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Chow, Tory continue trading shots over transit

Mayoral contenders Olivia Chow, left, and John Tory are shown at a City Hall ceremony marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 16, 2014. Ms. Chow took aim at Mr. Tory’s transit plans at the East York Rotary Club. Aug. 7, 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow took aim at rival John Tory's transit plan on Thursday, raising questions about how he intends to fund the proposed 53-kilometre rail line and why Toronto taxpayers should be on the hook for transit tracks beyond city limits.

At a Toronto East Rotary Club luncheon in East York, Ms. Chow addressed members of the same club Mr. Tory made a speech to two weeks ago, in which he criticized her plan to forgo a council-backed subway in Scarborough in favour of LRT.

At the end of a short speech covering platform points on youth unemployment, road construction and public transit, Ms. Chow fired back at Mr. Tory, questioning his $8-billion "SmartTrack" transit plan, a third of which is to be covered by the city.

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"He wants to borrow the money up front and then get the money back later. It's $2.7-billion, and we're going to have to pay interest – that's $106-million a year of interest," she said.

Ms. Chow said Mr. Tory backtracked on his support for the downtown subway relief line with the SmartTrack proposal, which has also drawn criticism from other candidates for being too ambitious. The project promises 22 stops on two retrofitted GO lines in seven years, extending from the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga to Union Station and into Markham.

"Markham should pay for their own tracks," Ms. Chow told reporters after the luncheon. "A lot of people already take TTC coming from Markham. We are already subsidizing them, because not a dollar of TTC money comes from the Ontario government."

Her campaign also issued a release saying the amount of borrowing in Mr. Tory's plan "would trigger a property tax increase of more than four per cent" and would surpass city council's debt limit.

According to a statement from the Tory campaign released to The Globe on Thursday, the SmartTrack project "will not result in a property tax increase" for Torontonians and will be funded by Metrolinx and through tax revenues "as development occurs and assessments rise on properties along the route."

At the luncheon, Ms. Chow reiterated her push for light rail in Scarborough and a U-shaped downtown relief line. She said afterward that she wants to pledge $13-million to $15-million to increasing TTC bus service, but she did not provide a specific time frame for new hires and maintenance.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Tory's campaign sent out a media release attacking Ms. Chow's transit policies. Later, in response to Ms. Chow's remarks, Mr. Tory's campaign provided a statement via e-mail that criticized Ms. Chow's "sparsely attended lunchtime speech."

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"With no plan of her own, Chow attempted to poke holes in TIF (Tax Increment Funding), and instead exposed her ignorance on a number of important issues," the statement reads.

Torontonians: Here's your chance to participate in a mayoral debate: The Globe and Toronto Region Board of Trade are hosting a debate with the city's leading mayoral candidates on Sept. 4 and we want to ask your questions. Submit your question here.

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