Ahead of a key provincial deadline Thursday, senior city staff have laid out the principles they say should guide discussions with Premier Doug Ford’s government about its plan to take ownership of the TTC subway system.
The principles, outlined in a city report released Monday, include the province agreeing to respect Toronto’s existing transit expansion plans, and the creation of a new TTC funding model that would take financial pressure off the city.
The report is expected to be debated by council on Thursday. That’s the day by which Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek has told Mayor John Tory the province wants a written guarantee the city will share information about the subway system with Queen’s Park in order to further the upload discussion.
Tory supports entering into the information-sharing agreement, arguing the province has significant legislative authority to execute the upload and sitting down with the Progressive Conservative government is the best way to protect the city’s interests.
A spokesperson for Tory wouldn’t say whether the mayor would support walking away from discussions if the province doesn’t agree to the city’s principles.
Mike Winterburn, a spokesperson for Yurek, wouldn’t say if the minister would commit to the city’s principles, but asserted the province “is committed to engaging with the City of Toronto” on the issue.
According to the city report, in the event of an upload any future transit expansion plans should “respect council priorities” already approved.
Where to build new subways has already emerged as a potential point of contention between the province and the city. While the TTC has said the Relief Line is urgently needed to take pressure off the overloaded network, the province has signalled building an extension of Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) to Richmond Hill is also a top priority, and Yurek has mused about pushing rail lines into the suburbs of Durham, Peel and York.
The report also states that to ensure the continued success of the TTC, “there is a need for a new funding model that draws on a broader range of funding tools” to pay for transit.
It notes that Toronto, relying mainly on property taxes, pays for about 85 per cent of the TTC’s operating subsidy while the remaining 15 per cent comes from provincial gas tax contributions.
Staff say if the subway changes hands, the city and province should strike a new financial arrangement that ensures “fiscal sustainability and the fair allocation of financial obligations,” while maintaining existing service levels.
The report also says an upload would necessitate “a comprehensive review” of the governance of Metrolinx, the Ontario Crown corporation which would likely be responsible for the rail network if the province takes ownership.
The agency’s board is currently made up of provincial appointees, and there is “no formal mechanism for municipalities and local transit authorities to provide input” to its decisions, according to staff. City staff warn the current model means “there is no direct accountability” to municipalities affected by Metrolinx decisions.
The report, which is signed by city manager Chris Murray and city solicitor Wendy Walberg, recommends council authorize Murray to negotiate with the province over the terms of reference for upload discussions, with the goal of agreeing on a set of objectives, potential models for a provincial takeover, and the inclusion of a public consultation process.
The report argues that engagement with Queen’s Park would allow the city to better understand the province’s intentions and “ensure the province understands the city’s key interests and objectives.”
Issues the city manager wants to clarify include what the province’s objectives are in pursuing the upload, and who would be responsible for operating and maintaining the lines as well as setting fares and service levels. The information-sharing exercise is also expected to help put a fair market value on the subway infrastructure.
Even some councillors who oppose the upload proposal are now conceding the city has few good options to prevent it.
Last week Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13, Toronto Centre) told the Star that even participating in uploading talks would send the city “down the rabbit hole” towards losing a key part of its transit network.
But Monday she said that after meeting with the city manager last week she believes she has little choice but to support the recommendations in the report, although she hopes council amends it to formally state the city’s opposition to provincial ownership of the subway.
“He did explain to me that he didn’t feel like it would be the strategically strong position to say ‘no’ outright, in case the province could then turn around and just set forth whatever legislation they needed to, to take the subway from us,” she said.
In August, the provincial government appointed a special adviser to lead its upload efforts. Yurek has said the province intends to introduce legislation early next year that would enable the transfer of the subway to the province.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr