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Mayor Rob Ford’s $9-billion subway plan roils his rivals

Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory takes part in a debate organized by FilmOntario on Sept 3 2014.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Rob Ford has released his $9-billion transit plan, promising to build 32 kilometres of underground transit at no cost to residents – a plan that leaves questions of funding and timelines unanswered, and which his rivals have dismissed as "fantasies."

Mr. Ford was the last of the front-runners to release his platform for transit, which 49 per cent of Toronto residents identified in a Globe/CTV/Nanos Research poll this week as being the most important issue the city faces.

But his proposal Wednesday – which focuses on subways, including promises of new Finch, Sheppard and downtown relief subways, as well as burying the eastern portion of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line – did not provide specifics on how it would be funded, and included cost estimates significantly lower than those provided in the past.

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"You bore, bore, bore until the cows come home," he said at a news conference at his campaign office, where he dismissed light rail as "fancy streetcars."

"I have funding options in place and this is not, not, putting the onus on the taxpayers. This is not implementing revenue tolls or taxes."

Despite this, the mayor was vague on the issue of funding.

The $9-billion plan appears to rely on assistance from other levels of government. Other options he named include public-private partnerships, sales of assets and air-rights over stations and tax-increment financing.

The last of these – which mayoral candidate John Tory has also proposed – is controversial, because it involves borrowing against development that transit might spur. If revenue falls short, the public purse could be on the hook.

His plan also says the Sheppard subway would cost $1.8-billion, even though a 2012 city council-mandated expert panel put the figure between $2.7-billion and $3.7-billion. The mayor estimated the Finch subway at $2.6-billion, or $236-million per kilometre – significantly less than the $468-million the Scarborough subway is expected to cost.

He also did not answer directly when asked how much, if any, of the building could happen in the next term.

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"You can't snap your fingers and build a subway," he said. "This is a bold ambitious vision for years to come."

The mayor's rivals were quick to attack the plan.

Mr. Tory, whose own $8-billion Smart Track proposal piggybacks on a provincial plan to electrify existing GO lines, said it was unrealistic to expect Queen's Park and Ottawa to co-operate with the scandal-plagued mayor.

"He can't get along with anybody. He literally can't get along with the council, with the other governments," Mr. Tory said. "The last time he had conversations with these people, I expect, was about five Jimmy Kimmel shows ago. They don't take him seriously any more."

And candidate Olivia Chow, who wants to scrap plans for a subway in Scarborough in favour of a still-existing LRT agreement, called it "irresponsible" to shelve approved and funded light-rail lines on Finch and Sheppard. The mayor's plan requires the province to reallocate money it has already pledged to the Finch and Sheppard LRTs, and it's unclear whether the province would be willing to do that.

"To tear up the light-rail transit that are now shovel-ready – and we can put shovels in the ground – is just irresponsible," said Ms. Chow, who is also promising to build the eastern stretch of a downtown relief line.

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Ms. Chow also blasted the mayor's – and Mr. Tory's – funding plan. "This risky financial scheme hasn't worked in New York, it's not working in California, it will leave the city in big debt," she said.

David Soknacki, meanwhile, issued a statement calling the mayor's plan "fantasies."

"Don't be fooled again by Ford's reboot of his 2010 promise of free subways," he said. "The transit plans we already have are practical, funded and engineered, while Mr. Ford's plans are impractical, implausible and financially impossible."

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National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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