Friday, February 10, 2012

Ontario premier: We'll heed Toronto City Council

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By accident or, more likely, by design, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has undercut Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, and affirmed his support for the City Council, by saying the province will heed the council's wish to reinstate light rail transit as the major mode for rail expansion.

Mayor Ford dismissed the council's Wednesday vote to reinstate LRT as "irrelevant," and vowed to pursue his preference for placing all new city rail transit underground, thereby keeping his 2010 election pledge.

But at a lunch speech in Ottawa Thursday, McGuinty said, "I've also been very clear with the mayor from day one. At the time the memorandum of understanding (on Ford's version of the transit plan) was entered into, there was a specific provision that he's got to seek the support of the council." Pointedly, McGuinty thanked the City Council for ending the "limbo" in rail transit planning.

Ontario, providing Toronto with C$8.4 billion for capital expansion, can't consider the City Council's new decision until an expert panel's report on the future of light rail or a subway for Sheppard Ave. E., due by March 31.

The City Council voted 25-to-18 to reverse the mayor's plan, and reinstate a version of "Transit City," calling for massive LRT expansion, that was in place before Ford assumed office. The vote revived plans for street-level light-rail lines on Finch Ave. W. and on Eglinton Ave. east of Laird Dr. To the west, the Eglinton line would still be underground.

Toronto pro-rail activists were exuberant, though on guard for more political turmoil ahead. ‘The proven operational and financial benefits of LRT have crushed ill-informed political posturing in the city,” said Toronto resident Greg Gormick. “But this decision is also about a European-inspired urban sensibility winning out over an automotive-driven dream that is still cherished by some suburbanites and their political representatives. Now, with city-building LRT lines at its core, Toronto can finally get on with its desperately needed transit expansion plan.”