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Mayoral candidate Soknacki pushes to reopen subway debate

Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki held a press conference outside the Lawrence Ave East Scarborough rapid transit station on Jan 14 2014.

Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki has sparked the ire of Mayor Rob Ford and several councillors, after reigniting the transit debate by vowing to scrap plans for a Scarborough subway if elected.

After much heated debate last year, Toronto City Council voted to build the two-stop subway extension with $660-million in federal funding and an additional $1.48-billion commitment from the province. The vote represented a huge win for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who made "subways, subways, subways" one of his main campaign platforms.

But Mr. Soknacki said Tuesday that going back to the city's original plan of building a light rail transit line in Scarborough makes better financial sense, and would reverse the need for a planned $1-billion property tax increase.

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"The Scarborough Light Rail Transit line will have seven stops, be accessible to far more people, cost $1.8-billion already paid for by the province, require no tax increase, not add to the city's debt, and be built years sooner than a subway," he said.

Mr. Soknacki, who appeared with councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby and Paul Ainslie at his side, acknowledged that reversing the city's decision on subways could cause the city to forgo up to $14-million. But, he said, "you take a look at $14-million against $85-million in contract fees – you take a look at the billions of dollars you could save by going with the LRT – it's a wise decision."

But Mr. Ford, and at least a few councillors, said there's little appetite to reopen the debate.

"The people of Scarborough have spoken loud and clear," the mayor said in a press conference. "They want a subway."

Scarborough Councillor Michael Thompson, who has been pushing for years for the eastern subway extension, said he was "shocked" by Mr. Soknacki's position.

"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?" said Mr. Thompson, on his way to file his own nomination papers to run for re-election in Ward 37. "For me, it sends the wrong message."

Mr. Thompson said he discussed the Scarborough subway with Mr. Soknacki before Tuesday's announcement and was hoping he would present a broader transit strategy.

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Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who represents the Scarborough-Agincourt ward, said that he was "disappointed" by Mr. Soknacki's announcement.

"The residents of Scarborough have been promised subways for the last three and a half decades," he said.

He added that Mr. Soknacki's claim that LRT would save taxpayers money probably would not hold weight with Scarborough voters. "The money associated with subway construction, in my eyes, is not a cost," he said. "It's an investment."

TTC chair and Councillor Karen Stintz, tweeted Tuesday that she wanted the city to "move forward" and not revisit the subway debate. "Let's not again allow for an election – provincial or municipal – to alter approved Toronto transit plans," she wrote.

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