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Tim Hudak Wants to Build Subways, Eager for “Advice” on How to Pay for Them

PC leader won't commit to funding plan for Toronto transit.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is often described as having lost control of transit planning, but he certainly has an ally in provincial Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak. Over lunch at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Hudak laid out a picture of Toronto that could have been lifted more or less wholesale from Ford’s 2010 campaign platform.

The summary version: Toronto is a city in decline, we need to build subways, and we can’t even think about raising public money for them until we root out waste in government.

The first few minutes of Hudak’s speech were devoted to painting a rather grim picture of a Toronto that, he said, was losing its footing as a top North American city. It was fairly standard stuff from an opposition party leader, making the case that most of all what we need is change. Also familiar: Hudak’s ideas about transit, many of which he introduced in a white paper released in October 2012.

Before we do anything else, Hudak says, government needs to get more efficient, rein in spending, and pay down debt. He didn’t rule out new revenue tools for transit (such as road tolls or congestion charges) entirely, but he said we can’t start with them, either. Though Metrolinx is in the middle of public consultation on new revenue tools already, and will be releasing its recommendations on which tools are best in June, Hudak said today that “before we can go ask taxpayers for one more dollar provincial leaders need to show they have the budget under control…root out the waste.”

Hudak also reiterated his belief that “we have too many backseat drivers” involved in shaping Toronto’s transit future. It is therefore “time for the province to grab the wheel”: Hudak wants to upload subways and LRT lines to the province, to be managed by Metrolinx.

Before he had even finished his speech, TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) was on Twitter, raising concerns about that “cherry-picking” approach to management. When Hudak released the white paper last year she expressed her strong view that such uploading would leave Toronto with a fragmented transit system that couldn’t provide cohesive service to riders.

Another idea championed by both Ford and Hudak: focusing on subways. Today Hudak maintained that we should build one to Richmond Hill and another across Scarborough (so it would gain full-fledged citizenship in Toronto, he said). “Subway lines are that economic spine,” Hudak said. “You can’t build that kind of development on a bus or streetcar.” Stintz, again on Twitter, pointed out that adding more riders to the Yonge line (which a Richmond Hill extension would do) is simply impossible until we build a downtown relief line to improve capacity at Bloor-Yonge station and south—something which was notably absent from Hudak’s speech.

As for paying for it all? “I look forward to your advice as to how we best do that,” Hudak said, while repeating that eliminating waste must come first.

The speech was met with tepid applause, and speaking to reporters afterwards Board of Trade CEO Carol Wilding said that while her organization agrees that rooting out waste is important, they also were convinced that we can’t wait for years of efficiency studies before committing to new revenue tools for transit. We need those tools no matter what, she reiterated, and we need to push forward on both fronts at once. “It can’t be sequential.”

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