On Monday, November 27, Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow jointly announced what they billed as a “new deal” for the City of Toronto. The provincial government will provide up to $1.2 billion in financial support, while relieving it of the costs of maintaining the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). There is also funding for the operation of the Eglinton Line 5 Crosstown and Finch West Line 6, which are nearing completion, the purchase of new subway cars for Bloor-Danforth Line 2, along with money for shelters and affordable housing. 

In return, the City has agreed to drop its opposition to the province’s plans for Ontario Place, including a mega spa proposed by Vienna-based Therme Group, and agree to expropriation of a sliver of city-owned property required for the Ontario Place redevelopment. It also must commit to supporting the Province’s housing targets, including development plans at the future East Harbour and Woodbine Racetrack transit hubs. There is also a commitment from the City to “find efficiencies in service delivery and procurement.”

Enabling legislation, to be called the “New Deal for Toronto Act,” will soon follow. 

Reaction to this news focused on the uploading of the Gardiner Expressway and DVP, along with Mayor Chow’s agreement on the controversial Ontario Place redevelopment, but there are many other important details, especially of interest to transit and development.  

The Gardiner Expressway with major maintenance work underway, 2020, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor Razz

The Gardiner Expressway and DVP cost the City of Toronto $16 million a year in regular maintenance, though they also represent a huge portion of the city’s capital expenditures — $2.2 billion is budgeted for the Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation, including the construction of a new “hybrid” alignment linking the Gardiner, DVP, and Lake Shore Boulevard in the East Harbour area. At Monday’s press conference, Premier Ford indicated that there would have to be “due diligence” before the provincial upload could proceed, but that funds for maintenance and repair would be provided during the transition period.

Uploading the two municipal expressways will be interesting, as they are not built to Ministry of Transportation (MTO) standards. For example, MTO has strict regulations for development — including a 14-metre buffer around its highways, and prohibitions on adjacent billboards — which have not been the case for the Gardiner in particular, where new towers come within metres of the guard rails. Uploading Toronto’s highways will set precedents elsewhere — Ottawa, Windsor, and Hamilton also have expensive municipal highways — and rural municipalities are left with maintaining former provincial highways downloaded 25 years previously. 

As for Ontario Place, Chow correctly noted that there is little the City can do to stop work on Ontario Place, but she noted that the parking – a proposed $400 million underground parking garage on the south side of Lake Shore Boulevard – could be relocated to the city-owned Exhibition Place lands to permit more public green space as part of the agreement. 

Ontario Place as reimagined with Therme Spa, image courtesy of Infrastructure Ontario

On Tuesday, November 28, the Province introduced new legislation that would “streamline” approvals for Ontario Place redevelopment, including bypassing provincial environmental assessment requirements and accelerating the expropriation of the City-owned land. However, there are still potential roadblocks; Ontario’s Auditor General is conducting a value-for-money audit of the Ontario Place and Ontario Science Centre plans, while Ontario Place for All, a local opposition group, has launched a lawsuit to block construction. 

This new agreement between the Province and the City will not satisfy everyone, especially those opposed to the Ontario Place redevelopment, which has been a priority for Premier Ford. This does not solve the city’s financial woes either, though it offloads two expensive highways and deals with one of the largest TTC capital expense (provided that the federal government matches the provincial support for the new subway cars). It also ensures that when they are complete, Line 5 and Line 6 will have the crews ready to operate them. 

As the song goes, “you can’t always get what you want.” But, with Ford’s approval ratings in the tank, and Chow still enjoying a political honeymoon, Toronto just might find, sometimes, it gets what it needs. 

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Sean Marshall is an UrbanToronto member and a moderator, along with being a geographer, an urban issues advocate, and blogger with a particular speciality in transportation. You can read him at www.seanmarshall.ca

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