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Premier open to discussion with Ford on plan to scrap Toronto's light-rail transit

by Kelly Grant
City Hall Bureau Chief

The premier signalled a new willingness to consider Rob Ford’s subway plan Wednesday as Toronto’s new mayor took office with a declaration that, “the war on the car is over.”

Mr. Ford arrived at work around 6:15 a.m. to prepare for a 7 a.m. meeting at which he told the civilian boss of the TTC to stop Transit City, an $8.15-billion light-rail network paid for almost entirely by Queen’s Park.

“We just had a meeting about subways,” Mr. Ford told reporters after speaking to Gary Webster, chief general manager of the TTC. “I just wanted to make it quite clear that he understood that Transit City’s over. The war on the car is over. All new subway expansion is going underground. That’s pretty well it.”

Mr. Ford made it clear during his campaign that he prefers subways to surface transit lines such as streetcars and light-rail.

The province said before the election that it had no intention of budging from constructing four light-rail lines in Toronto, a plan that has already gobbled up $130-million for preliminary work. One line has already broken ground and contracts worth $1.3-billion have been signed.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appeared to soften his position on Transit City during question period Wednesday morning.

“If the new, duly elected council led by their new mayor comes to us with something different, a different representation on behalf of the people of Toronto who elected that council, is my friend [NDP MPP Michael Prue] honestly suggesting that we tell them to go away? That we’re not prepared to listen to anything they have to say? That they’re entirely, and exclusively and unremittingly bound to the work of the previous council speaker? I don’t think so.”

Ontario Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne was more cautious about talks with the new council.

“It’s not as collaborative as I hoped it would be,” Ms. Wynne told reporters after question period. “I hope we can still get there, but at this particular moment it feels like a lot is at risk.”

Ms. Wynne said the government has to work with the new council even if Mr. Ford has decided to change course on transit.

“As a province, we’ve worked collaboratively with the City of Toronto over the last seven years. We’re going to continue to do that,” she said. “But make no mistake: the decisions that appear to be being started today will cost money … in terms of broken contracts. People need to be clear about that. City council members need to understand what the ramifications of these decisions will be.”

Some of the things Mr. Ford is talking about are not “feasible” given the money available, Ms. Wynne said.

Mr. Webster, meanwhile, said he intends to study options for subways, including Mr. Ford’s preference for a subway extension in Scarborough instead of the Sheppard LRT, the line that has already broken ground and the only Transit City project that includes federal funding.

“We are prepared to go away and look at a revised plan,” he told reporters. “So for me, I think the key is he’s made it clear he wants us to work on a new plan. We’ll do that with our board, we’ll do it with Metrolinx and we’ll report back as soon as we can.”