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Toronto city council votes to approve Ontario government’s transit plan

ABOVE: Toronto City Council now has to decide whether it will adopt four major transit projects designed by the Ford government in order to secure provincial and federal funding. Matthew Bingley has more.

Toronto city council has voted to adopt four transit projects designed by the Doug Ford government.

Council voted 22 to 3 in favour after an hours-long debate at city hall on Tuesday.

The Mayor’s Executive Committee recommended council approve a deal hashed out between the Ford government and city and TTC staff. It would see the province, with aid from the federal government, pay for nearly $30 billion in expansion projects in exchange for the city adopting its transit plan.

The plan approved by council contains other features of Ford’s transit vision, such as a subway extension dubbed the “Ontario Line” as well as three additional stations that would bring subway service to the city’s eastern suburbs.

Toronto Mayor John Tory described the newly adopted deal as good for the city in a twitter posting shared after the council vote.

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Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and Ford released statements applauding council for adopting the plan.

“Our comprehensive program of priority subway projects will dramatically improve connectivity across the (Greater Toronto-Hamilton area) while also delivering significant relief to critical congestion,” Ford said in a statement.

“The people of Ontario deserve rapid, world-class transit services and our plan will deliver exactly that.”

But dozens have spoken out against the deal, with many of them telling the executive committee they’re worried about the impact of above-ground rail plans for the Ontario Line.

READ MORE: Dozens speak out against Toronto endorsing transit deal with the province

In return for its endorsement, the report said it would allow city monies slated for expansion projects to be used on the TTC’s state of good repair backlog. The TTC needs $33.5 billion over the next 15 years just to keep the system functional, but about two-thirds of that figure are unfunded.

The city and TTC report said the deal would free up about $5 billion, which could be diverted to the fund. But Councillor Gord Perks said that figure would actually be lower.

“Most of that doesn’t exist, we haven’t raised it, we have no tax plan for raising it” he said. Perks said the real number is closer to $1.25 billion, but noted the funds have come from development charges which would be illegal to spend on existing infrastructure.

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“If you are a transit rider, this announcement put your ride over the next decade more at risk than any single thing that’s happened in your lifetime” said Perks.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, and Jeff Yurek, provincial Minister of Transportation, make their way to a photo opportunity ahead of an announcement about Ontario’s transit network, in Toronto on Wednesday, April, 10, 2019.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, and Jeff Yurek, provincial Minister of Transportation, make their way to a photo opportunity ahead of an announcement about Ontario’s transit network, in Toronto on Wednesday, April, 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Still, transportation expert Matti Siemiatycki from University of Toronto’s School of Cities said the deal has a potential to be win-win for both Toronto and the province.

“I think the city sees a lot of the concerns that they had addressed and I think the province also gets a pass to move forward quickly with building public transit,” he said.

Siemiatycki said if the deal can be delivered in the way it’s promised, it will alleviate some of the Toronto’s financial pressures. But he echoes concerns about the billions of dollars remaining unfunded for TTC maintenance costs, which he said will continue to be a hurdle for all levels of government.

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READ MORE: Province agrees to drop upload of Toronto subway system, city backs Ontario Line

Cherise Burda from the Ryerson City Building Institute said the deal is the best Toronto is likely to get.

“It’s always striking when the provincial government does walk back on doing something bad to Toronto and it looks like they’re walking forward,” she said.

Province abandons TTC subway upload with conditions for Toronto Council
Province abandons TTC subway upload with conditions for Toronto Council

However, Burda noted that while Toronto will gain glamourous transit projects, residents won’t be able to access them for at least a decade.

“What can we do in the more immediate term, the short-term to get people moving?” she said. The city, she notes, will double in population over the next two decades, compounding the stress on the existing transit system.

“The city isn’t standing still waiting for these projects to be built,” she said “We can’t wait for 10 or 15 years for some new mega project to get built.”

Burda said it will be crucial for the city to raise its own revenue to find innovative ways to get people moving in the meantime — a problem she said will remain difficult with the TTC state of good repair costs looming.

“There’s no free money here for Toronto,” Burda said. “They still have to come up with $33 billion.”

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— With files from The Canadian Press