Ontario government to introduce subway upload legislation Thursday
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, May 1, 2019 8:55AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2019 4:34PM EDT
Mayor John Tory said Wednesday that the city has not been briefed on legislation that is expected to enable the first phase of a provincial upload of the subway system, but said the city remains engaged in “constructive” discussions about the process with provincial officials.
The provincial government announced Wednesday that it will introduce legislation tomorrow to upload responsibility for several major transit expansion projects in Toronto.
The legislation is the first phase of a planned upload of Toronto’s subway system to provincial control. It would make the province responsible for new subway construction projects, including the downtown relief line (dubbed the Ontario Line by the province), the Scarborough subway extension of Line 2, the Yonge-north subway extension and the Eglinton-West LRT project.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Tory acknowledged that the city has not seen the legislation, but downplayed its significance.
“This is a step to enable them to do something but it doesn’t mean they’re doing it,” Tory said. “The notion of whether they will ever do it or not is part of what’s being discussed at the table and if they were ever to do it, the terms under which they would do it are being discussed at the table.”
“So as long as that’s true and it’s a genuine, honest discussion that’s taking place where everyone’s being listened to, including us, then I’m certainly prepared and I think the majority of council are to continue the discussions. If it appears that we’re drifting away from that, then we’ll have a decision to make.”
The Ontario government has said that uploading Toronto’s subway system will allow new subway infrastructure to be built more quickly because the province is able to amortize costs over long periods and fast-track permits to move utilities.
The city and the province have been in ongoing talks for months about uploading the TTC’s subway infrastructure to provincial control.
Speaking with CP24 Wednesday, Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said Thursday’s legislation is one step in a long process.
“We still have a lot of work to do with regards to that, with regards to the upload of the existing system – how the money’s going to transfer, how it’s going to operate, what role the TTC is going to play,” Yurek said. “We hope they still are going to operate day-to-day and keep the fares, but this legislation that we’re putting forward, if passed, will let us go forward with uploading ownership of new subway systems and getting them built. That’s what people want, is new subway lines and we’re going to deliver that and we’re looking forward to our work with the city.”
Last month, the provincial government announced its vision for transit expansion in Toronto and said it would proceed with the subway upload in two parts, taking control over new builds in the spring and then continuing discussions with the city about how to proceed with the upload of existing subway infrastructure.
The upload of existing subway infrastructure is expected to happen sometime in 2020.
Critics slam upload plans
The head of the the Amalgamated Transit Union – Canada, which represents TTC workers, slammed the announcement Wednesday, saying that the move is being made without consulting front-line workers or the public.
“Premier Ford has said absolutely nothing about funding transit operations,” ATU Canada President John Di Nino said in a release. “Based on everything we know about how Ford functions, we believe this is a developer-oriented transit plan, not a rider-oriented transit plan. If he were serious about making transit better for the people, he would be talking with the people on the front-lines.”
In a release, provincial opposition leader Andrea Horwath slammed the upload legislation as a “back-room hostile takeover” of the TTC by the province.
Three city councillors – Joe Cressy, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton – are also holding a town hall in the Metro Hall Rotunda Wednesday night to voice concern over the upload plans.
In a tweet, Cressy said the upload plans would “further delay new transit being built in Toronto.”
City needs to ‘stay at the table’: Tory
Tory has said that he would like the process to be collaborative with the province and that it has been at times. However he has acknowledged that provincial officials have not always kept the city abreast of their plans.
For example, the city was not briefed beforehand on the provincial government’s April 9 announcement of modifications to the downtown relief line and other major transit projects.
Yurek said that he called Tory on Tuesday to give him a head’s up about the legislation announcement and that the two have a good working relationship. However Tory told reporters Wednesday that the city has not yet seen the legislation that is being tabled at Queen’s Park tomorrow.
“We haven’t seen the legislation yet, we haven’t discussed it with them yet,” he said. “A lot of it is going to be pursuant to agreements they might reach with us or not. So I think we should stay calm, stay at the table and keep talking to them.”
Tory said that an important staff report answering a list of significant question about the upload is expected to come before city council in June.
“If they (the questions) are not satisfactorily answered, as I’ve indicated before, we will at each stage along the way have a judgment as to whether we stay at the table or not,” Tory said. “But for now we’re engaged in what I would call constructive discussions with them.”
Asked for a word that describes his relationship with Premier Doug Ford, Tory said the two share an “uneven” relationship and recalled that provinces have broad jurisdiction and powers over municipalities in Canada.
Higher speed limits possible
Yurek said in a release Wednesday that in addition to uploading responsibility for new subway builds, the Getting Ontario Moving Act will include measures to “help keep Ontario's roads among the safest in North America.”
Speaking with CP24, Yurek said that the province will be creating a public consultation process on roads and will also create a pilot in four regions of the province to increase speed limits on provincial highways.
Yurek said more information about those projects will be coming next week.