Toronto transit expansion is stuck in political gridlock, as Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government refers its transportation funding plan for yet more study and the province continues to bicker with the city over the route of a Scarborough subway extension.
Last spring, provincial transit agency Metrolinx released an extensive report on how to raise money to build $34-billion worth of subways, light-rail lines and commuter trains. But on Wednesday, Ms. Wynne announced that a new task force will now revisit that same matter and report back in December.
The province will pay Anne Golden, a former chief executive officer of the Conference Board of Canada, up to $90,000 over four months to lead the panel; planner Paul Bedford will receive $250 a day as vice-chair. Other task force members, who will not be paid, include representatives of the real-estate sector, environmental community and trade unions.
Asked why more study was necessary, Ms. Wynne suggested that the panel would build public support for new taxes or fees to fund transit, because Metrolinx had not.
“I want to make sure that we make the right choices, that we have enough public engagement on the suggestions that have already been made,” she said. “Metrolinx has made some suggestions and … there has been some skepticism and questions, concerns about some of those.”
The Wynne government itself is skeptical about Metrolinx’s central proposal: a 1-per-cent increase to the HST, a Liberal source said. While the government does not necessarily think hiking the HST is a bad way to fund transit, the source said, it believes doing so would be politically unsaleable.
Ms. Wynne said she would make a final decision by spring on what taxes or fees to use to pay for transit. The timing will give Ms. Wynne some flexibility: If her minority government is voted down at budget time, she could use the revenue-raising ideas in her campaign. Or she could delay announcing them until after a spring vote.
She denied Wednesday that she was simply trying to punt the issue away from the government. “I’m confident that I will be taking responsibility in the public eye for these decisions. This is not about shifting responsibility: I take responsibility, our government takes responsibility.”
The Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, lined up behind TTC chairwoman Karen Stintz in her battle with the province over the routing of the Scarborough subway. Ms. Stintz and Toronto city council voted in favour of one route – which would see the subway go east from Kennedy station, up McCowan Road and end at Sheppard Avenue East. Meantime, the province has announced plans to use a different one, in which the line would follow the path of the current Scarborough Rapid Transit line.
“They made an announcement in complete isolation of any other partners,” Tory MPP Doug Holyday said Wednesday. “They didn’t even want to discuss the matter with the TTC, about how this works technically, and whether it’s what the city of Toronto council wants, which it isn’t.”