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Toronto City Mayor Rob Ford greets the crowd before speaking in front of unionized workers prior to chairing the executive committee hearing at Toronto City Hall as they debate the proposed Casino for city on Monday April 15 , 2013. (Chris Young For The Globe and Mail)
Toronto City Mayor Rob Ford greets the crowd before speaking in front of unionized workers prior to chairing the executive committee hearing at Toronto City Hall as they debate the proposed Casino for city on Monday April 15 , 2013. (Chris Young For The Globe and Mail)

Marcus Gee

Mayor Ford's $1-billion for subways just isn't there Add to ...

Sometimes Rob Ford says the darnedest things. Consider the case of the bogus billion.

As we all know, the mayor is against bringing in new taxes or tolls to pay for better transit. Taxpayers are overburdened as it is, he argues, and, besides, Toronto already has $1-billion available to build new subways.

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“I support subways,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve still got a billion dollars. We can start building subways with a billion dollars. We don’t need these new taxes.”

A billion dollars? Where did that number come from? The mayor’s office says that he is referring to a combination of provincial and federal funds that were to be made available to the city under a 2011 transit deal between Mr. Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Here is how it was supposed to work. When Mr. Ford took office in December, 2010, one of the first things he did was kill Transit City, the plan, championed by mayor David Miller, to build a series of light-rail lines to the suburbs. In its place, he negotiated a deal with the provincial government to launch two big transit projects. One, his favourite, was an extension of the Sheppard subway. The other was a light-rail line, the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown.

But his insistence on putting Eglinton mostly underground instead of on the surface as originally planned promised to add so much to the cost there would be little money for Sheppard. The most that Queen’s Park would say was that if any money was left over from Eglinton – and it could not say for sure there would be – then Toronto could use it for the subway. The province capped its potential contribution at $650-million. In addition, Toronto could make use of the close to $350-million that the federal government had promised to contribute to the building of a Sheppard light-rail line. That project had been cancelled along with Transit City, so in theory, the money could go toward starting work on a Sheppard subway instead.

Up to $650-million from the province; close to $350-million from the feds. Voilà, you have Mr. Ford’s $1-billion.

There is just one problem. The deal that Mr. Ford signed with the province no longer stands. City council refused to ratify it. Last year, councillors rejected Mr. Ford’s muddled subways plan and instead backed a network of light-rail lines – in essence, a return to Transit City.

Under a new agreement signed in November, the City of Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, agreed to launch four light-rail projects: Sheppard East, Finch West, the Eglinton Crosstown and a replacement for the Scarborough RT line. All the transit money put aside for previous versions, including the $650-million and $350-million, will go to pay for this network. None will be left for Mr. Ford’s subway.

The chair of Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, confirmed this in a meeting with the Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Wednesday. “We have an agreement between Metrolinx and the city and the province that allocates the funds, so in that sense there are no funds sitting somewhere else that haven’t been allocated,” he said.

Metrolinx chief executive Bruce McCuaig agreed, saying that “the revised council-endorsed agreement fully allocates the funding that was set aside for the Toronto light-rail transit projects.” In plain English: Sorry, Mr. Mayor, the money is taken.

Of course, Mr. Ford doesn’t like the new agreement and still has hopes of reviving his Sheppard subway.

With some city councillors pushing for a subway to Scarborough and the provincial transportation minister musing that nothing is set in stone, anything seems possible. The mayor must be hoping that the missing money will somehow come back to him.

But hoping and having are different things. The $1-billion that he says Toronto has “still got” simply does not exist.

 

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