TORONTO — Ontario and Toronto have agreed to ground rules for talks on Premier Doug Ford's plan to take over the city's subway system, with the discussions including options for a partial upload of the network or none at all.
The province and city announced the terms of reference Tuesday and said they will form a joint group to examine three possible arrangements involving transit responsibilities between the two levels of government.
Ford said he was committed to the upload as a way to get new transit built in the city.
"Necessary maintenance and investment in the subway system has been put off for too long," the premier said in a statement. "New subway construction has been stuck in red tape, for years. It's time to take action and speed things up."
According to the nine-page agreement, the group will look at options including Ford's proposal for a full upload of the subway system to the province. The group will also consider an option where Ontario takes ownership of future projects and is responsible for their delivery, but not for the entire subway system.
It will also examine the possibility of the province only assuming responsibility for the delivery of future projects, and not owning those assets or completing a full subway upload.
Ford said the terms of reference released Tuesday will help guide the next steps of the upload process.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the best way to protect the city's transit system is to participate in the upload talks.
"I continue to firmly believe that any actions taken with regard to our subway system need to be in the best interests of the people of Toronto, including transit riders and employees, and that Toronto must be completely involved and fully consulted," he said in a statement.
Tory said unlike the province's actions to cut Toronto city council nearly in half last fall, the Ford government has committed to study and consult on the issue of the subway upload.
"What they did not do here was rush off and introduce the bill in the legislature and say 'this is how we're uploading the subway, take it or leave it'," he said. "They have, so far, been in very good faith in sitting down and having a series of terms of reference that will now shape a discussion that will put a lot of information on the table."
Ford has said the Toronto Transit Commission would retain the day-to-day operations of the subway, buses, and street cars, and the city would keep fare box revenue.
The premier has said the TTC has done well in operating the system but he believes the province can build subways more efficiently. The province could use its broader regional transit planning powers and fiscal flexibility to deliver the projects, he has said.
Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said the province's plans to take over Toronto's subway system will begin to take shape this spring with the introduction of legislation that would start the complex process. His hope is that the discussions between the province and city will have wrapped by that time, with a preferred option presented.
"We think a full upload is what is best for the commuter but going forward if ... after looking at the financials and what the city wants and what the province wants, it's a mixed provision then we'll probably be heading down that road," he said. "But at the end of the day, we'll have a bigger role to play in the subway system of Toronto."
NDP transit critic Jessica Bell said a provincial takeover of the subway system will lead to worse commutes across the city.
"What Toronto's subways need is the provincial investment they're owed, not a complicated Doug Ford scheme to break subways apart from the TTC and steal control and ownership away from the people of the GTA," she said in a statement.
Green party leader Mike Schreiner said centralizing power over transit in Ford's office won't fix transportation project delays.
"The provincial government is just as guilty as municipal governments of meddling in transit decisions in the past to serve political interests," he said in a statement. "Yet Ford continues to act as if consolidating power is the solution to everything."
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press