Ontario Premier and Toronto Mayor Forge Landmark $9B Deal

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow broker a landmark $9 billion agreement, transferring control of major expressways to the province while allocating funds for crucial city priorities, including transit and homeless services. Photo Credit: Facebook/FordNation

The impression often left by Toronto city council over the years is that it always seems to be looking for ways to obstruct the free flow of traffic, as far as car drivers are concerned. 

Public transit and bike lanes are part of any major city’s overall transportation strategy, but Toronto has consciencely and steadily actually decreased road capacity while the population continues to grow.  More traffic chaos has resulted.  Surprise! 

The height of lunacy has been the constant attempts to turn the east end of the city’s Gardiner Expressway from an expressway into a “boulevard.”  With a straight face, proponents insist that there would be no material slow downs in traffic coming off the connecting Don Valley Expressway.  Given Mayor Olivia Chow’s recent campaign promises, the issue could have been back on the table yet again. 

But hopefully, all that goes away with the new deal reached between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Mayor Chow.   While it was not the Premier’s first choice, both freeways will be “uploaded” to the province as part of lengthy negotiations to help the city’s serious and growing financial crisis.    

The move removes nearly $2 billion of maintenance spending from Toronto’s capital plan, money which can now go to other city priorities.  

All in, the total deal is worth some $9 billion dollars over three years and will provide significant capital relief to the city for new subway-integrated provincial transit projects – like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the Finch West LRT – more money for operating homeless shelters, and subway and transit safety.

But even with all this financial largesse, Toronto still has to find some $300 million to fill this year’s budget gap.  It is also important to note that the deal itself is only good for three years with some of it conditional on federal contributions.  

But still, it is a major and unprecedented infusion of provincial money for a city whose major revenue source – property taxes – has proved woefully inadequate to meeting the city’s infrastructure and service obligations.  

The Premier has not totally ignored the fiscal hawks who believe – often with good reason – that the city could be much more efficient with its spending and that significant savings are possible.  

To that end, the province will continue investigating strategies to make the city’s finances more sustainable, including a targeted review of spending and steps to find efficiencies in service delivery and procurement.  

And what did the Mayor offer for this new deal?  Promises to meet the province’s new housing targets, a major provincial priority; providing surplus city lands for even more housing; increasing density around transit nodes and agreeing to find more service efficiencies.  

More importantly from a political standpoint, she agreed that the city will back off its fight to stop the province’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place, the former waterfront exhibit, amusement and entertainment park.  After all, she conceded, it is called “Ontario” Place and while the city’s opposition would have created endless political controversy and serious delays, she could not stop it.  

This has earned her vociferous criticism from the project’s single-minded opponents to the province’s re-development plans, but those with a broader (not to mention more informed) perspective, acknowledge the value of what Chow was able to obtain for the city in exchange. 

The Premier can also claim wins – eliminating the city’s opposition to the Ontario Place redevelopment plans removes significant delays and costs to completing the project; enhanced progress on new housing, one of his major political priorities; continued operation of two expressways critical to the city’s economic viability; and potentially, the beginning of a final solution to the city’s continued financial challenges.

While other cities will no doubt call for similar deals, none can match Toronto’s 50 per cent contribution to the province’s GDP and its 20 per cent to the country’s economy.  It’s economic success is critical for the whole province and hopefully, the new deal will help ensure it can continue.  

Former Premier Bill Davis used to call politics, “the art of the possible.”  Kudos to both Premier Ford and Mayor Chow for making a new deal possible. 


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