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Soknacki says Ford’s subway promise will double city’s debt

Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki says Mayor Rob Ford’s promise of subway lines is too costly.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki has slammed Mayor Rob Ford's "subways, subways, subways" mantra, saying the promise to build a Scarborough subway extension as well as a Finch and Sheppard East line will double the city's debt.

"Subways can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build for every kilometre of service," Mr. Soknacki said at a news conference on Friday morning. "We can only afford to build subways where we really need them."

He said Mr. Ford's promise to build the Scarborough, Sheppard and Finch lines would double the city's debt, increasing it to $7-billion from a projected $3.5-billion in 2022, when the Scarborough extension is expected to open. That would double the amount required from the average taxpayer to cover the debt to more than $650 from about $300 a year, he said.

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"Building subways where it doesn't make sense is exactly what Mr. Ford is proposing to do," he said. "Rob Ford talks an awful lot about his respect for taxpayers, but it starts with his respect for basic math."

When asked about Mr. Soknacki's comments on Friday, Mr. Ford said, "He has no idea what he's talking about," but declined to elaborate. His spokesman Amin Massoudi later issued a statement saying he would comment on the Scarborough extension only, adding "the rest of their claims are hypothetical."

On the Scarborough subway, he said, "based on council-approved project funding plan, the city would issue slightly over $500-million in debt during the construction of the $3.5-billion Scarborough subway project. The city's current total outstanding debt is about $3-billion."

Mr. Soknacki, the former budget chief and businessman, vowed last month to scrap plans for the two-stop Scarborough subway extension if elected mayor, and go back to the city's original plan of building a seven-stop light rail transit line. City council voted last year to build the Scarborough extension after a promise of $660-million in federal funds and an additional $1.48-billion commitment from the provincial government.

Mr. Soknacki said on Friday he has spoken with several councillors who say his idea to go back to light rail is "worthy of discussion."

But when he brought up his idea of scrapping the Scarborough subway plan last month, councillors appeared to show little appetite to reopen the long and heated debate.

Scarborough Councillor Michael Thompson told The Globe, "So we are going to open up this kettle of worms again and then we're not going to see anything for another 50 years?"

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And newly appointed Toronto Transit Commission chair Maria Augimeri, who originally opposed the Scarborough subway extension, said earlier this week that she has no intention to reopen the debate.

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