Toronto councillors support Scarborough subway extension

Mayor Rob Ford says he's confident that higher levels of government will help Toronto pay for a subway extension in Scarborough, especially after his fellow councillors voted in favour of it.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is confident that higher levels of government will come through with their 'fair share' of funding for a Scarborough subway extension. (CBC)

Mayor Rob Ford says he's confident that higher levels of government will help Toronto pay for a subway extension in Scarborough, especially after his fellow councillors voted in favour of it.

"I truly, truly believe that Toronto can count on the province and the federal governments ... as partners in this historic project," Ford told reporters on Wednesday afternoon, after council voted 28-16 in favour of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway in the east end, moving away from a previous plan to build light rail to replace the aging Scarborough RT.

"We can bring all three levels of government together to build new subways in Toronto."

Coun. Karen Stintz, who is also the chair of the TTC, said she favours the subway option and believes it is time that council listened to what the people of Scarborough are saying.

"Scarborough residents don’t feel like their voices have been heard. They don’t feel like their voices have been heard," Stintz told council ahead of the vote on Wednesday afternoon.

"And us telling them that their needs have been met is not the same as having them feel that their voices have been heard."

Her arguments about listening to Scarborough residents echoed what Ford had said a day earlier, when the council first began debating the subway issue. And also what he repeated to reporters on Wednesday.

"The people of Scarborough have spoken and we have listened," Ford said.

However, some councillors warned that changing the light-rail project to a subway would be costly.

"After three long years as mayor, Rob Ford has finally found his gravy train," tweeted Coun. Josh Matlow, alluding to the phrase Ford has used to describe wasteful spending.

Coun. Shelley Carroll said that she believes the light-rail plan was the better choice, as it would have served more people within walking distance of its planned stations.

She acknowledged that the ongoing push for a Scarborough subway extension had an effect on council, but Carroll said the plan's fate is now in the hands of other governments.

Deal contingent on government funding

The city had made a deal with the province to build a surface light-rail line from Kennedy station — where the Bloor-Danforth subway reaches its eastern terminus — to Sheppard Avenue East.

But in May, council voted to instead examine building a subway along the route. The subway option will cost hundreds of millions more than the $1.8 billion the province originally committed to the project.

A city manager's report says making up the difference would require a property tax increase, changes to how the city collects fees from developers, and a contribution from the federal government — somewhere between $400 million and $700 million — which has so far yet to materialize.

Despite Wednesday's council vote, the subway project is not a done deal. It is dependent on funding coming in from those higher level governments.

"If the province or the feds can’t come up with their fair share of the money, it's not going to go. I was quite clear on that," Ford said.

The city wants to have an answer on that funding by Sept. 30.

Following the vote, Glen Murray, the provincial transportation minister, announced that he and Brad Duguid, the MPP for Scarborough Centre, will be responding to council's decision on Thursday afternoon.

The political pressure to extending the subway in Scarborough has been building lately, with the topic of transit emerging as a key issue in a series of provincial byelections.

Ford has long pushed to build more subways in Toronto and has opposed light-rail projects.

During his annual Ford Fest barbecue, which was held in Scarborough earlier this month, the mayor told people attending that "these subways are coming."

With a report from the CBC's Jamie Strashin and files from The Canadian Press