Toronto

Olivia Chow questions funding for John Tory's SmartTrack

Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow continued to question details of opponent John Tory's transit plan Thursday, saying numbers contained in the funding plan for SmartTrack don't add up.

Chow says plan over-estimates property tax revenue new transit line would generate

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow continues to question details of opponent John Tory's transit plan, saying numbers contained in his funding plan for SmartTrack don't add up. 

Chow released an economic analysis of the SmartTrack funding plan Thursday morning. Performed by former Ontario Hydro chief economist Mitchell Rothman, Chow said the analysis highlights the "risks" of SmartTrack, which would build 53 kilometres of high-speed surface rail, primarily along existing GO Transit rail corridors.

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Tory has estimated SmartTrack will cost $8 billion, a price he's said will be shared equally between the city, the province and the federal government.

In Tory's plan much of the city's share would be generated by tax increment financing, a funding mechanism that banks on future property tax increases the new transit line is projected to generate.

But Chow says the Rothman analysis shows Tory has overestimated how much SmartTrack will add in tax revenue, saying the funding scheme would raise only $929 million, short of the $2.66 billion the city needs. Chow said Tory is counting on tax revenue from construction SmartTrack will generate in downtown areas that are already built up.

"We conclude that the available financing to repay this loan from the tax incremental financing would come to only about a third of the amount that is needed according to Tory's plan," Rothman said Thursday afternoon, when speaking to reporters about his analysis.

'Stunning amount of development' required

Chow says Tory's plan counts on SmartTrack creating new development that amounts to 15 and a half buildings the size of First Canadian Place.

"This is a stunning amount of development, and the percentage of it Mr. Tory attributes to SmartTrack is highly ambitious," says a statement from Chow's campaign.

On Thursday afternoon, Coun. Joe Mihevc told reporters that SmartTrack could be very costly for the city if it is pursued.

"Clearly, the John Tory SmartTrack plan is not doable for City of Toronto council," said Mihevc, who is in the midst of seeking re-election and has endorsed Chow's mayoral bid.

"His buy-now, pay-later transit plan is a big risk, a risk that will be borne perhaps by our children and our grandchildren."

'We've done our homework'

Amanda Galbraith, a spokesperson for Tory, told CBC News in an email that his campaign profoundly disagrees with the analysis from Rothman.

"We've done our homework on SmartTrack. We've worked with countless experts and it will get done because the need for transit and traffic relief is so urgent in this city."

Galbraith claimed Rothman "is a longstanding member of the NDP and a longtime friend of Olivia Chow."

Chow had served as a New Democratic MP in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, before resigning her seat, so that she could launch her mayoral bid this past March.

Throughout this campaign, Chow has highlighted what she believes are other problems with SmartTrack, including routing problems with the line in the city's northwest, questions about capacity at Union Station, and the need for track upgrades in the east end of the line.

Tory has said tax increment financing has worked in other jurisdictions to raise money for large transit projects.

Toronto voters go to the polls on Oct. 27. Chow and Tory are two of dozens of candidates seeking to be the city's next mayor.

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