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Politics Ontario Premier vows to push forward with $34-billion transit plan

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during a tour of the site of the new TTC station of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway extension in Vaughan near the intersection of Hwy 407 and Jane Street.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Premier Kathleen Wynne is vowing to push forward with a $34-billion plan to build new subways, light rail lines and dedicated bus corridors across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, two days after the province's transit agency gave its suggestions on paying for the projects.

"There is no doubt that we need to build transit so that we can grow the economy of the province," she said Wednesday, at her first press conference since Metrolinx unveiled its report this week. "In the short term, what this is about is creating jobs and allowing the economy to boom in the GTHA, which affects the whole province. But the obvious long-term investment is the health, well-being and quality of life for people who live in the GTHA."

Metrolinx's suggestions – which include a 1-per-cent sales tax, a levy on corporations for parking spaces and a five-cent fuel tax – have won the support of many municipal politicians but have been sharply criticized by the opposition parties at Queen's Park.

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Ms. Wynne said she will hold consultations and is also ready to negotiate with the opposition to reach a final transit-funding plan.

But whatever happens, she said, she would push forward with transit construction.

"I have a daughter who's got two little kids, and it's hard to pay for the gas. She lives in Orangeville and they've got to be a two-car family because there is no way to get around," Ms. Wynne said. "I know that people are struggling with their day-to-day expenses. But at the same time, I know that they are struggling with the logistics of getting around in their lives."

The cash-strapped government is already building $16-billion-worth of transit projects, including four light rail lines in Toronto and dedicated busways in Vaughan and Mississauga.

But to build the rest of the plan – including two new subways, plus LRTs in Mississauga, Brampton and Hamilton – Queen's Park must find roughly $2-billion per year.

The Progressive Conservatives have rejected Metrolinx's plan outright.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, have argued that big corporations should carry more of the burden of paying for transit.

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Ms. Wynne would not say Wednesday what her final proposals will be, or how they would be crafted to win over the opposition.

Her plan, she said, is to hold consultations first before laying out the final details, and to spend the coming months building public support for transit construction.

"I believe that as people get more information and as we talk about what the value proposition is – what is it we're going to get out of these investments – because we haven't had a lot of conversation about what people lose by being stuck in congestion day after day after day," she said. "That's the kind of conversation that we need to have so that people can really weigh the alternatives."

Ms. Wynne is expected to bring forward a package of transit legislation next spring.

The government's budget will undergo its first confidence motion today, which passed with the help of the NDP.

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