into Mississauga down the road, that would go a long way towards helping traffic,” he said.

In his interview with The Globe, Mr. Hudak said he would respect existing LRT contracts, which means he likely would not cancel the under-construcion Eglinton line. Contracts have yet to be signed on the province’s other light-rail projects, however. The next LRTs to be built are the Finch line, scheduled to start construction in 2015 and Sheppard, in 2017.

Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said the province is considering starting those projects sooner. This would leave Mr. Hudak a very small window in which to win an election before the contracts are in place and cancelling them becomes more expensive.

In Hamilton, where a future LRT could be nixed by Mr. Hudak’s plan, Mayor Bob Bratina said the current plan is to begin with buses and that it would be “likely many years” before ridership warranted light rail.

“The Ministry is well aware that our Rapid Ready transit plan begins with enhanced bus service to grow ridership to ultimately support LRT,” he said in an e-mail. “Our first concern therefore is a funding partnership with the province to set the plan in motion.”

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