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Transit dominates first day of Ontario election campaign

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford attends a rally at Alice's Village Cafe as part of his Ontario provincial election campaign in Carp, Ont. on May 9, 2018.

PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has promised an extra $5-billion for new subway lines in his hometown of Toronto – in addition to the billions already committed for public transit by the federal and provincial Liberal governments – if his party forms the next government.

“World-class cities need world-class subway systems,” Mr. Ford told a Toronto news conference on Wednesday, the first official day of campaigning before the June 7 provincial election.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne’s first campaign stop was in the west Toronto area of Etobicoke, the home of Mr. Ford and his late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

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Ms. Wynne has framed the election as a stark choice between her plan and that of Mr. Ford, who polls suggest is the one to beat. Her main campaign slogan of “Care, not cuts” is a dig at the Tories, as both the Liberals and the NDP say a Ford government would slash public services in order to meet a promise of finding $6-billion in “efficiencies.”

“He has said that these are efficiencies that he’s going to find. The reality is that’s $6-billion across the services that people need and access, that means $6-billion that will not be available to provide those services,” Ms. Wynne said.

She reannounced a pledge in her government’s last budget to give seniors a $750 annual benefit for home-maintenance costs to help them stay in their homes longer.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spoke about her health-care plan on Wednesday, which includes an immediate $1.2-billion for hospitals and $19-billion for building expansions, as well as universal dental care and pharmacare, as well as hiring at least 2,600 mental-health and addictions professionals.

The NDP also unveiled a new ad, highlighting Ms. Horwath’s “Change for the better” slogan.

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne visits residents at the Yee Hong Centre in Scarborough, Ont., on May 9, 2018.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim /The Canadian Press

“I think people are looking for change this election,” she said after her health-care event. “And that means that by definition that Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals are not going to be forming government come June 7. But people have an important choice to make. What we’re here to say is you don’t have to go from bad to worse.”

Mr. Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, was a consistent booster of subways and a critic of light-rail transit during the tumultuous mayoralty of his brother, when Toronto scrapped a fully funded light-rail plan for Scarborough, in the city’s east end, in favour of a more expensive subway.

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He said the current plan for a $3.35-billion one-stop subway extension to the Scarborough Town Centre would be revised to include two more stops.

In a document distributed by his campaign, he said he would give several other Toronto subway projects “priority consideration for construction,” including extending the Sheppard subway to the Scarborough Town Centre, pushing the Yonge line north into York Region and building the downtown relief line to ease overcrowding on the north-south Yonge line.

And Mr. Ford, who has been critical of Liberal spending and the province’s debt load, said his $5-billion cheque for Toronto would come on top of the $9-billion in federal and provincial transit funding already set to flow to Canada’s largest city.

The Yonge and relief lines already have millions in provincial funding for design studies, which are under way.

The first phase of the relief line alone, according to very early estimates, would cost at least $7-billion. The other projects would add many more billions to the bill.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (left) and Marit Stiles, NDP candidate for Toronto's Davenport riding, order a coffee at a campaign event in Toronto on May 9, 2018.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Echoing a policy pledge made by previous PC leader Patrick Brown, Mr. Ford promised to “upload responsibility” for the city’s subway system to the province, which he said would allow subways to be built faster. The government of Ms. Wynne also said it would open talks about the idea in its recent budget.

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A spokesman for Mayor John Tory said the mayor believed the city needed to take a “long look” at the idea and its implications for Toronto. Mr. Tory issued a brief statement welcoming Mr. Ford’s commitment to the relief line but was silent about the PC Leader’s other pledges.

The NDP have said they would do what Toronto has been begging Queen’s Park to do for years: Pick up half the transit system’s everyday operating costs.

In a statement, the NDP campaign said both Mr. Ford, as a city councillor, and the Liberals created “chaos” when they killed the city’s “Transit City” light-rail plans. They also pointed to Mr. Ford’s vote while on city council to cut funding to the Toronto Transit Commission by 10 per cent.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Ford also pledged to build planned western and eastern extensions to the partially tunnelled Eglinton Crosstown light-rail line. But he promised the extensions would both be built underground in order to “respect drivers” and “respect neighbourhoods.”

However, his campaign document only promises to tunnel the extensions “where feasible.” A city estimate last year said tunnelling the planned western extension of the line to Toronto Pearson International Airport could cost more than $1-billion. The entire eastern extension, which would need as many as 10 kilometres of tunnel, would cost billions more.

And Mr. Ford also promised to carry on with a list of transit projects across Southern Ontario that were already funded by the Liberal government, including light-rail projects in Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo and GO Transit plans to expand service to Bowmanville and Niagara Falls.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Ontario's three main party leaders squared off Monday in the first debate before June’s provincial election. Andrea Horwath, Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford were asked after the debate how they plan to combat criticisms they face. The Canadian Press
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