Councillors demand inquiry into Eglinton Crosstown, call it 'boondoggle' on national scale
Toronto Mayor John Tory meanwhile dismisses calls for public inquiry
Two Toronto city councillors are pressing forward with demands for a public inquiry into the "delayed and over budget" Eglinton Crosstown project after CBC News exclusively reported on confidential documents that indicated there is no "credible plan" to complete the project.
Councillors Josh Matlow and Mike Colle, who represent Toronto-St. Paul's and Eglinton-Lawrence respectively, first indicated they planned to call for a public inquiry into the stalled project late last month.
"This is the biggest boondoggle in Canadian construction history," Colle told reporters Friday.
Confidential documents dated earlier this fall show the project, which was expected to cost a total of $11.78 billion in 2018, is now expected to cost at least $12.8 billion. The records paint a picture of how unresolved issues between the two provincial agencies involved in the project and Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the consortium building it, are contributing to delays. They also outline concerns Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) have about the quality of some work completed, as well as "over-ambitious" timelines.
The councillors now say they will move their motion for an inquiry next week at city council.
If approved, it would call on Ontario's Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney and Metrolinx CEO, Phil Verster, to appear at the executive committee meeting in January to answer questions about the delays, when the project is to be completed, the complete expected cost, and how residents and businesses affected by the delays might be compensated, in part.
Lack of answers from province, Metrolinx: councillors
At a minimum, said Colle, businesses and communities affected should be given a break on their property and business taxes for the next few years. The province and Metrolinx should also provide immediate funding for free TTC bus fares along Eglinton, the councillors say.
The Amalgamated Transit Union said Friday it too supports a public inquiry.
"Private Public Partnerships deliver billions in profits to corporate friends of Government and leave taxpayers to pay the bill for substandard public transit that does not work," ATU Canada's president, John Di Nino, said in a statement.
"As we continue to see further expansion of transit with the Finch LRT and the proposed Ontario Line we have also witnessed years of chaos for residents of these communities and the financial impact on businesses in these areas," the union said.
Metrolinx previously declined to answer a list of questions about the documents when asked by CBC News, and instead re-sent a statement that was released in September announcing the project's third delay. CBC Toronto attended the agency's public board meeting last week, but CEO Phil Verster and chief spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins declined to comment.
IO and Crosslinx also didn't respond to a series of questions.
However, at a news conference Friday, Mulroney told reporters, "We inherited this project from the previous government and there are technical issues that still need to be worked out."
The transportation minister referenced the recent inquiry into problems with Ottawa's beleagured LRT, saying that among the problems found was "trying to rush a project before it's safe to open."
"We want it to open as soon as possible," the minister said of the Eglinton Crosstown. "People are frustrated but they deserve a system that operates well and that operates safely when it does."
Mayor dismisses calls for inquiry
Asked about the project Thursday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is not in favour of a public inquiry, saying the process is often long, slow and expensive.
"I don't think that a public inquiry ... is really going to help us," he said, adding he will be looking for lessons out of the Crosstown project to inform work on upcoming provincial-municipal partner projects such as the Ontario Line, Yonge-North extension, and Scarborough subway.
The mayor added he has not seen a timeline for the opening of the line.
As for compensation for those affected by the delays, Tory said he believes the focus should be on opening the line and having people use it as soon as possible.
That wasn't enough to satisfy Matlow, who told reporters on Friday, "I believe the job of the mayor of Toronto is to represent the interest of small business owners, residents and communities and not simply defend the interests of the provincial government and the lack of accountability that we've received."
The councillors said they would be prepared to withdraw their demand if the province and Metrolinx comes forward with answers.
"Unless the province brings in someone who examines it and fixes it, we are going to be stuck in this mess for how much longer," said Colle.
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