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Toronto Ontario aiming to have its Toronto subway takeover bill ready this spring

Jeff Yurek, Ontario's Minister of Transportation speaks with journalists outside the Legislature in Toronto on Nov. 22, 2018.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The province is hoping to have legislation to take over Toronto’s subway network ready by spring but says the process could come in stages – pushing ahead with new projects while figuring out how to upload the existing infrastructure.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said Thursday that a provincially appointed adviser was set on Friday to have his first meeting with city staff to discuss the mechanics of an upload. The adviser’s work will continue to remain shrouded in secrecy, though, his analysis submitted to the provincial cabinet and subject to its confidentiality rules.

“We’re still feeling out how the upload would occur, if it’s going to be broken up into parts,” Mr. Yurek said in an interview.

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“It depends how the upload will be, if we want to go down one avenue of start the new [transit projects] while we work on how we upload the old track and certain stations, or what have you. But we’re taking a look at the data and breaking it down, so we’re open to how this upload occurs.”

The province’s move to take over the city’s subway network, leaving day-to-day operations the responsibility of the city, was part of the Progressive Conservative campaign platform when the party won the election last spring.

The province argues transit can be built faster after an upload by streamlining decision-making and amortizing the cost differently. However, the approach has raised concerns at city council, which has voted several times to retain full ownership of its transit network, and among transit advocates.

“They’re trying to have the discussion about the terms of reference of a highly technical discussion through the media and in public,” said councillor and TTC commissioner Shelley Carroll. “That’s not the best way to come to a point at the table where you’ve got agreed-upon terms of reference, set of principles, for this discussion.”

When Mr. Yurek was asked if he was aware of jurisdictions that were successfully employing the sort of ownership and operational structure for transit his government was pursuing, he said the province was breaking new ground.

“This is a model that we’re developing,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything like this model as such. But you know, this is something we’re developing as an Ontario solution.”

The city is legally subordinate to the province and has limited options for fighting the takeover. Mayor John Tory has taken a measured approach to the idea, saying that it makes sense for the city to participate in talks rather than turn its back and risk the province acting unilaterally.

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On Thursday, Mr. Tory said he was hopeful information about an upload would eventually come out.

“They’ve said very clearly, uploading is not going to take place in private, it can’t take place in private, it shouldn’t take place in private; and I’m optimistic that it won’t,” he told reporters at an unrelated event.

“We’re already working in close collaboration with them to discuss what this process is going to be and what uploading means and all the unanswered questions that exist.”

The proposal has been criticized as a precursor to privatization by the transit advocacy group TTC Riders and by Local 113 of ATU, the union that represents the bulk of TTC employees.

“Toronto is a growing city, and for transit to remain accessible, affordable and reliable, Premier Doug Ford needs to properly fund it – not break it apart with his so-called subway upload,” Carlos Santos, president of the local, said in a statement.

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