Toronto has edged closer to backing the province’s transit plan, including its version of the downtown relief line, voting to consider allocating billions of dollars in federal funding, provided that a long list of questions can be satisfactorily answered.
But city council also fired a warning shot at Ontario Premier Doug Ford, making its support conditional on the province’s changes to the transit plans not causing “an unreasonable delay.”
The votes Wednesday came only a week after Queen’s Park unveiled transit plans that involved changes to four Toronto-area projects. The province wants to bury a large part of the Eglinton West light-rail line, extend the Yonge subway north of the city to Richmond Hill, lengthen and add stations to the Scarborough subway extension and create a new version of the downtown relief line.
The province has insisted that it needs to take control of transit planning in Toronto because council, according to Queen’s Park, can’t get anything built. Toronto’s politicians counter that a lack of funding from other levels of government has been the biggest stumbling block and note that they have a transit plan, parts of which are nearly ready to start building.
“We have a plan, that plan was and is moving forward, but obviously there’s now another plan on the table,” Mayor John Tory told reporters after the votes. “There are a lot of questions about that plan, which I think should be answered.”
City staff have identified dozens of questions about the province’s relief line and its other projects. Among them are queries about what is included in the province’s cost estimates, the type of transit vehicles it is planning to use on the relief line and whether the province anticipates a need for environmental assessments.
Councillor Joe Cressy, who introduced the amendment seeking assurance that changing plans won’t cause delay, called for a staff report on this by June. Staff have already said that the province’s approach would take longer. Mr. Cressy said that it would be up to council, this summer, to determine what constituted unreasonable delay.
One piece of leverage the city has is around funding. The total cost of the province’s transit plan is approximately $28-billion. And while Mr. Ford said his government is willing to pay the full cost, he is expecting contributions from the federal and municipal governments.
Federal money earmarked for Toronto could be directed to these projects, provided all three levels of government agree.
Wednesday’s vote by Toronto councillors opened the door to allocating that federal funding to the province’s priorities, but only if council is satisfied with the answers it gets. And the debate laid bare the frustrations of some councillors.
Several said they were not dealing with a reasonable negotiating partner in Mr. Ford, noting that Queen’s Park had cut gas-tax funding crucial to keeping the current subway system operating and that the city has been kept in the dark about aspects of the provincial plan.
Many questions surround the province’s proposals, particularly its version of a relief line. Provincial officials say this would be a light metro running from Eglinton to the Danforth, through the downtown and then southwest toward Ontario Place on the waterfront. They say they can have it built for $10.9-billion, in as little as seven years.