TORONTO - Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is pledging millions to help fund transit systems and is urging Toronto to hold off on planned transit cuts until after the provincial election, even though her party is running a consistent third in the polls.
Horwath stood outside a Toronto subway stop to talk about her plan for transit on Monday, the same day layoff notices were going out to about 250 employees of the Toronto Transit Commission.
The city is aiming to reduce its 2012 budget by 10 per cent. In addition to the layoffs, 171 front-line operator jobs will be eliminated through attrition as the TTC tries to whittle down a projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfall. A possible fare hike has also been raised, but the decision has been deferred to December.
Horwath reiterated a promise she discussed with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in a meeting last month to foot 50 per cent of the operating costs for municipal transit systems in the province and to freeze fares for four years.
It doesn't appear likely at this point that Horwath will be elected premier, and even if she was, she wouldn't be able to bring in a new budget until March. But she said Ford and city council should "wait and see" what happens on election night on Oct. 6 before making cuts.
"I'm going to ask the mayor and council to put a pause button, to hit the pause button on conversations about cutting the TTC in order to deal with their budget," Horwath said.
"I think that we can actually, in our first budget ... relieve the city of Toronto's pressures, within their fiscal time frames."
The NDP says the promise would cost about $375 million, and $220 million of that would go to Toronto. The funding would be an ongoing commitment, not just for one year, Horwath said.
"It used to be the case that the provincial government paid for or shared the cost, 50/50 with transit systems in cities to help with exactly this kind of pressure," she said. "We think we need to get back to that kind of partnership."
Liberal Kathleen Wynne, McGuinty's Transportation minister, questioned how Horwath can make that massive commitment.
"I have no idea how Andrea thinks she can pay for what she's talking about," she said in an interview.
"The city really needs to work out its budget problems. We've been flowing billions of dollars to the city. I think that we need to keep working with the city."
Horwath later travelled to Ottawa where she made remarks at a meeting of the federal Ontario NDP caucus, who sat in Parliament Monday for the first time without their late former leader, Jack Layton.
"The most important driver of why we're all around this table certainly in the last little while wasn't here to share the opening of Parliament with you," Horwath said, with Layton's widow Olivia Chow, also a downtown Toronto NDP MP, by her side.
"That's something that is going to bind us together for pretty much the rest of our history as a party."