Scarborough subway debate will continue Wednesday

The first day of the debate over light rail versus subways in Scarborough gripped city hall onTuesday with Mayor Rob Ford confident the city will back the more expensive underground option.

Questions remain about how underground option would be funded

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is pushing for a subway to be built in Scarborough instead of light rail. (CBC)

The debate over whether to build a subway or a light rail train to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit line stretched late into Tuesday evening with no final decision.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has lined up on the side of subways and declared early in the day that he believes he has the votes to extend the subways to the city's eastern border. 

"I truly believe the majority of councillors have seen the light and they've listened to the taxpayers and they want subways," he said.

The province has already committed $1.8 billion for rapid transit in the city's east end. A subway could cost at least $1 billion more.

The city and province had a signed agreement in place to build light rail in Scarborough, but in May voted to pursue a subway option instead.

Transportation minister Glen Murray says the province is willing to build a Bloor-Danforth subway extension, but Premier Kathleen Wynne says the extra money won't come from provincial funds.

"If that is what the city wants to do, then there has to be a way of funding it," she said. "And I'm pleased the mayor has changed his tune in terms of finding tools to create a revenue stream in order to do that."

A city manager's report released last week laid out the following conditions that must be met to pay for a subway. They include:

  • A 1.1 per cent to 2.4 per cent property tax increase over three years.
  • The province supplying the full $1.8 billion it had originally committed to the LRT.
  • Access to more money generated by changes paid by developers.

Getting a significant contribution from the federal government. Anywhere from $400 million to $700 million would be needed. So far, the federal government has not committed any money for an east-end subway.

Ford is proposing a 0.25 per cent tax increase, which leaves funding for the project far from certain as the city manager's report called for a 0.5 per cent tax increase starting in 2014.

The subway debate comes as Wynne's minority Liberal government faces five byelections, including one in the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood. Scarborough is also seen as a critical battleground in the 2014 mayoralty race.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong said Tuesday council's recent willingness to pursue a subway option for Scarborough is a "vote-buying exercise" in light of the uncertainty about how the line will be funded.

Councillors will resume the debate on Wednesday when a final vote is expected.


With files from CBC's Jamie Strashin