Soknacki calls move ‘Toronto’s largest-ever tax cut’
Former Scarborough councillor David Soknacki started his campaign for the Toronto mayoralty Tuesday, Jan. 16, by going to Scarborough and saying its residents don’t really want a subway extension.
What they want is the best form of transit, and that’s the light-rail line the province had agreed to fund and which city council until last July had supported, he said in an interview.
“It provides more stops, it serves more people. It’ll be built faster,” Socknacki said.
The candidate’s announcement outside Lawrence East Scarborough Rapid Transit Station that he was supporting LRT as Scarborough’s best choice between Kennedy Station and Sheppard Avenue may seem counterintuitive, considering the clamour against light rail in the former city since Rob Ford won the mayor’s post three years ago.
For a byelection last summer, the provincial Liberals successfully ran Mitzie Hunter as a “subway champion” to keep the party’s seat in Scarborough-Guildwood – a riding which includes Soknacki’s old ward.
Hunter’s pledge to support extending the Bloor-Danforth line under McCowan to Sheppard – along with runner-up Ken Kirupa’s insistence the Progressive Conservatives would do the same – dominated that campaign.
The Liberal government, previously committed to cover the whole $1.8-billion cost of a seven-stop light rail line to replace and extend the SRT, offered to give the city $1.4 billion instead for the subway extension, which isn’t formally approved and is pegged at $3.5 billion.
Soknacki, however, is reframing his proposed switch back to light rail as “Toronto’s largest-ever tax cut,” since it would save city residents $1 billion in property tax.
He said he’s talked to his own neighbours in Scarborough, asking them questions such as, “Do you want two or three stops or do you want seven?”
People in Scarborough are “thrifty” and reacted favourably to light rail when hearing it was paid off, but the subway isn’t, said Soknacki, who added the LRT won’t put pressure on local roads – as Ford had argued in council – because it will run on a separate route away from other traffic.
“By the time you finish the conversation what they’re looking for are the attributes of light-rail transit,” he said, adding unlike a subway the LRT won’t put “enormous pressure” to allow much greater density on stable Scarborough neighbourhoods.
At his announcement, Soknacki accused Ford of breaking his 2010 promise not to raise taxes, since the city’s plans to pay its $1-billion contribution through a levy rising from 0.5 per cent in 2014 to 1.6 per cent two years later.
He also attacked Karen Stintz, the TTC chairperson and a potential rival, for reversing her earlier support for the LRT line, saying the council decision Stintz helped engineer ignored facts and “gave in to the politics of division and fear.”
Soknacki was flanked by supporters Gloria Lindsay-Luby, an Etobicoke councillor, and Paul Ainslie, who worked as Soknacki’s assistant at city hall for five years.
Now the Scarborough East councillor for Soknacki’s former ward, Ainslie voted against the latest Scarborough subway extension plan at city council. Ford then paid for a robocall to Ainslie’s constituents to inform them, as the mayor put it, of Ainslie’s position.
Toronto’s Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who represents Scarborough-Agincourt, said he hopes that Soknacki’s plan to scrap the subway in Scarborough doesn’t reach the floor of council in 2015.
Kelly, a subway supporter like most Scarborough councillors, also questioned Soknacki’s wisdom in choosing that issue.
“If he could have met with residents of Scarborough who are proponents of the subway, that would have given him the ability to check out the political support for this as well as the grassroots support for something like this,” said Kelly, who described the LRT position as a “gambit” for Soknacki early in the campaign.
“In chess there’s something called a gambit. Maybe this is part of it,” said Kelly. “Maybe he’s looking at the larger issue that cutting costs will be more important in the eyes of the electorate across this city than the appeal to the subway supporters in Scarborough.”
Adam Vaughan, who represents Trinity-Spadina, suggested that gambit could pay off.
“I’ve looked at the polling,” said Vaughan. “It may help him win the election. The (subway position) is only popular in Ford Nation.”
The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, which ran a “Save the Subways” advertising campaign in the area two years ago, expressed “disappointment” with Soknacki’s position, saying in a release it “risks running off the rails the first real plan Toronto has had in years to expand subway infrastructure.”