David Soknacki speaks to reporters outside Lawrence East RT Station, January 14, 2013. Photo by Ben Spurr.
Mayoral challenger David Soknacki has promised to cancel the Scarborough subway if he is elected this fall.
In his first major policy announcement since registering as a candidate last week, the Soknacki pledged to kill the underground transit line that council approved last fall and revive the Scarborough LRT plan instead.
"A crucial part of the change Toronto needs is to make decisions based on evidence," Soknacki said at a press conference outside the Lawrence East RT station, where he stood behind a sign that read "David vs. Gridlock."
"The LRT is the fast track to our future. It's the right option for transit in Scarborough."
Debate over Scarborough transit has been incessant this council term, with councillors first reanimating the Transit City LRT plan Mayor Rob Ford derailed upon taking office, only to change course in and vote in October to convert the Scarborough RT into a subway. Both the provincial and federal governments have already pledged funding for the underground line.
But Soknacki, a former Scarborough councillor, said it wasn't too late go back to the LRT, and argued that reopening the debate wouldn't delay bringing high order transit to the underserved suburb.
Although he conceded many Scarborough residents want a subway, he believes that they will change their minds once they realize that the LRT would have seven stops to the subway's three, and its stations would serve more people.
"When you have that discussion with them, they say, ‘well just a second.' Based on actually looking at it rather than having the immediate gut reaction, in fact the LRT is better," he said.
The subway extension would cost an estimated $3.6 billion by the time it's completed, with the city on the hook for $910 million, plus millions in sunk costs associated with scrapping the LRT plans. In order to pay for its share, council has approved a 30-year 1.6-per-cent property tax increase.
The LRT by contrast would be fully funded by the province. In a move he's likely hoping will undercut the anti-tax incumbent mayor, Soknacki claimed that reverting to the LRT he would "deliver to the taxpayers of Toronto the largest single tax cut in the city's history."
The candidate also took a swipe at TTC chair Karen Stintz, who is expected to enter the mayoral race soon and vie with him for the centre-right vote. Soknacki said that by supporting the Scarborough subway over LRT, Stintz "reversed her position, turning her back on the TTC's priorities and the recommendations of its own staff."
In an interview, Stintz described that remark as "mudslinging," and said Torontonians want the city to move forward with the subway plan.
"I think the people of Toronto are sick and tired of political battles over transit," she said. "We need to think about the next transit lines we're building, not go back and revisit decisions that have already been made."
Stintz said she has a campaign launch planned "shortly," but wouldn't discuss details of when she plans to declare her candidacy. She said Soknacki's announcement wouldn't affect when she decides to join the race.
Mayor Ford agrees Scarborough residents had no desire to reopen the transit debate.
"The people of Scarborough have spoken loud and clear. They want a subway," he said Tuesday at a City Hall press conference about the ice storm clean up. "We are building that subway in Scarborough."
Soknacki was joined at his announcement by Councillors Paul Ainslie and Gloria Lindsay Luby. Ainslie, who worked as Soknacki's assistant when he was on council, was pushed out of the mayor's executive committee in October when he voted against the Scarborough subway and in favour of LRT.
So far he's been the most visible of Soknacki's supporters on council, but it was the first time Lindsay Luby had publicly backed his campaign.
Asked why she thought Soknacki should be Toronto's next mayor the Etobicoke Centre councillor said that in his previous stint at City Hall he took a balanced approach to the issues and listened well to both his colleagues and residents.
"I can't think of anybody at council who did not get along with him," she said.
In a veiled shot at Mayor Ford's job working at his family's label business, Lindsay Luby described Soknacki, who founded a successful spice importing company, as "a self-made businessman."
"Daddy did not give him a business to run, he made it on his own," she said.