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Toronto mayor calls for end to Expo 2025 bid, prioritizing transit and public housing

Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks at a press conference to talk about the city's tentative four year deal with the city's inside workers, on March 3 2016. Mr. Tory said Wednesday the cash-strapped city could not support a bid for a world’s fair without federal or provincial assurances that those governments would help pay for it

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor John Tory dismissed an aggressive push by some local politicians and business leaders for the city to bid on Expo 2025, dropping his neutrality on the issue and voting with his executive committee to recommend that city council kill the idea – for now.

Mr. Tory said Wednesday the cash-strapped city could not support a bid for a world's fair without federal or provincial assurances that those governments would help pay for it, and do so without siphoning away money still needed for the city's long list of transit and public-housing repair projects.

"I will tell you right now, I am not going to take money out of what we need to fund transit and housing to support an Expo, or just about anything else for that matter," Mr. Tory told the committee after nearly five hours of presentations from Expo boosters.

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However, Mr. Tory, who also rejected an Olympic bid last year, did move a motion stating that the city should remain open to future Expo bids, including in 2030.

"The commonsense answer is, not right now," the mayor said. "Not never. But not right now."

The Expo issue now goes before all of city council next month. The vote on Wednesday came after a full-court press, led by downtown councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and developer Ken Tanenbaum, to win support for the bid. They argued it would be a catalyst to drive the redevelopment of the Port Lands and raise Toronto's global profile.

Ms. Wong-Tam insisted Wednesday's defeat was a "soft victory," saying she believed the 2025 bid could still be revived by city council.

Supporters enlisted local tech startups, the Toronto Stock Exchange, Facebook Canada, arts and community groups, the construction industry, unions, Chief Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and former Ontario cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, to fight for the idea.

Private-sector boosters paid for a feasibility study that concluded Expo 2025 could be held for just $1.9-billion in capital costs, a number that excludes billions needed for flood-protection and other infrastructure in the Port Lands. The event itself would cost another $1.6-billion to run, an amount covered by revenues and corporate sponsors, the report says, adding that it would create jobs and big economic benefits.

Other Expos have not been nearly so cheap. Milan's event in 2015 ended up costing $19-billion (Canadian). Shanghai's, in 2010, cost an estimated $60-billion.

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In their report on the idea, the city's senior bureaucrats recommend that Toronto pass on the bid, which they warn would be plagued by "significant challenges and risks."

Among the red flags they cite are a lack of firm support from either the federal government or Queen's Park, and the complexity of the needed flood-protection work, which would take at least seven years.

Other major projects that would have to be completed before the event include the East Bayfront light-rail transit line, a GO Transit "rapid express rail" station, and the rejigging of both the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. The tight timelines for all this work, the city report concludes, create a "very real risk of significant cost overruns."

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