March 9, 2012
Prime Minister Stephen Harper climbed on board Mayor Rob Ford’s subway bandwagon Friday.
Although Harper didn’t offer the federal government’s help in paying the fare for such a costly project, he made it clear he likes his public transit underground.
Harper and Ford appeared together at the Billy Bishop Airport to mark the start of construction of the pedestrian tunnel to the Toronto island airport.
Toronto city council will fight on March 21 over whether to push ahead with a search for funds for Ford’s Sheppard subway or return to the funded plan for an LRT. Last month, a majority of councillors went against Ford and endorsed a return to light rail lines on Finch Ave. and street-level LRT on Eglinton Ave. in Scarborough.
Asked what type of transit he preferred, Harper made it clear “Torontonians have to make their own decision” but then went on to applaud subways.
“I prefer when I want to use public transit to go underground, unimpeded,” he told reporters.
“And when I want to use my car, I prefer not to be running into LRTs and streetcars, but that’s just my personal view. We don’t make these decisions for municipalities and the provinces. We consult with them in terms of what we fund.”
Not surprisingly, Ford welcomed Harper’s thoughts on subways.
“You’ve heard it, an overwhelming number of people want subways, the Prime Minister wants subways, to me this is a no-brainer, let’s just get the shovel in the ground and start building,” Ford told reporters.
He encouraged residents to call their councillors and tell them to vote for subways.
“We’ve got a billion dollars, we could put a shovel in the ground tomorrow if we wanted to, we have a billion dollars,” Ford said.
The mayor’s office has recently been pushing the idea of building out the Sheppard subway incrementally rather than going ahead with an LRT.
“Once you start building it, they are going to come, the investors are going to come, the jobs are going to come, everything falls into place,” Ford said.
TTC chair Karen Stintz tweeted Friday afternoon she doubts the Prime Minister wants to raise Toronto’s taxes and tolls to build subways.
“Fiscal Conservatives like me don’t spend millions (let alone billions) unnecessarily. Calgary and Edmonton have LRT networks for that reason,” Stintz wrote.
“Even without the sustained funding public transit needs, LRTs are the right option for the right price, without new Toronto taxes and tolls.”
Councillor Josh Matlow encouraged Harper to put federal money where his mouth is, if he likes subways so much.
“If the PM prefers to have underground transit in Toronto then I’m sure he’d be willing to pay for it,” Matlow said. “I’m hoping he’s ready to sign a cheque to back up the words he said (Friday).”
Councillor Joe Mihevc said Harper’s comments show it was clearly “payback time” for Ford who endorsed the Conservatives in the last federal election.
Mihevc said Harper gave himself a “very reasonable out” while preserving his friendship with the mayor.
“LRT is the fiscally conservative way to build public transit for a lot of people,” he added.
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