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Harris gives TTC cold shoulder

No new money for vehicle replacement available until 2002, Premier says


Thursday, December 14, 2000

OTTAWA — The Ontario government is not interested in bailing out Toronto’s transit system or taking it over, Premier Mike Harris said yesterday.

But he did offer hope that additional money from the province and the federal government may be available after 2002.

The province’s refusal to assist the Toronto Transit Commission in light of its dire need to replace an aging fleet was attacked by federal Transport Minister David Collenette, who is also responsible for protecting Toronto’s interests at the cabinet table.

“I think the Ontario government is going to have to rethink its earlier decision to abandon the cities with respect to transportation,” Mr. Collenette told reporters in Ottawa. “I think it was a mistake.”

Mr. Collenette said the federal government is looking at ways to get involved in mass transit, but he was vague on plans.

He was more precise when he talked about Ontario’s responsibilities. He noted that the government of British Columbia plans to devote a portion of the provincial fuel tax to Vancouver’s development authority. This might be a model for Ontario, he suggested.

“What we recognize is that we [the federal government] have an interest and that we should become involved in some way. But in the short run I would hope that the province revisits its earlier decision because the investment decisions faced by GO Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission in particular are so enormous that it cannot be done without the province getting back in,” Mr. Collenette said.

At Queen’s Park, Mr. Harris linked recent complaints about TTC underfunding to attempts to obtain more money as governments re-examine their budgets.

TTC officials say they need to invest between $300-million and $500-million a year in new equipment over the next 10 years to repair and replace aging buses, streetcars and subways.

Toronto officials are warning that they cannot meet TTC costs without getting money from the province and Ottawa. Before 1997, the province contributed 75 per cent of the costs of new vehicles and the expansion of subway lines.

Mr. Harris said that as part of the new arrangements, the municipality accepted almost $1-billion in 1998 to help cover capital costs over five years.

“If they are now talking [about costs] beyond 2002, that’s something that we can look at with some of our infrastructure money [in the Superbuild fund],” he said.

The Premier suggested that the TTC’s financial woes may not be all they seem to be. “This is the time of year, with a new [municipal] government … the various agencies and commissions will start to lobby for their share. And I’m sure they don’t aim low.”