John Tory drew criticism on the campaign trail Wednesday after appearing to take credit for transit improvements that were underway before he became mayor.
Speaking to reporters near a work site on GO Transit’s Stouffville rail line, Tory claimed that construction to add a second track to the Stouffville rail corridor was a result of his SmartTrack plan to improve transit in Toronto.
“We are, behind me, literally doubling up that track … because the frequency of SmartTrack in rush hour is at six to 10 minutes, is going to require more than what would have been the case had it just been GO trains running from Markham or Stouffville or Unionville to Toronto. And so we’re having that new and improved service,” he said.
However, the provincial agency that operates GO announced plans to double the track in its Stouffville corridor prior to Tory’s election in October 2014. At the time, Metrolinx said the expansion would support increased GO service under its regional express rail (RER) project.
Tory’s SmartTrack piggybacks on RER by adding stations to GO lines within Toronto. In April, council voted to spend up to $1.46 billion for six stations on GO lines, which would be labelled as SmartTrack stops. Despite Tory’s comments, Metrolinx has yet to finalize service frequency for the trains.
“This is more smoke and mirrors from John Tory on transit and only proves that ‘SmartTrack’ doesn’t, and will never, exist. Torontonians struggling with their daily commute deserve better,” Keesmaat said in a news release.
“That’s why I’m committed to delivering an integrated, long-term, network plan that weaves together subways, LRTs, streetcars, and buses to shorten people’s commutes and ensure there is great transit in every neighbourhood in the city.”
Tory’s campaign defended its candidate’s comments following Wednesday’s event. “The mayor has always said GO tracks are the foundation of SmartTrack. Thanks to SmartTrack, there are more stations for Toronto residents,” Tory spokesperson Keerthana Kamalavasan said in a tweet after a reporter pointed out the Stouffville track work predated SmartTrack.
Keesmaat’s transit platform, which she released last month, is mostly similar to the plan that council has already approved and Tory supports. Keesmaat, who served as chief city planner under Tory before resigning last year, would make some changes however, including building a Jane LRT and eliminating SmartTrack stops at Lawrence-Kennedy and Gerrard-Carlaw.
She would also reallocate the city’s $910 million contribution to the Scarborough subway extension to other transit projects.
Council has identified the Scarborough subway extension, the relief line subway, the Eglinton East LRT, the Waterfront LRT and Tory’s SmartTrack as its priority transit projects. The provincial and federal governments have pledged a combined $9 billion for Toronto transit, but that falls short of what’s required to get all of the projects built.
Tory said that while construction hasn’t begun on every project, planning and design work has started for all of them.
“I’m very proud of my record working with other levels of government to get transit built for the people of Toronto, to get funding in place, to get projects in place that we are now working on together,” he said.
Premier Doug Ford promised during the spring provincial election campaign to replace the council-approved one-stop, $3.35-billion extension with a three-stop plan. That would likely add roughly $1 billion to the project cost and delay its completion. Keesmaat has said under her plan it would be up to the province to secure funding for the more expensive Scarborough line.
Tory suggested Wednesday Keesmaat’s proposed changes to the network plan would only lead to more debate and delays, but he declined to say what he would do if Ford pushes to alter designs for the Scarborough subway.
“I’m really not going to start to comment on what he wants until he officially says (what his government will do),” Tory said.
The mayor said Keesmaat’s proposal to reallocate the Scarborough extension money, which the city has been collecting through a dedicated property tax levy, would put the project “in jeopardy.”
On Wednesday, Tory’s campaign also called for organizers of mayoral debates to include more candidates after the first scheduled debate between Tory and Keesmaat was announced for Sept 24.
Although the statement focused on “inclusive and democratic debates” that would benefit from including more than two candidates, having more voices on stage would also benefit Tory by providing less attention for Keesmaat as she tries to gain traction with voters.
With files from Jennifer Pagliaro.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr