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Toronto Election 2014


Olivia Chow promises “up to a billion dollars” for transit in Toronto

Olivia Chow at a transit-related press conference on March 20. (Image: CP24/Screenshot)

Olivia Chow at a transit-related press conference on March 20. (Image: CP24/Screenshot)

At the Toronto Region Board of Trade this afternoon, Olivia Chow unveiled her transit-investment strategy in front of a packed room. There was nothing exciting or unexpected in her speech, but, in a weird way, that’s exactly what was remarkable about it.

As she has before, she pointed out that big-ticket transit projects—particularly the downtown relief line, the cost of which has been estimated at $8 billion—probably aren’t achievable without some buy-in from higher orders of government. “I’d say to Queen’s Park and Ottawa that they get 92 cents per tax dollar our city generates in taxes,” she said. “We only get eight. So we need to address that imbalance. Our city can’t do it alone.”

She also pledged to contribute up to $1 billion of the city’s own money to transit expansion. It would be the same $1 billion currently earmarked for the Scarborough subway extension, which Chow would cancel in favour in cheaper light rail, as planned prior to last summer’s dramatic reversal.

Crucially, Chow also suggested that some of the $1 billion would be used for upkeep on Toronto’s existing transit infrastructure. No other candidate has engaged seriously with the notion of providing better funding for the transit the city already has. The announcement dovetails with her earlier promise to increase rush-hour bus capacity by 10 per cent.

There was nothing in the announcement to head off the John Tory campaign’s favourite attack line (“the only thing we know is she won’t get the relief line done until 2031”), but it was, at least, realistic. The relief line’s cost and complexity make it an extremely uncertain proposition. It will be interesting to see whether and how subway-hawk candidates like Tory and Karen Stintz come to grips with that reality.

Stintz is off to a shaky start. Her own transit-funding strategy, released earlier today in an apparent attempt to gobble up some of Chow’s headlines, proposes reallocating more than $1.6 billion worth of existing assets and funding. [CORRECTION: Actually, $114 million of that amount would be new revenue from a proposed $3 parking levy at some Green P garages.] “My funding plan will ensure that we fully fund Toronto’s share of the Toronto Relief Line without raising property taxes,” the press release says.

What Stintz’s plan doesn’t explain is how the city will go about replacing all that reallocated money once it has been spent on the transit project of the day. She’s essentially promising Torontonians a free subway. There’s no such thing, of course—but this city has fallen for that line before, and may again.


    “Olivia Chow says she knows where to find $1 billion for transit”



  • Canadianskeezix

    Uh huh. We have a drama queen here.

  • Canadianskeezix

    “The relief line’s cost and complexity make it an extremely uncertain proposition.”

    Yes, so was the Yonge subway when they first built that in the 1950s. As a City we need to grow up. We pay among the lowest residential taxes in the GTA, and Toronto’s residential tax ratios are well below the national average. Property taxes might not be the right revenue tool, but we need to pick something. The relief line is essential. The alternative is to have gridlock kill this city.

    Chow’s willingness to pass the buck to other levels of government, and her timidness with respect to city-building, are leading me to write her off as a candidate worthy of consideration. It doesn’t help when media like Toronto Life also seem scared of their own shadows (“transit is hard!!”)

  • SteveKupferman

    Chow’s billion dollars would be coming from a property-tax hike, remember. It just happens to be a hike that was adopted by council on another pretext.

  • Canadianskeezix

    I’m not demanding property tax hikes. I’m demanding that politicians stop pussyfooting around. Make a commitment to do it.

  • wklis

    Better chance than having private businesses pay for the subways, subways, subways.

  • Orson

    Let’s not call this ‘Chow’s billion dollars’. It’s a tax hike created by others that she’d put to better, more effective use.

  • Orson

    Yes. That’s where the money would come from, it’s been decided for a while now, by politicians you probably support.

    Take your finger off the shift key and step away from the keyboard.

  • Mack Attack

    How did Montreal end up with a subway system that is almost identical in size (stations and length) to Toronto’s but with about one-tenth of the whining and carping? Chow has the right idea: set a goal and stick too it. And the first goal should be the “relief” line. If you look at a population density map you will see that the proposed route for the “relief” line will serve 100s of thousands of more people than the Scarborough extension as well as offering riders an invaluable option for getting into the downtown core.

  • Mack Attack

    Better her than a Steak Queen nut-bar.

  • lovetoronto

    How can you say she’s pussyfooting around? “timidness”? She’s been the most forthright candidate. Her policies are realistic and honest.

  • lovetoronto

    Why don’t you stop YELLING and do your homework. The money has been earmarked already thanks to Rob Ford and Councillors like Karen Stintz. Torontonians will be paying for the Scarborough Subway for the next 30 years! NOW go kill yourself.

  • ddirt80

    IMO, Montreal’s subway system completely destroys Toronto’s.
    Toronto’s may be long, but it doesn’t service the city nearly as well. It’s not even close, really.