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Miller rejects criticism of TTC announcements

By Kelly Grant
City Hall Bureau Chief

Mayor David Miller is defending the commandeering of the TTC’s public announcement system to pressure Premier Dalton McGuinty to restore $4-billion in postponed funding for rapid transit in Greater Toronto.

“I don’t accept that it’s a political message,” Mr. Miller said. “I’m the mayor of Toronto. This council has almost unanimously supported Transit City.”

The plan to build light-rail lines deep into the inner suburbs is so important to Toronto’s future that he “could be criticized” for passing up a chance to rally riders, the mayor added.

The 30-second spot, which began airing at 6 a.m. yesterday, will be broadcast every 10 minutes in subway stations across the city for the next four days.

“This is Mayor David Miller,” the spot begins. “Thanks for choosing the TTC. Transit City is our plan to get Toronto moving by bringing reliable rapid transit to all parts of the city and to improve your transit experience. The provincial government is proposing to cut promised funding for Transit City in half, putting the entire plan at risk. Call Premier McGuinty and your MPP today and urge them to restore funding and save Transit City.”

On Monday, Mr. Miller’s entreaty will move into rotation with the TTC’s regular public service announcements. Until then, his message will be the only one broadcast unless there is an emergency. Save Transit City posters are set to begin appearing on the TTC today.

Councillor Peter Milczyn, a member of the transit commission, warned that Mr. Miller’s “inappropriate” use of the loudspeaker could pave the way for him to broadcast political talking points in future.

“Maybe the Premier should go on making announcements on GO Trains asking for something from the City of Toronto,” Mr. Milczyn said. “Do we really want to go there?”

Provincial officials suggested the campaign won’t sway them.

“Perhaps Mr. Miller doesn’t worry too much about how much we spend,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan told reporters. “The decision is made. We are not cutting funding. We are doing projects over a longer period of time.”

In its budget last month, the province delayed $4-billion in previously announced funding for five rapid-transit projects in the Greater Toronto Area, including light-rail lines on Finch, Eglinton and Sheppard, the refurbishment and expansion of the Scarborough RT and a rapid-bus network for York Region.

Metrolinx, the province’s regional transportation agency, is expected to lay out a preliminary plan for phasing in the projects at its board meeting next month. The Sheppard Line, which has already broken ground, will almost certainly go ahead on time.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross knew of no other instances of politicians recording announcements on the TTC.

“We think it’s appropriate to allow the mayor of Toronto to use the system to advocate for and on behalf of transit riders,” he said. “I’ll let others define whether it’s political or not.”

After the last transit strike in 2008, chief general manager Gary Webster recorded a message thanking riders for their patience. In 2003, after the SARS crisis abated, local celebrities lent their voices to a campaign urging transit riders to return to the city’s restaurants and attractions.

Myer Siemiatycki, a municipal politics expert at Ryerson University, said the TTC was the perfect venue for Mr. Miller to deliver his message.

“I think it’s a great idea,” the professor said. “The quality of Toronto’s transit will significantly depend on what kind of investments are made in the next few years. There’s a lot at stake.”

With a report from Karen Howlett