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Province backs funding York subway

In next budget, Sorbara hints

Mayors discuss welfare costs


Funding for a new subway line serving York University and the region beyond will be in the next provincial budget, Finance Minister Greg Sorbara hinted yesterday.

Sorbara’s comments came at Toronto City Hall, after he met privately with mayors and regional chairs from Greater Toronto and Hamilton.

Speaking to reporters, Sorbara said commuters northwest of Toronto don’t have enough access to transit service.

“I think what you have to look at is the burden of need up in York Region and Peel,” Sorbara said.

“We’re going to get significant intensification up there.

“You just have to drive those streets for a couple of days in that whole northwest area to know that we have to do something that is, in Howard Moscoe’s words, attractive enough to get people out of their cars and into public transit.”

When asked whether he’s planning any announcements to help fund a new line, Sorbara said, “I’m not sure that we’re going to hear anything over the course of the next month or two, but … in my view it has to be part of the overall infrastructure plan that I put in the budget.”

Mayor David Miller said later that the York line hadn’t been discussed during Sorbara’s meeting with the mayors, but agreed that it is an “important link.”

“The plan is to take it into York Region, not to York University, and build a very large bus terminus and parking facility there,” he said.

Extending the University-Spadina line to York will ease pressure on the crowded Yonge line, he said.

The TTC has recommended a route and is doing an environmental assessment for the line.

“We’re not quite there in terms of financing the York University subway, but it does serve a very important regional and city purpose,” Miller said.

He acknowledged that the province could have a role in settling TTC priorities if they help pay for the service.

“They’ve got a right to have a say when they’re a partner,” he said.

Municipalities would like to get a share of the province’s sales tax or income tax, but Sorbara poured cold water on that.

“I don’t think now is the time to talk about allocating a portion of the sales tax or income tax to any municipality,” he said.

Sorbara and the mayors spent much of their time discussing “pooling,” a system in which the province takes money from Peel, York, Halton and Durham regions and transfers it to Toronto to help cover the city’s welfare and social housing costs. Toronto will get about $190 million this year.

Sorbara acknowledged the system isn’t perfect, but made no promises to change it.

Miller said he’d like to work out a five-year plan to eliminate the need for pooling.

He also said Ontario is the only province in the country that forces municipalities to shoulder part of the burden of welfare costs.

If the province took back that burden, the city would be freed of a $500-million-a-year obligation.

The mayors received sympathy but no commitments, noted Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac.

“I believe they understand that this is an issue that ultimately needs to be addressed,” he said.