Jan. 21, 2015
By San Grewal
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, a free-spirited political veteran, is challenging colleagues who are blaming Queen’s Park for the uncertainty surrounding a $1.6-billion LRT project.
“Councillors currently sitting at the table spent many years freezing tax increases at zero and well below rates of inflation, instead of responsibly collecting that money for future infrastructure such as the LRT,” Parrish said Wednesday.
“Don’t get me wrong, I will be ecstatic if the province hands us the cash. Maybe this is all just a bargaining ploy. But we simply don’t have the money for a lot of infrastructure this city now needs, and it’s nobody’s fault but ours.”
“They (the provincial government) already bailed us out on two gas plants that will cost taxpayers $1 billion,” Parrish said, after a council meeting that featured renewed calls for the province to totally fund Mississauga’s light rail plan.
Her comments came after councillors and staff said fundamental questions remain unanswered about the project’s operating costs, who should run it and the amount needed to build it.
Last May, the city released a statement saying the Hurontario St. project was “almost shovel-ready.” In light of Wednesday’s council meeting, that seems unlikely.
“Maybe this should actually be a GO (train) line. It services three GO stations,” said city manager Janice Baker, suggesting that the light rail line be run by GO Transit.
Councillor Nando Iannicca questioned whether the city could afford to pay “several hundreds of millions of dollars” in operating subsidies over the LRT’s lifespan.
But the biggest question remained: Who will pay to build it in the first place?
Mayor Bonnie Crombie has made it clear that she expects the province to cover the project, part of the province’s Big Move transportation plan. She said it would be unfair of Queen’s Park “to tell us at the 12th hour, now, that you have to come up with a third of this.”
Both reiterated Wednesday that the future of the LRT is up in the air if the province does not fully fund it.
Baker said that fundamental questions “haven’t been answered yet” by the province. Last week, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, the provincial agency overseeing the regional transit expansion plan, told the Star it is considering a number of “shared funding models” for Mississauga’s LRT.
Iannicca drew nods from many council colleagues when he said they have discussed a harsh ultimatum for the province if it doesn’t fully fund the LRT: Mississauga will say no to provincially mandated growth. He said the LRT is needed because of growth the province has imposed upon the city.
Parrish questioned Iannicca’s comments. “We were 70 per cent built out before Places to Grow (the province’s 2005 growth legislation) came in. This isn’t a huge burden on us that the province has dumped.”
After the meeting, Parrish pointed out that “We planned the development along Hurontario long ago.”
She said the city has wanted intensification along the corridor for more than two decades, well before the province introduced legislation in 2005 to curb the costly sprawl that had overtaken areas of the GTA such as Mississauga.
“It’s fine to ask the province or Ottawa for as much money as we can get,” Parrish said, “but we shouldn’t be blaming anyone else for our growth-related problems, which aren’t going to end with this LRT.”