Radio host and former politician John Tory is adding his voice to those of Toronto politicians who are trying to revive plans for a Scarborough subway.
Mr. Tory, the former head of the Ontario Conservative Party and chair of CivicAction Alliance, was set to say in a lunchtime speech that replacing the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway needs to be on the table.
"As for the Mayor's critics, it's time they agreed to take a sincere look at a subway extension to Scarborough," he writes in an address to the Empire Club. Mr. Tory, a strong supporter of new sources of revenue to pay for transit, said the extension makes the most financial sense as a subway.
His remarks follow a report in The Globe and Mail Saturday that a group of Toronto city councillors, including TTC chair Karen Stintz, is pushing the province to revisit plans for a Scarborough subway as part of talks on new fees and taxes for building transit.
Converting the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line to an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway is back on the table, several councillors say, and informal talks with Queen's Park have begun. Plans are in the works to introduce the subway project as part of an expected debate on transit funding at the next council meeting. It's a move that could put Mayor Rob Ford in a bind by linking a Scarborough subway – one of his long-held ambitions – to the new transit taxes he abhors.
Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said with council's endorsement he believes the province will back the subway extension – a change that would require altering the existing deal with Metrolinx that replaces the Scarborough RT with light rail.
Ms. Stintz confirmed she has had a meeting with the deputy minister of transportation on the Scarborough subway issue and is arranging one with the minister, though she was more cautious about the willingness of the province to renegotiate the $8.4-billion light rail agreement.
A spokesman for Transportation Minister Glen Murray said he is aware that the TTC met recently with ministry officials, but has not been briefed on what was discussed.
Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, who along with Mr. De Baeremaeker is planning to introduce the issue to the floor of council at its next meeting, said she is working to gain the support for the subway plan among the 10 Scarborough councillors and the five Liberal MPPs from the area – one of whom is her husband, Lorenzo.
The idea also is gaining traction with politicians outside Scarborough. Councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc said Monday they support putting the Bloor-Danforth extension on the table. Mr. Mihevc said discussion of the subway extension should not be allowed to overshadow the critical debate about how to pay for transit expansion.
Ms. Berardinetti said Scarborough residents feel shortchanged by the province's light rail plans and will not support new fees and taxes for transit unless they get something in return.
Ms. Stintz pointed out that Mr. Ford himself supported the Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth line in his 2010 election platform. "If he goes back to his own platform he will see it is there," she said.
Mr. Ford has made it clear he will not support any of the fees and taxes being floated as part of provincial discussions on new dedicated revenue for transit. The mayor's executive, under his direction, deferred the discussion on transit tolls at its meeting Tuesday, a move that was criticized by Ms. Stintz and others. The mayor went on radio to say hiring Ms. Stintz to head the TTC was a mistake.
Ms. Berardinetti said her support for the transit debate, which requires the agreement of two-thirds of councillors, "absolutely" depends on linking that discussion to a Scarborough subway.
This is the second time in less than a year that councillors Ms. Stintz and Mr. De Baeremaeker have pushed for the Scarborough line. Last June, their One City transit plan, which failed to get traction, included converting the Scarborough RT to a subway. A subsequent TTC staff report put the cost of a subway extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Avenue and McCowan Road at about $500-million over and above the current plan to replace the ailing RT line with light rail.