TORONTO - The Progressive Conservatives tried to woo coveted Greater Toronto Area voters on Sunday with a transportation plan designed to appeal both to transit and highway commuters.
Tory leader Tim Hudak announced that, if elected, his party would expand GO Transit service, build a new subway line across Toronto and expand highways in the region.
Hudak promised his government would spend up to $2 billion annually on transit once the budget is balanced, saying the initiatives will create 96,000 jobs as part of the Tories' "million jobs plan."
The transportation push would see a new "express" subway line stretching from Toronto's west end to its east and linking up to the existing east-west subway line. The transit proposal as a whole could help ease congestion on trains and on the roads, he said.
"Nothing more frustrating than when you're packed in like sardines at Yonge and Bloor," Hudak said, referring to a main transfer point between Toronto's two major subway lines that is frequently packed during rush hours.
"I understand there's nothing more frustrating (than) when you're sitting there stuck on the highway, white knuckles on the wheel because you're going to miss your daughter's school play."
The Tories would also have the provincial government take over subway and light rail lines operated by the Toronto Transit Commission along with major highways in the area not already under provincial purview.
Hudak cited the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto — two major arteries that funnel commuters from suburbs and the so-called 905 region in and out of Toronto.
The Liberals scooped up most of the ridings in that region immediately surrounding Toronto in the last election, and all three main parties have spent much time in the early days of the election campaigning there.
Those highways and GO Transit service would also be expanded, Hudak said.
"I know that people have heard all kinds of politicians say the same thing and nothing ever gets done," he said at a mid-town Toronto transit yard.
"It's time to take a bold new course."
It can all be done without an accompanying tax hike, Hudak said.
The Tories say money will be drawn from expected budget surpluses and a dedicated fund, getting "better value" from existing transit operations and bringing in the private sector to help run transit — an idea the TTC's biggest union is dead-set against.
Hudak's platform roll-out was temporarily derailed when transit police took umbrage with a throng of television cameras following Hudak as he set out to ride the subway to his announcement. The subway line was stopped for about 10 minutes and Hudak ultimately abandoned the subway journey.
An aide later said the party hadn't received permission ahead of time, while Hudak himself said he hoped no Mother's Day plans were disrupted.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Sunday evening that Hudak's plan to have the province take over some Toronto transit services was a bad idea. She said transportation needs were best left to local municipalities to figure out along with the province playing a co-ordinating role.
Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals are campaigning on their own transit plan, which they laid out in the budget that Horwath said she wouldn't support, triggering the election.
That 10-year, $29-billion transportation blitz would be divided equally between the Toronto-Hamilton area and the rest of the province.
The budget had said about two-thirds of that money would come from dedicated revenue tools, including restricting tax credits for large corporations, with about a quarter of it from provincial borrowing and the balance from the federal government.
The Liberals have eschewed other so-called revenue tools proposed by provincial transit authority Metrolinx and their own advisory panel, such as raising fuel taxes and the Harmonized Sales Tax. They also rejected the NDP's proposal to increase corporate taxes to fund transit, saying it would be "extremely risky in our economy."
The New Democrats and a union representing Toronto transit workers have accused Wynne of trying to privatize public transit in the city, saying a 30-year maintenance contract for the light-rail line has been awarded to a private company.
Wynne, who slammed the other parties for failing to expand transit in Toronto when they were in government, said Horwath's claims "just are not true." She said her government has been working with the private sector, but believes that public transit must be publicly owned.
Meanwhile, Wynne said Sunday that a new Liberal ad targeting Horwath isn't a personal attack, but is rather "making a contrast" between the two parties.
Horwath has not yet unveiled her party's transit platform, but said in April that her party would sell the province's General Motors shares — a one-time gain — and put off a proposed Toronto subway extension to Thornhill, north of the city.
She said she would put the $3.5 billion that would be spent on that project to build a downtown relief line and a planned east-end subway extension.
Horwath announced Sunday that the New Democrats would make a one-time $100 million injection into licensed child care in the province if they win the June 12 election.
The money, to be spent next year, would go toward "stabilizing" a system destabilized by the Liberal government, Horwath said in Hamilton.
— with files from Diana Mehta in Mississauga, Ont., and Colin Perkel in Hamilton
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