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QUOTED: Ontario transportation minister Glen Murray, on whether the province will pay to operate new transit

(Image: Murray: Glen Murray/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

(Image: Murray: Glen Murray/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

“It’s time for some of those folks [in Toronto city government] to step up and use the revenue tools that they already have.”

—Ontario transportation minister Glen Murray, telling CBC’s Matt Galloway that although the province has announced $15 billion in new transit investment for the GTA, the city will ultimately be on the hook for the ongoing costs of running all that new equipment. Murray is right that the city has some revenue tools at its disposal: it can levy certain kinds of taxes, but the current political environment is hostile to that. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park still hasn’t explained where all of that initial $15 billion is coming from—a clear indication that even premier Kathleen Wynne is afraid of uttering the T-word.

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Kathleen Wynne explains how she’ll pay for new transit in the GTA, except not really

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

During a speech earlier today for the Toronto Region Board of Trade, premier Kathleen Wynne slammed the opposition NDP and Progressive Conservative parties for their lack of specific plans to pay for new public transit in Toronto and the rest of Ontario. “If the plan isn’t credible and costed, then it’s not actually a plan,” she said, which is absolutely true. The line would have been a masterstroke had it not followed yet another foray into the fan-dance world of Liberal transit-funding promises.

Last month, Wynne ruled out the two likeliest sources of new money for transit investment in Toronto, but promised that she and her party would be proposing alternative sources to make up the shortfall. At today’s speech, the premier finally identified some of those mysterious sources. There were four things on the list: 7.5 cents of the existing gas tax, a redirection of the HST charged on gas and diesel fuel, money from “provincial assets” (whatever those turn out to be) and the Green Bonds program. High-occupancy lane tolls would also be in the mix, but those were announced last year. Wynne said these measures would help the province raise $29 billion in new money for transit expansion over the next decade. $15 billion would go into a dedicated fund for road and transit spending in the GTA, and the remaining $14 billion would go into a similar fund for the rest of Ontario.

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Toronto Election 2014

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Olivia Chow calls on the province and the feds to fund Toronto’s Downtown Relief Line

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)

Olivia Chow has a problem. Fellow mayoral candidates are criticizing her relentlessly for not committing to building the downtown relief line right away. Meanwhile, if she were to suggest a realistic plan for accelerating the line’s construction using city money (by taking on debt and hiking property taxes, say) she’d almost certainly be branded an NDP candidate—a tax-and-spend socialist with no grip on reality.

In an op-ed in today’s Star, Chow attempts to break through this policy impasse with a two-pronged assault. On the one hand, she says the relief line is a priority—but not the only priority—for public transit in Toronto. On the other, she acknowledges, as she has in the past, that the new subway line would be incredibly expensive to build (around $8 billion, by one estimate), and that ultimately the project hinges on financial contributions from higher orders of government.

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The downtown relief line could be delayed for a year if council doesn’t approve spending this summer

One of several proposed shapes for the downtown relief line. (Image: Courtesy of the TTC)

One of several proposed shapes for the downtown relief line. (Image: Courtesy of the TTC)

Here’s a funny thing about the downtown relief line: even though every mayoral candidate acknowledges it, with varying degrees of rabidity, as a priority (although Rob Ford says he’ll build it only after bringing subways to Sheppard and Finch, which will probably never happen) nobody has advanced a clear plan for paying the eight-or-so billion dollars it would take to complete the thing. And now the Globe reports that the much-dreamed-of new subway line has an even more immediate hurdle to clear: if city council doesn’t approve funding for an environmental assessment in June, the whole project could be delayed by another year.

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Queen’s Park document leak sets a date on Kathleen Wynne’s transit-funding announcement

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

The Ontario Liberals suffered another major embarrassment today when the Star published the details of a confidential document, leaked by the Tories, that lays out what appears to be the Wynne government’s complete communications plan leading up to the unveiling of this year’s provincial budget. Governments normally dole out information to the media very selectively and very strategically, and so seeing the Liberal blueprint exposed like this is sort of like watching a magician reach into his hat for a rabbit and come up with his own pants.

The headline item is that the plan appears to call for $5.7 billion in new pre-election spending, which is sure to provide the opposition parties with plenty of rhetorical ammunition leading up to said election. Look below the fold, though, and there’s something of particular interest to transit-riding Torontonians: on April 14, premier Kathleen Wynne is scheduled to give a speech that “includes funding mechanisms for transit.” Presumably this is when she’ll be telling Ontarians how she proposes to pay for new public transit in the GTA without resorting to gas-tax or HST hikes, two options she ruled out last month, against expert advice.

There’s a possibility the Liberals will shuffle the calendar of media appearances a little, now that the press has copies. Regardless, the premier can’t hold off on the announcement for too much longer. (Because the TTC certainly isn’t going to find that money on its own.)

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VIDEO: the TTC’s 2014 April Fools’ Day prank is like something out of Rob Ford’s dreams

Here’s the essential paradox of Toronto public transit: almost every politician agrees that TTC service is inadequate, but practically none of them are willing to entertain specific ways of paying for better service. Now, the TTC is proposing a radical solution: sell off some of the less-busy subway platforms to developers, so they can be converted into things like luxury underground condos. This is a town that loves its hard lofts, and there’s nothing harder than a subterranean unit a couple feet away from some subway tracks. Ka-ching.

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VIDEO: this is what it looks like when a commuter train jumps the tracks

Torontonians love to complain about the TTC, but there are far worse things than crowded platforms and late streetcars. The video above, uploaded to YouTube yesterday, appears to show the exact moment, at around 3 a.m. on Monday, when a Chicago Transit Authority train hopped a platform at O’Hare International Airport, causing around 30 non-life-threatening injuries and an estimated $6 million in damage. Investigators are now saying that the train operator dozed off at the controls and didn’t awake until impact.

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QUOTED: David Soknacki, on funding for new subways in Toronto

(Image: Soknacki.com)

(Image: Soknacki.com)

“I’m also not afraid to talk about taxes, because transit is not free.”

—Earlier this morning, former city councillor David Soknacki became the second mayoral candidate to articulate something resembling a plan to pay for the ever-popular Downtown Relief Line. During an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning, he said that he would consider various transit-dedicated taxes, including hikes to income tax, HST, sales tax and property tax. In a political environment dominated by respect-the-taxpayers rhetoric, this qualifies as a bold move.

John Tory and Rob Ford, both of whom have also promised to prioritize the Relief Line, haven’t yet said how they’d raise the multiple billions of dollars needed to build it. Yesterday, Karen Stintz announced that she’d fund a small portion of the cost by selling part of Toronto Hydro, the city-owned electricity provider.

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Karen Stintz wants to sell off part of Toronto Hydro to help pay for the Downtown Relief Line

(Image: Karen Stintz/Facebook)

(Image: Karen Stintz/Facebook)

No Toronto mayoral campaign is complete without at least one candidate promising to sell off Toronto Hydro so the proceeds can be used to fund some kind of crowd-pleasing project. Earlier today, at a press conference held at the corner of Carlaw Avenue and Gerrard Street East, Karen Stintz became the first to suggest taking a hammer to Toronto’s electricity piggybank.

Although a few weeks ago Stintz was saying that her preferred option would be to lease Toronto Hydro to a private operator, today she told reporters that, if elected mayor, she’d straight-up sell a large part of the city-owned electricity provider. The resulting payout would be funneled into the Downtown Relief Line, a proposed new subway line that in theory would relieve crowding on the Yonge-University-Spadina line.

Toronto Hydro’s value has been estimated at around $1 billion, but provincial rules make it difficult for the city to sell more than a 10 per cent stake in the company without incurring massive tax penalties. Even so, Global News reports that Stintz is confident the sale would net at least $500 million, assuming Queen’s Park could be brought onside. Of course, there is a catch.

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Toronto Election 2014

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Olivia Chow promises $15 million worth of increased bus service

Olivia Chow at this morning's press conference. (Image: CP24/Screenshot)

Olivia Chow at this morning’s press conference. (Image: CP24/Screenshot)

The slow reveal of Olivia Chow’s campaign platform continued this morning with a press conference at Wilson Avenue and Jane Street. There, with Jane Street buses trundling past in the background, the mayoral candidate committed herself to increasing the TTC’s rush-hour bus capacity by 10 per cent, if she’s elected. “It will mean that people will ride the bus with dignity, with comfort and more frequent[ly],” she told reporters, emphasizing that the change would make transit less crowded for mothers with strollers. (She did say her campaign would be about children and families, after all.)

When pressed for more details, Chow said the estimated $15 million per year it would take to implement her plan could be found within the TTC’s existing budget. The cost, she said, would cover both operating expenses and maintenance. She added that the service increase could be accommodated merely by delaying the process of retiring some of the older vehicles in the TTC’s fleet. Rather than being decommissioned, she said, those buses could serve additional riders.

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VIDEO: this 9/11 truther ad is running on TTC screens

Great American tragedies always seem to spawn great American conspiracy theories. This has proven to be especially true in the case of the 9/11 attacks, which left plenty of video evidence behind. (In the old days, we had just one grainy 8mm film per national calamity, and we liked it.) Now, a group of 9/11 skeptics has produced a movie of its own: a 15-second ad that will run on the TTC’s video screens for the next two weeks.

The clip, embedded above, is the work of ReThink911, a group led by an organization called Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. ReThink911 believes that World Trade Center building 7, which collapsed along with the Twin Towers, was destroyed by explosives, detonated deliberately by parties unknown. The official version of events is that the structure collapsed because of fire.

The alternative theory is extremely controversial, and a paid advertisement is likely the only context in which it would air in the media unchallenged—which is why the strategy here is both brilliant and a little scary. Similar ads have run in cities around North America, including one in Yonge-Dundas Square last year.

Obviously, the TTC itself has no position on what did or didn’t occur on 9/11. Advertising on subway-platform video screens is handled by an outside contractor, Pattison Onestop, whose job is to sell ad space to practically anyone who wants it. That said, TTC spokesperson Danny Nicholson says the commission did sign off on this advertisement in advance, because its content didn’t violate any policies. It will be reviewed—and possibly removed—if the TTC receives five complaints, but, at the time this post was written, there had been only one.

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Kathleen Wynne promises a magical mystery money source for public transit in Toronto

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

After announcing last week that her Liberal government is ruling out the possibility of using HST and gas-tax hikes to fund public-transit expansion in the GTA, premier Kathleen Wynne spent this morning attempting to reassure urban voters that new construction on subways and other crucial infrastructure will still be paid for…somehow.

“Will there be a dedicated fund?,” she asked Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway rhetorically, when questioned about where the money will come from. “Will it be transparent what those dollars are going to be used for? Yes, absolutely.”

When Galloway pressed Wynne for more specifics about money sources for this “dedicated fund,” the premier would only say that “it will be a number of things,” and that the details will be unveiled with the rest of this year’s provincial budget.

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Toronto Election 2014

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Olivia Chow takes her mayoral campaign to the Toronto Sun

Olivia Chow at Thursday's campaign launch. (Image: CityNews/Screenshot)

Olivia Chow at Thursday’s campaign launch. (Image: CityNews/Screenshot)

The Toronto Sun, the tabloid that helped create Rob Ford’s public persona, propelling him to the mayoralty in 2010, is now very, very sorry for the mess. (Or at any rate, its editorial board is now admitting it was wrong, which amounts to the same thing.) In that context, it’s not so surprising that the paper chose to publish an op-ed by Olivia Chow, the mayoral candidate whose politics bear the least in common with the Sun’s right-wing, small-government stance.

The article itself (you can read it here) is pretty much a repeat of what Chow said yesterday during her campaign kick-off speech, but what’s interesting is the generally positive tone of the comments, many of them supportive of Chow’s declaration that she, like her opponent David Soknacki, would cancel the Scarborough subway extension in favour of replacing the Scarborough RT with light rail, as originally planned.

It’s widely assumed that supporting a subway (rather than a longer, cheaper above-ground light-rail line) for Scarborough is the key to winning votes in that part of the city, but if recent polls are anything to go by, that’s not necessarily true. Subway-boosting candidates like Ford and Karen Stintz could find themselves on the wrong side of this issue, with no room to backpedal.

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Queen’s Park backs slowly away from transit-dedicated tax hikes

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

(Image: Wynne: Loralea Carruthers/Facebook; trains: Loozrboy)

The provincial Liberal government has produced two reports (one from a blue-ribbon panel, and one from Metrolinx) that recommend hiking taxes specifically to raise money for public-transit expansion in the GTA. But today, after months of silence on the subject, premier Kathleen Wynne finally said it: nope, no new transit revenue for you.

Or so it seems, at any rate.

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Weep for Winnipeg: the TTC has been ranked the best transit system in Canada

(Image: DanielleScott)

(Image: DanielleScott)

Complaining about the TTC is a favourite pastime in Toronto, the city where no transit-investment plan is too good to cancel. And so it may come as a surprise that Walk Score, the Seattle-based urban-research firm, has ranked this city’s transit system the absolute best in Canada.

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