Toronto

'I don't accept' that province can build transit faster and cheaper, mayor says

John Tory says he doesn't accept the province's contention that it can build transit faster and cheaper than the city can, as plans to upload Toronto's subway system appear to be moving forward despite objections from the mayor and a number of councillors.

John Tory defending decision to remain in talks with province over subway upload

City council voted Wednesday to remain in talks with the province over the proposed subway upload. (CBC)

John Tory says he doesn't accept the province's contention that it can build transit faster and cheaper than the city can, as plans to upload Toronto's subway system appear to be moving forward despite objections from the mayor and a number of councillors.

Two letters, released Tuesday evening, offered some detail about the province's plans for the subway upload, which include major changes to transit projects already underway.

On Wednesday, following a debate over the letters at city hall, council voted against breaking off talks with Queen's Park over the issue, but passed a range of motions, including a call for the provincial government to recognize the downtown relief line as an urgent priority.

Speaking to CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Thursday, Tory said the city needs to remain a part of the discussions to hear the province's arguments and to make Toronto's priorities heard.

When asked if he trusts that the province can build transit faster and cheaper than the city can, Tory replied: "I don't accept that fact, but I do accept the fact we should be sitting at a table talking about it."

While city manager Chris Murray represents the city at these meetings, Tory does speak to the premier — including a meeting with Ford earlier this week — and others.

"That to me is the purpose of this table, is to look at the question, can it get built faster? Can there be more transit built? Can the province put in more money or put it in more readily than we can? And I think those things are deserving of discussion," he said.

"Am I satisfied as a matter of just fact or as a matter of principle somehow that the province can build transit better than we can? Not necessarily."

On Wednesday evening, Premier Doug Ford released a short video on Twitter, pledging that his government will build "a great subway system" across the GTA.

"We're finally going to move forward, get the shovels in the ground," he says in the 30-second interview-style clip.

"The TTC, they're great at operating subways, but just can't build subways. We will make sure that we have the greatest subway system anywhere."

Tory, however, said his biggest concern "is the notion of delay." The letters suggest changes are coming to four priority transit projects already underway, though at various stages: the Scarborough subway extension, the Eglinton West extension, the downtown relief line and the Yonge subway extension.

The city was "making progress" on the downtown relief line, Tory noted, and he expressed concern that any changes to plans for that project, or any of the others, will push back their timelines and increase costs.

Few details from province

While Tory has been given few details about the province's exact plans, he said the premier assured him at their meeting that "people will think this plan is terrific."

In the letters, the Ford government touts new technology to be used for the downtown relief line, but there are few details. Asked what that might mean, Tory said: "I don't know."

"It's frustrating because at the end of the day. it may be the case, I'm prepared to hold out the possibility, that whatever is announced by the way of this new technology ... are a fantastic bonanza for us," he said. "But I don't know."

Mayor John Tory said Thursday he's "not necessarily" convinced that the province can build transit faster or cheaper. (CBC)

Regardless of the relief line plan, he and councillors want the project deemed a priority over the extension of the Yonge subway line.

"Because the Yonge Street subway is at or over capacity, to just pour more people on it before you've got a series of relief facilities in place would be irresponsible," Tory said.

"So I can't believe that anybody would succumb to something that's just irresponsible and have it for political or other reasons open sooner."

He rejected the notion of playing hardball with the province over transit.

"Picketing and demonstrations doesn't get transit built. And I think the overriding concern that people have is 'build transit,'" he said.

The mayor said he's "not interested in political theatre."

"If the end result of where these talks go to at this table is a bad result for Toronto, I will oppose that deal or that proposal," he said.

"But I think you have to give a chance at working together and see where it goes before you just walk away and say 'we disagree.'"

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