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Ford’s secret subway deal - NOW Toronto

February 29, 2012
Ben Spurr
NOW Toronto


In a move that further confuses Toronto’s already muddled transit debate, Rob Ford announced Wednesday that he has reached an agreement in principle with private sector developers to go forward with a Sheppard subway.

But he has still has no clear plan to pay for it, and there’s little indication he’ll bring one forward before transit on Sheppard goes to a vote in two weeks time.

As TTC chair Karen Stintz presided over a meeting of the TTC board Wednesday, across the rotunda in the mayor’s office Ford was discussing underground rail with twenty prominent developers and TTC vice-chair Peter Milczyn. Stintz, who led a council revolt against the mayor's subway plans earlier this month, said Ford informed her of  the gathering but she told him she couldn't attend.

Ford emerged from that closed door meeting trumpeting good news for his subway plan.

“Like we’ve always been saying, this is very do-able and affordable to build the Sheppard subway,” the mayor said. “As a united group they came out and said ‘we want subways in this city, you’re on the right path, and we can afford it.’”

Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the economic development committee, also sat in on the meeting, which included representatives from the Toronto Board of Trade and Build Toronto. Thompson said that he was encouraged by what he heard.

“What we’re hearing from the industry today is they’d like the opportunity to have the time to provide the mayor with some additional insight,” he said.

But with the mayor facing defeat at the crucial council vote on Sheppard scheduled for March 15, Ford’s critics accused him of stalling and trying to detract from the recommendations of an expert panel council appointed earlier this month. That panel is expected to recommend surface rail for Sheppard, and Ford has refused to acknowledge it.

“I see this as nothing more than a delay tactic,” said Jamie Kirkpatrick of advocacy group TTCRiders. “I think Toronotonians want transit now. I don’t think whatever just happened here is going to deliver transit any sooner.”

Councillor Joe Mihevc dismissed the mayor’s meeting as “smoke and mirrors.”

“The time for spin is over. The time for fact based, evidence based decision making has to begin,” he said.

Despite the mayor’s optimistic pronouncements, Councillor Milczyn confirmed that during the meeting developers made no firm commitment to fund a subway line. The TTC vice-chair argued that even if they had, the city would still need to create new revenue tools to raise the required money.

“We have to look at this notion that development will build subways,” he said. “We know it won’t.”

The mayor recently opened the door to a parking levy that he says could raise $90 million a year towards a subway, and some of his allies have voiced support for a new sales tax to fund his plans. But any new taxes would be a tough sell for a mayor who rode into office on a promise to eliminate revenue sources like the vehicle registration tax.

Ford hinted that new revenue sources were discussed with developers, but wouldn’t reveal specifics.

“We’re not going to get into all the minor discussion,” he told reporters. “They’re on board, that’s the most important thing.”

As originally posted here: http://www.nowtoronto.com/daily/news/story.cfm?content=185459

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