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Politics Hudak would extend subways, scrap LRTs as Ontario premier

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak speaks during an interview with The Globe's editorial board on Oct. 25, 2013. As premier, Mr. Hudak would cut back the province’s transit-building plans, and would cancel a raft of suburban LRTs in favour of extending Toronto’s subway system.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is pledging to cut back the province's transit-building plans, and would cancel a raft of suburban LRTs in favour of extending Toronto's subway system.

He wants to build the downtown relief line – the TTC's priority project – extend the Bloor-Danforth subway in Scarborough and bring the Yonge line north to Richmond Hill.

In a wide-ranging discussion with The Globe and Mail's editorial board, Mr. Hudak revealed for the first time what Southern Ontario's transportation network will look like if he is elected premier in a vote widely expected next year. While his preference for subways is well known, he has never before detailed which extensions he favours or been so explicit that some lines will be on the chopping block.

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To save money, he will axe parts of the Big Move – the current, $50-billion plan championed by Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne – which envisions light rail in Mississauga and Hamilton, subway extensions and several dedicated bus corridors across the region.

"Are we wed to all the major projects in the Big Move? No," he said. "I have been very clear from the beginning: [our plan] will be subway-driven, rail-driven. I think GO and our subways are the strengths in our system, and I do not believe in ripping up existing streets to lay down track."

Mr. Hudak, whose transit mantra sounds a lot like that of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recognizes the tradeoffs: Exclusively building subways will mean covering less ground than adding light rail into the mix.

"I live in the real world. I know that subways are more expensive," he said. "You set priorities and you make choices. But I think that every dollar we build underground is there not just for a generation, but for potentially a century. It's a worthy investment. You're absolutely right: I'll lay down less track than I would if I did LRTs, but I think I get bigger bang for the buck in helping beat gridlock."

Tory MPPs Doug Holyday, Mr. Ford's former deputy mayor, and Jane McKenna are working on a more detailed transportation plan, to be released before the end of the current legislative session in December, Mr. Hudak said.

Ms. Wynne has made transit-building a priority for her government, and is currently mulling a series of tax hikes to raise the money needed to pay for the Big Move.

Mr. Hudak's plan will be less extensive, and less expensive, than Ms. Wynne's. And he is pledging that Ontarians will not face higher taxes to pay for it. Instead, he said, he would constrain spending elsewhere in the budget to find the funds.

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"[The money] comes from the same place where the Spadina line came from, where the Bloor-Danforth line came from, where the Yonge line came from. It comes from the treasury," he said. "We did that without tax increases in the past … You do it by finding efficiencies within government."

Mr. Hudak's plan is ultimately calculated to appeal to the suburban voters his party must attract if it hopes to unseat the Liberals. To that end, he reiterated his promise to merge the subway system with the GO regional rail network, in hopes of creating more seamless travel for commuters.

The province would also take control of Toronto's expressways, and Mr. Hudak promised to repair the Gardiner rather than tear it down.

It is not entirely clear how the TTC's subway could be brought under the province's wing, while leaving buses and streetcars under the control of the city. As it is, the network is deeply integrated, and Toronto's subway relies heavily on surface transit to feed riders into the system.

But Mr. Hudak hinted this may be only the first step in a broader integration of the region's transit systems. He pointed to Transport for London – the agency that runs transit in England's capital – as a model for Toronto. TfL oversees London's underground and overground systems, as well as major roads; it also plans the bus network, which is run by private companies under contract.

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