Ontario is set to introduce legislation Thursday allowing it to take over the new parts of Toronto’s transit system as it expands.
The move comes even as talks about the uploading arrangement with the city continue, prompting critics to accuse the province of bad-faith bargaining. But Mayor John Tory said he saw no reason to walk away from the table.
Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek revealed in a speech Wednesday that he would be tabling legislation that gives the province authority over Toronto-area transit expansion and ownership of the resulting infrastructure. The legislation is not expected to make a subway upload happen right away, but will enable such a move by laying the legal groundwork for a provincial takeover.
The Progressive Conservatives’ election platform in 2018 included a promise to upload the city’s subway network, while leaving operations in the hands of the Toronto Transit Commission. They have presented this as a way to build more transit because of how the province can amortize debt, while critics have said it will lead to privatization and a breaking apart of the system.
As telegraphed in recent weeks, the province is starting by taking over control and ownership of new transit projects. This scenario is akin to the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project in midtown Toronto, which the province is building and will own.
The transit upload powers are to be part of a bigger piece of legislation that includes the possibility of higher speed limits on 400-series highways and a look at the rules around bicycles and electric scooters. The question of how or if to take over the city’s existing subway infrastructure – a more difficult matter, given questions of value and maintenance costs – has been deferred to a later date.
Mr. Yurek denied that his government was subverting the ongoing talks by moving ahead now with upload legislation.
“The city knew ahead of schedule that we were going to go ahead with this legislation,” he said. “It’s enabling legislation that, if passed, is going to allow us to move with the upload of new transit projects.”
The news sparked sharp push-back. Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the speed with which the upload bill has been put before the legislature undermines the talks with the city.
“You can’t on the one hand say you are bargaining in good faith and then [be] turning around and forcing legislation through the legislature without that conversation completing,” Ms. Horwath said.
Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow, long an opponent of engaging with the province on the upload, said it was time to end the talks.
“I believe that Queen’s Park has been disingenuous when they’ve said to Toronto that they were going to discuss uploading the subway in good faith with their partner,” he said. “But I think our city’s leadership has been foolish to believe that they were ever being considered a partner in the first place.”
But Mr. Tory said there was no reason to quit the talks as long as he believed them to be a genuine and honest exchange of ideas.
“If you’re not at the table, as some would advocate … then you have no chance to register your concerns short of standing in front of Queen’s Park shouting at the building,” he said.
With a report from Jeff Gray