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Ontario Liberal party leadership candidates (left to right) Glen Murray, Charles Sousa, Harinder Takhar, Eric Hoskins, Kathleen Wynne, Sandra Pupatello and Gerard Kennedy take part in a debate in Thunder Bay, Ont., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012.

Brent Linton/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The leading candidates for the Ontario Liberal leadership are open to a new revenue stream dedicated to transit, according to a group seeking to provoke an "adult discussion" on the topic of funding.

The pledges come weeks before the party chooses a new leader, who will automatically become premier of the country's biggest province.

"I think that the general tenor of the answers of those who responded was very positive, in that they acknowledged the need for investment in transit and the need for income streams and revenue sources to pay for it," Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance chairman John Tory said Monday.

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Regional transportation issues have taken on increasing urgency as worsening congestion erodes the Toronto area's competitiveness. But few elected officials appear willing to risk political capital by promising the sort of major funding needed to break the gridlock. A $50-billion plan to improve transit across the region over the next generation – the so-called Big Move – is only partly funded.

The regional transit agency Metrolinx is scheduled to start public consultations Tuesday, with the first in Oakville, on how to raise money for the Big Move. But there will be a new premier by the time they have decided on an investment strategy.

According to the group CivicAction, Gerard Kennedy was the only one of the six leadership candidates not to respond to their question about whether they would support regional transportation investment and "facilitate the introduction of new, sustainable revenue tools."

Front-runners Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne both agreed, as did outlier candidates Eric Hoskins, Charles Sousa and Harinder Takhar.

"I think that is significant when you take into account the fact that one of these people is going to be the premier and the other ones, likely, are going to be in the cabinet," Mr. Tory said.

Few of the candidates offered any substantive detail – Ms. Pupatello responded with a simple "yes" – though Mr. Takhar pledged a savings bond issue to raise money for infrastructure.

Mr. Tory, who stressed that he was not endorsing any of the candidates, said they would also be putting pressure on the other two parties in the legislature.

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CivicAction has been running a publicity campaign centred on the question of what locals would do with an extra 32 minutes. That's the difference between the projected commuting time in 25 years with the Big Move transit projects and without.

Thousands of residents weighed in, with the biggest group picking family and friends as a better use for time spent commuting.

"Traffic congestion is taking away what people truly value," CivicAction CEO Mitzie Hunter said Monday. "We have to decide that the human cost is far too much for our region to bear."

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