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Mayoral candidates eye Metrolinx partnership

Less opposed than Miller to sharing transit jurisdiction with province

By Anna Mehler Paperny

As Toronto hashes out the future of its transit network, some mayoral candidates argue it’s time to put at least some of it in the province’s hands.

George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi and Giorgio Mammoliti have all said they’re open to putting all or part of the Toronto Transit Commission under Metrolinx, the province’s regional transit agency.

It was George Smitherman’s musings in a private meeting two months ago that convinced Councillor Janet Davis not to support his mayoral bid, she told reporters Wednesday, shortly after she announced she’s endorsing Joe Pantalone, a stalwart of Mayor David Miller.

“He clearly was contemplating the possibility of giving the subway system to Metrolinx, and keeping local transit in the hands of the TTC,” Ms. Davis said. “I think splitting the subway system from buses is simply not viable. And I also believe strongly that the TTC needs to remain in the hands of the people of Toronto.”

Mr. Smitherman, who wouldn’t comment on his transit platform Wednesday, has indicated he’s much less opposed to giving transit jurisdiction to the province than the current city administration. His spokesman Stefan Baranski said Wednesday that Ms. Davis is “mischief-making,” and the context of Mr. Smitherman’s plans will become clear when he unveils his transit platform on May 28.

Rocco Rossi said in an interview the city has to be open to different governance models, and he’d be willing to give the province transit jurisdiction if the city retained a degree of control when it comes to land-use planning.

While many transportation experts argue the only way to have a truly regional public-transit network is to plan for it at a level beyond the municipality, the proposal has run up against vehement opposition among many city politicians who say Toronto’s transit needs to stay in local hands.

It’s not the first time governance of Toronto’s Transit Commission has been an issue: In 2007, shortly after Metrolinx was created, the issue of whether it should take over the TTC was discussed. At the time, says TTC chief general manager Gary Webster, “we said what we need to be focusing on with Metrolinx is the regional transportation plan, and if we get into the issue of governance it’s going to take us off track…. They accepted that, and that’s obviously what we’ve been spending our time on. And no, there’s been no discussion with the TTC about anybody - the province or Metrolinx - taking the TTC over.”

In the most recent spat with the province over pledged transit funding, it has become clear Toronto’s politicians have little say in what happens to Transit City, the latest plan for which passed at Metrolinx’s board meeting Wednesday.

But Metrolinx president Rob Prichard said there are no immediate plans for the regional body to subsume the Toronto Transit Commission, even as the province and municipal governments around the Toronto and Hamilton area attempt to cobble together a region-wide transit network.

“There has been no discussion of, or interest in, Metrolinx assuming responsibility for some or all of TTC,” he said in an e-mail. “Clearly there are important areas for … co-operation, partnership and integration between Metrolinx and all the local transit providers including the TTC.”

Giving the province control of some or all of the TTC “clearly has to be one of the things on the table,” Mr. Rossi said Wednesday.

“We need full and open partnership negotiations with Metrolinx and the province, up to and including uploading, but it takes two to upload,” he said. “My job as the elected mayor would be to ensure, yes, we get a regional solution, but … [also] that we get appropriate value and the partnership works for everyone.”