The future of Toronto transit is once again in political play, with Tory Leader Tim Hudak promising to build subways in an election-style stop at city hall.
Mr. Hudak’s transit pledge – unveiled last week in a policy paper – took on new currency Tuesday, the morning after Premier Dalton McGuinty made his surprise announcement that he was stepping down.
With the leadership of the Liberal party now up for grabs and a provincial election more likely, Mr. Hudak’s plans have a better shot at becoming a reality.
Standing outside city hall flanked by Toronto politicians, including Councillor Doug Ford and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, Mr. Hudak promised that, if premier, he would direct any transit money to subways that is available.
“Where funds are available, a PC government will build underground,” Mr. Hudak said, making it clear that he would redirect some of the $8.4-billion now earmarked under city council’s direction for a network of light rail lines.
“There is money on the table today. Over $8-billion was transferred by the Government of Ontario towards transit in the Toronto area,” he said. “I don’t know when the election will be. I don’t know what my options are, but I will maximize the dollars available towards building underground.”
TTC chair Karen Stintz said the city is still in negotiations with the province on an agreement for light rail lines. The final deal is expected to go to the mayor’s executive committee in November and then to council for ratification, she said.
The $8.4-billion Transit City plan was approved by council earlier this year, over the objections of Mayor Rob Ford and was passed by the provincial Treasury Board.
“As far as I am concerned those deals have been done, those lines have been confirmed. That is the expressed will of city council,” said Ms. Stintz, who met with Mr. Hudak Monday but did not attend Tuesday’s event.
“We need to build transit in this city. We can’t spend more time debating the decisions that have already been made,” she said.
The Eglinton portion of that plan is already under construction, but work on the Sheppard Avenue line and a replacement for the Scarborough Rapid Transit line will not begin until 2014. Work on Finch Avenue is set to start in 2015.
Asked if he would halt work on Sheppard and Finch avenues, Mr. Hudak said that it would depend on the timing of the next election.
“I’m clear-eyed and practical about this,” he said. “I’m going to leave the door open if there are dollars on the table and it is feasible to put money underground.”
But Councillor Ford said Mr. Hudak’s plan means Scarborough residents can once again start thinking about subways. He held out hope that the debate could be reopened at city hall, saying some councillor who supported light rail are now “born-again subway believers.”
“It’s time to build subways, not antiquated streetcars,” Mr. Ford said. “It’s time for the people of Scarborough to be heard.”
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another member of the mayor’s executive who attended Mr. Hudak’s news conference, said a lot will depend on the timing of any change in government. “If the LRTs are already being built, it doesn’t make practical sense if they are already there to rip them up,” he said.
He also cautioned that building subways will cost more money.
“If you are going to build more subways that’s going to be an additional cost and the money is going to have to come from somewhere,” he said. “The question is where is that going to come from.”
When asked about funding options, Mr. Hudak said Tuesday he does not favour imposing tolls on existing highways.