Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray is dismissing the reaction to the way he has seized control of transit planning in Toronto as the “spin cycle” of politics and is vowing to push ahead.
Mr. Murray’s proposal for the province to build a subway in the east end of Toronto that would be shorter and take a different route than one city council had approved for the area caught many by surprise, raising questions about who is in charge of the transit planning file. It sparked an unhappy reaction from Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz and sniping from Ottawa.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, meanwhile, was quick to take partial credit.
“We’re back in the spin cycle with the Fords and the feds, talking but not writing a cheque,” Mr. Murray said Thursday on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “We’ve been extraordinarily civil for years, and all’s we have gotten is a partisan attack from city hall, from the mayor’s office. We now have to work around the mayor to achieve these goals.”
Under Mr. Murray’s plan, the subway would run from Kennedy station to Scarborough City Centre, largely along the route of the aging rapid transit line. It is budgeted at $1.4-billion, with the cost entirely picked up by the province. It is the latest chapter of a long string of plans that seek to address the worsening congestion in the Toronto region.
In comments made later to CBC Radio, Ms. Stintz suggested that the plan could not be considered firm, since an agreement to build an LRT in that area has not formally been changed and remains in force.
“He’s well within his rights, as Minister of Transportation, to make an announcement, but as it turns out, you know, we do have a signed master agreement and that’s not been amended,” said Ms. Stintz, who also suggests she was not invited to the announcement, nor briefed on it in advance. “So we’re right now in a situation where we have $8.4-billion that will be invested in the city of Toronto [transit system] and we’re now arguing about the details.”
The war of words is emblematic of transit development in Toronto, which has a history of protracted planning with limited results. For example, various versions of a mid-1980s plan included a subway under Eglinton and a Downtown Relief Line, both of which were to have been operational by now. Instead, a partially buried LRT was only recently started for Eglinton and the DRL remains a hope for sometime in the future.
The subway Mr. Murray is proposing will be considerably cheaper than one approved by council earlier this year, but also shorter and could be less accessible to local residents. A map beside the minister at his announcement Wednesday depicted only two stations along the 6.4-kilometre route. He called that the minimum number of stations and later said the map was “illustrative” and that there could be up to four, one more than the council-approved route.
Mr. Murray insists he wasn’t flouting the will of council. In the summer, the provincial transportation agency Metrolinx said it would stop work on a long-planned LRT in Scarborough, citing mixed signals from city hall and the need for clarity. In response, council voted for a subway on a different route and added a number of caveats and funding qualifiers.
“We asked a very simple question, the question was: do you want LRT or do you want subway,” the minister told the radio host. “We got a lot more back from city council, a lot of rules, regulations and advice on how to spend our money.”
Among the provisos insisted on by council was that the federal government come to the table with hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding. That money has not materialized, though a statement Wednesday from the office of Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel noted that council had set a deadline of Sept. 30 and that a response would come “in due course.”
On Thursday, in another statement, Mr. Lebel’s office touted about $1-billion in federal funding for current work extending the TTC to Vaughan, improving the GO commuter network and assisting with a major renovation of Union Station.