Toronto can build a new relief line downtown without residents having to pay extra for it, mayoral candidate Karen Stintz argued in her first substantive appearance of the mayoral campaign.
The midtown councillor said that she would explore raising money through the sale or lease of Toronto Hydro and would seek "partnerships" with other levels of government to help cover the cost of the crucial subway line.
When asked directly by reporters if the city would be able to pay its share of the multibillion-dollar project without going to the citizens for financial support, she said, "I believe it can." Ms Stinz spoke to the media after a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade. "I believe that we have ways right now to get value out of assets that we're not currently maximizing."
That aligns Ms. Stintz with a key rival in the race. Mayor Rob Ford has always insisted that underground transit can be built without taxpayer support, though he backed a property-tax increase to help pay for a subway expansion in Scarborough. Fellow candidate John Tory has not made clear his position since entering the race but was long involved with a civic group that advocated the need for extra revenue to build transit.
At the provincial level, the Progressive Conservatives have argued for selling government assets to raise money for transit. The governing Liberals have said that new revenue is needed but they have dragged their heels on deciding what form it should take.
Depending on its length, the price-tag of a so-called downtown relief line varies dramatically. At the cheapest, it would cost more than $3-billion, but it could end up being more than twice that amount.
While Toronto Hydro is a billion-dollar entity, the city can only sell a 10-per-cent stake without incurring major penalties, which would generate far less than the city's share of the DRL. Ms. Stintz noted to reporters, though, that the city could be able to raise more money by leasing the asset on a 99-year basis. Details were not offered and she promised more information in a platform to come.
Wednesday's appearance at the board of trade offered Ms. Stintz a chance to start spelling out her priorities. Key among them were congestion problems and an unconventional idea to borrow against the value of school and city playing fields, use the money to improve facilities and pay off the debt with permit fees.
More broadly, she appears to be trying to brand herself as a one-name candidate, her logo a combination of her first name and the sunflower that is the symbol of her run for office. Rival David Soknacki's campaign hit back by tweeting a picture of a fern, noting that "they thrive in all seasons … and you'll always find them in the office."
Ms. Stintz offered some digs at former and current mayors, saying that Mr. Ford won because of the failures of his predecessor, and that residents "thought we were getting a responsible leader." She pledged a change from the politics of the current council and cited transportation as one of the most important issues facing Toronto.
"Is there really anything more frustrating than being stuck in traffic," she asked the packed business crowd.
If elected, Ms. Stintz said, the city would emulate London and have someone manage all aspects of local transportation, a position she dubbed the "king of the road." The head of the TTC, the GM of Transportation Services and the city's chief planner would all report to this person, she said, which would be a professional rather than elected position.
Among the biggest transportation issues facing the city is congestion on the Yonge subway line. Already commuters during peak times can wait for several trains before they get on. Even with new signalling equipment that will allow more trains in the tunnel, the line is expected to be at capacity in less than 20 years. The long-proposed solution is a downtown relief line into the city's core, intersecting the Bloor-Danforth line at points to the west and east.