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McGuinty makes nice with Miller, offering $9-billion for transit

The Premier said the cash infusion is part of his government's plan to revive the economy and prepare for its recovery by investing in infrastructure.

By Jeff Gray

(Published in the Globe and Mail on April 1, 2009.)

Nothing says "I'm sorry" like $9-billion.

Two days after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty kicked municipal politicians, including Toronto Mayor David Miller and York Region chairman Bill Fisch, off his Toronto-area transportation body, he showed up with a massive cheque.

At a new bus garage in Vaughan, Ont., on Wednesday, with both municipal leaders looking on, the Premier announced billions - originally pledged before the 2007 election - for the two politicians' key public-transit projects, which they say will transform the Toronto area.

For Mr. Miller, the highlight is a $4.6-billion, 31-kilometre, partially tunnelled light-rail line across Eglinton Avenue from Kennedy subway station to Pearson airport, the central component of his Transit City light-rail plan. In all, Toronto was promised $7.2-billion, with the province paying the entire capital costs of the projects.

For Mr. Fisch, the Premier pledged to fund his Viva rapid bus system's proposed 30 kilometres of traffic-dodging dedicated bus lanes on Highway 7 and Yonge Street, a $1.4-billion project that is the first of its kind in the suburban municipalities that surround Toronto.

A beaming Mr. Miller, who had criticized the decision Monday to throw local politicians off Metrolinx in favour of unelected business leaders and experts, was effusive in his praise on Wednesday of the Premier's "extraordinary leadership and vision."

And Mr. McGuinty, whose remarks were vigorously applauded by the mayor, returned the favour, praising Mr. Miller's Transit City plans as transformative for Toronto: "They are nothing short of breathtaking. They are very, very significant."

The Premier said the cash infusion is part of his government's plan to revive the economy and prepare for its recovery by investing in infrastructure.

"This is part of our plan to get shovels in the ground quicker on transit projects, because we need the jobs they create today," he said. "And for tomorrow, we'll need more and better transit, because this recession is going to end."

The smiles were a contrast to earlier in the week, when Mr. Miller responded to Mr. McGuinty's move to scrap the current board of Metrolinx by warning he would "fight to ensure that public transit remains public and that the governance of it is open, transparent and accountable."

On Wednesday, Mr. Miller brushed aside a question about any gap between him and the Premier: "Listen, the Premier and I have a disagreement about that, but we agree fundamentally on the importance of building rapid transit in Toronto. This is an incredible day for Toronto, and it can't be overemphasized. ... There could not be a more important announcement about building a 21st-century city."

The Toronto projects announced on Wednesday also include a slightly modified version of Mr. Miller's Transit City light-rail line along Finch Avenue from Etobicoke to Don Mills and an overhauled and extended Scarborough Rapid Transit line.

But they do not include the Sheppard Avenue East light-rail line, on which TTC still plans to start construction this year.

When asked about it, Mr. McGuinty said: "All I can say is, more to come."

Mr. Miller says the TTC's Transit City lines will bring rapid transit to poorer communities long left to the mercy of bus routes, in addition to providing the environmental benefits of taking cars off the road.

The Premier also announced $3-million in feasibility studies for future rapid transit - either bus or light-rail lanes - in two corridors in Hamilton, on King and Main Streets and James and Upper James Streets, with the studies to be completed in 2010.

On Monday, Transportation Minister Jim Bradley announced he was scrapping the existing 11-member board of Metrolinx and replacing it with 15 private-sector experts. He also brought in outgoing Torstar chief executive Robert Prichard to advise the new body as it also takes over GO Transit's commuter rail and bus services.

Mr. McGuinty's announcement on Wednesday followed last week's provincial budget, which promised $3-billion for public transit over the next two years but did not contain specifics.

Officials said the government held off so as not to cloud transit announcements with the sales-tax changes in the budget.