John Tory's campaign is dismissing a detailed new critique of his transit financing plan as the work of a "longstanding member of the NDP" and "friend" of Olivia Chow.
The former chief economist for Ontario Hydro looked into Mr. Tory's claims that he can finance the city's share of an $8-billion transit plan by borrowing against future development. His findings, released publicly Thursday morning, cast fresh doubt on Mr. Tory's assertions.
The analysis by Mitchell Rothman concluded that Mr. Tory is counting on the equivalent of 15 First Canadian Place towers in new development, and arguing even that will not be enough to cover the city's share of its cost.
Without offering any specific criticisms of Mr. Rothman's work, the Tory camp said it stood by its own figures.
This is the latest salvo in Ms. Chow's efforts to discredit the centrepiece of Mr. Tory's campaign, a 55-kilometre line based largely on the province's electrification of GO Rail. With less than two weeks to go before election day and Ms. Chow trailing in opinion polls, she is trying to close that gap by raising doubts about the viability of the plan, which Mr. Tory calls SmartTrack and has pledged he can build without raising taxes.
The new findings finds that even if SmartTrack's development targets are achieved, they will generate 35 per cent of the $2.6-billion that is needed to pay for Toronto's one-third share of the plan's cost. (Mr. Tory has said he will look to the provincial and federal governments to pick up the other two-thirds.)
Mr. Rothman characterized himself as an acquaintance of Ms. Chow and her late husband Jack Layton. In an e-mail, Tory spokeswoman Amanda Galbraith alleged that he was actually a "longtime friend" and a "longstanding member of the NDP."
Ms. Galbraith also shot down the new analysis and said Mr. Tory's plan would get done because it has to.
"We've done our homework on SmartTrack," she wrote. "We've worked with countless experts and it will get done because the need for transit and traffic relief is so urgent in this city."
Mr. Rothman's analysis is based in part on figures provided by the Tory campaign in an opinion piece in Wednesday's Toronto Star. In it, Tory campaign volunteer Arthur Lofsky states that the tax-increment financing plan assumes 42 million square feet of new office space will be built over 30 years in three districts: Liberty Village, the former Unilever site in the East Don Lands and the central core.
When other areas along the line and residential development are included, Mr. Lofsky said he has "no doubt" that the financing plan "will be able to meet and even exceed our projections."
Mr. Tory has said repeatedly that he believes Toronto will generate the needed growth to fund his plan, using as proof the current building boom and population projections.
"There are two million people coming to this city. No one disputes that number," he said after a debate on Wednesday. "Two million people have to have a place to work, they have to have a place to live, and I'm confident that SmartTrack providing transit across the city is going to be a magnet for that development to take place and that, in turn, will produce the money needed to pay for SmartTrack."
When asked about criticism that the tax-increment-financing model will leave future generations in debt, Mr. Tory said "that those people are not focused on reasons why they should be confident in the future growth of this city."
The new figures from the Chow campaign take issue with those assurances.
"Our calculations show Mr. Tory can only be assured of about one-third of the cost," Mr. Rothman said in an interview.
That number would rise, he said, if the Ontario government agrees to give up its education portion of the property tax for the affected areas, but there has been no sign from the province that it is willing to do that.
If Toronto gets to keep both the education and city share of the designated tax growth generated by SmartTrack, then Mr. Rothman said the city will collect about $1.7-billion, still about $1-billion short.
The Chow campaign report assumes the city will continue its current program that offers a 60-per-cent cut to property taxes for new buildings for the first 10 years and that new development in the three TIF areas will be evenly spread across 30 years. It takes issue with the Tory campaign's estimates of construction costs, which affects the assessed value of a building. Mr. Rothman uses a lower estimate, based on a 2014 study by Altus Group. Even when the Tory camp's higher number is included in his model, he said the $2.6-billion target is not met.
With reports from Oliver Moore and Ann Hui