Surprise Switch-up from Ford and Chow

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow unveil surprise jurisdictional swap benefiting city finances, as Ontario takes over Gardiner Expressway and DVP while Toronto relinquishes Ontario Place ownership. Photo: Facebook/Mayor Olivia Chow


Although there had been some hints of this possibility before, it was mostly a surprise that in a joint press conference this week Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow announced some major changes in provincial and municipal jurisdiction. The essence of the deal is that Ontario will take over responsibility for the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) from the city and in turn Toronto will give up its share in the ownership of Ontario Place so that the provincial government will own the entire facility.

The province claims that these changes should provide about $1.2 billion in funding support for the city in the next three years to help with city priorities like the additional TTC subway cars, more police on the TTC, the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West LRTs and funds for housing and homeless shelters. The provincial government will take over responsibility for the planning, management and financial aspects of the two roadways. Chow stated that the city still had a great deal to do to accomplish a plan for longer term financial sustainability and that this agreement was a good first step.

Ford and Chow were very friendly with each other during the announcement and it is said that they get along very well personally despite their different political leanings. Considering that the federal government will also have an important financial role to play in many of the infrastructure projects for both the city and the province, it has been suggested that perhaps the province and city teaming up together is an indication they plan present a united front to gang up on the federal government for increased funding.

Ontario’s plans for Ontario Place have been controversial from the start. The fact that Toronto still owned a small part of the property was viewed by many as a positive as Ford would not be allowed to pursue his government’s preferences for development without some moderating influence from the city, but that is now an non-issue.

Another critical question is what will become of the Gardiner Expressway. There have been perennial discussions about its future, ranging from tearing it down completely, rebuilding it or some other options. Currently, just over $2 billion has been budgeted for the next 10 years for refurbishing the Gardiner, but there are no specific plans. Premier Ford has said that neither the DVP or the Gardiner will ever be toll roads under his watch.

Whether this recent development will be enough to stave off significant tax hikes for the city is yet to be seen. The budget process at City Hall is in a preliminary stage and Chow has not been shy to date about considering a wide range of potential tax increases.

The role of the federal government in helping Toronto with its budget challenges also remains unclear. Some of the problems currently facing Toronto are because of federal policies, such as sharply increasing the number of immigrants into Canada, including refugees, that are swamping Toronto’s shelters and imposing costs that were not anticipated by the city. To date, the federal government has not been very helpful in providing funds for these purposes and last week offered Toronto $5 million to create some space for asylum seekers as winter approaches. Chow called this offer “A drop in the bucket” and found it somewhat insulting in terms of the scale of the problem.

As for the future of the Ford-Chow partnership, who knows? Despite being strange provincial bedfellows, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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