Minister of Transportation Glen Murray told reporters today he's "very pleased" Toronto mayor Rob Ford is willing to kick in some money to help offset costs on a Scarborough subway line, but he's still waiting for Ottawa to sign some cheques and contribute funds towards the project.
Murray and Ford met earlier in the day to discuss transit funding for the proposed Scarborough subway extension, but the minister also said he would have welcomed federal finance minister Jim Flaherty at their table.
Asked what he would have asked Flaherty, Murray put it simply: "Where is your $1.4 billion or $1.8 billion?"
"We have not had a penny from Mr. Flaherty for any 416 projects," he said, noting that he would have expected one-third contributions from each of the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
But Flaherty's press secretary Kathleen Perchaluk said Murray "knows full well" that the Harper government has provided $4.5-billion in infrastructure funding for the Greater Toronto Area since 2006.
Among investments made by the federal government are $622 million for the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extention, $250 million towards GO Transit network improvements and $133 million for the Union Station revitalization.
The province is still providing $1.8 billion that it had originally earmarked for the Scarborough LRT. Those plans for light rail look less likely since a May council vote that reversed support for LRT in favour of a plan for subways.
'We expect a level of fairness'
Mayor Rob Ford has said a $5-per-household property tax hike over three years would be necessary to fund an estimated $1 billion extra for converting the $1.4-billion LRT project into something that is subway compatible.
"We were very pleased that the mayor is prepared to make an investment in transit," Murray said.
But he argued that in fairness, the Harper Conservatives should also make a contribution, particularly as the federal government takes more taxes out of Ontario than any other province or territory.
"The federal government gets more than 50 per cent — almost 60 per cent — out of this province," he said.
"We've always understood that Ontario is one of those provinces that has to carry more of the freight, but we also have to expect a level of fairness back," he added.
A report by city manager Joe Pennachetti on the economic feasibility of the subway extension is expected to be debated tomorrow at council.
Ford 'comfortable' after talks with Murray
In an afternoon press conference, the mayor said he left his first official sit-down with Murray feeling "comfortable" that the province was committed to helping fund a subway.
"They said they're at the table with us, they agree with our subway proposal — if it gets through council," Ford said. "Everything is determined on whether this council supports subways or not … and I truly believe the majority of councillors have seen the light."
'The principle of needing to have a new revenue stream to build transit ... there seems to be more agreement on that principle now, and from my perspective, that's a very good thing.' —Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
Ford also said he had met with Flaherty on Saturday and that the federal finance minister seems "on board" with the plan.
"He said there's infrastructure money there, and he'd be more than happy to work with us, but he needs direction from council," Ford reiterated.
Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne suggested today that the penny-pinching Ford, who campaigned on cutting taxes, appears to be coming around to the principle of revenue tools.
Ford's proposal for each household to pay about $5 more per year amounts to a 0.25 per cent tax increase.
"The principle of needing to have a new revenue stream to build transit ... there seems to be more agreement on that principle now, and from my perspective, that's a very good thing," Wynne said.
But Ford objected to Wynne's remarks.
"That's just not accurate," he said. "I'm totally opposed to revenue tools. I always have been and I always will be."
Holyday promises to fight for subway
Earlier in the day, deputy mayor Doug Holyday told reporters Monday that a Scarborough subway extension is possible with a "minimal" tax increase.
Holyday, who announced his candidacy this month to run for the Progressive Conservatives in this summer's Etobicoke-Lakeshore byelection, reiterated that the $5 annual tax increase on households would be enough to finance the project.
"I've always thought that if government were to build a little bit of subway every year for many years, we would have a system," he said at a news conference at Kipling station. "If they'd done that 30 years ago, we would probably be well on our way right now. So we have to start somewhere, and I think … the Scarborough line is a good place to start."
"I know there's a bit of an increase there, but I think it's money well invested," Holyday said. "It can only happen if we get the provincial money and the federal money to match what we're putting up ourselves."
If he is elected on Aug. 1, Holyday has said he will also make it a top priority to see the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line westward from Kipling.
Needs 1.5% of $1.3 billion budget
"Eventually, we'd like to take this subway here right over to Sherway [Gardens], where it should have gone," he said.
While part of the province's $130-billion budget has already been spent on items such as wind mills, Holyday argued those funds could have been directed instead toward subways.
"I'm sure we can find that money somewhere," he said, adding that "the reason the tax increase seems so minimal compared to what we're doing is because it is financed, and it's really carrying the financing and paying it off."
He also took a shot at his rival in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding, fellow Toronto city councillor Peter Milczyn, characterizing the left-leaning candidate as "anti-subway."
Milczyn has objected to that description and says he has fought for the last decade to appropriate land for a Bloor-Danforth extension to Sherway Gardens.
City report to be discussed Tuesday
Holyday was accompanied Monday by PC leader Tim Hudak, who pitched the deputy mayor as a man who "knows how to stretch a dollar" and also respects taxpayers.
Hudak said Ontario would only need to earmark about 1.5 per cent of its annual budget to make the subway extension a reality.
"Are you telling me you can't find 1.5 cents for every dollar?" he said.
Council will likley proceed with subway option. Votes are there for council to adopt recommendations contained in City Manager's report.#sl— Jamie Strashin (@StrashinCBC) July 15, 2013
Wynne has said that her government is not opposed to a subways project if the city and the federal government can find the means to make it happen.
"Our position has always been that if what's going to be built along that line is a subway, there has to be a way to fill in that funding gap," she said. "I can tell you that as minister of transportation … that was our position then, that's our position now, and that gap will have to be funded."