Doug Ford may seize Toronto assets

What's really behind the Ontario premier’s subway takeover?

Sometimes the way things are done is more revealing than the act itself. That’s the case with the provincial plan to take over Toronto’s subway.

The scheme began in late 2018, when the province said it wanted to take control of the Toronto subway system. On Dec. 21, Toronto City Council passed a motion opposing this change of ownership.

The province proposed a review with city staff of three options: the province taking over existing and proposed subways; the province taking responsibility for new subways; and the province taking over no subways but assisting in building new subways.

That review got underway, the staff meetings were private and their content was not made public, but one assumes they did not go well given there were no positive reports after they were held.

In April, ignoring the review that he had established, Premier Doug Ford announced that the province would proceed with four subway ideas: extending the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill; redesigning the Scarborough subway extension from one to three stops; burying the western portion of the Eglinton Crosstown that had been planned to run at grade; and building a relief line that will run from Ontario Place to the Ontario Science Centre.

Premier Ford proposed that the province cover 40 per cent of the costs; the federal government would be on the hook for 40 per cent; and the rest would be picked up by Toronto and other municipalities. No one at the city or the Toronto Transit Commission had been consulted. The federal government had no advance notice.

The general manager of the TTC, Rick Leary, prepared a report for city council outlining his concerns with Ford’s plan. He asked 61 questions that he thought needed answers before proceeding.

The province ignored these questions and bulldozed on. In late April, it introduced Bill 107, the Getting Ontario Moving Act.

Schedule 3 of this legislation would give the power to Metrolinx to take over the responsibility of any new or existing rapid transit facility in Toronto. The kicker in the legislation is that the province will seize the city’s assets without compensation.

 

The province’s relief line stretches from Ontario Place to the Ontario Science centre (above)

Section 47 states the provincial cabinet “may by order, transfer to Metrolinx, with or without compensation, all or some of the City of Toronto’s and its agencies’ assets, liabilities, rights and obligations with respect to a project prescribed as a rapid transit project … including intellectual property, contractual rights, interests, approvals, registrations and entitlements, originals or copies of reports, documents and data, and any other real or personal property.”

The legislation requires the city to provide documents demanded by the province and that any transfer is deemed not to give rise to any kind of legal action.

It states that any transfer “does not constitute an expropriation or injurious affection for the purpose of the Expropriation Act or otherwise at law.”

Not only is the city stripped of its assets, the legislation also takes away legal recourse for the city.

It is like the Bolshevik era: Premier Ford’s “government for the people” declares it must seize assets for the good of everyone.

It is hard to debate the merits of a subway takeover in the face of the province’s process. The provincial government’s process has clearly been in bad faith, and stripping the city of its property and any legal recourse is unconscionable.

How do we fight back against such unreasonable actions?

Columnist John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto and the author of a number of urban planning books.