Tories ask auditor general to investigate new GO stations
Reports on Monday said internal documents show the ministry of transportation pressured Metrolinx to approve two new stations, including one in the minister’s riding.
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The Progressive Conservatives have asked the Ontario auditor general to investigate two GO Transit stations that a provincial agency approved last year despite government-commissioned advice that recommended they not be built.
One of the proposed stations, Kirby, is in Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan. The other is a stop at Lawrence East in Scarborough that has been labeled part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan.
As the Star reported on Monday, documents obtained through a freedom of information request show that the Liberal government’s ministry of transportation pressured Metrolinx, the arms-length agency responsible for transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, to approve the two stops.
Kirby station would cost $98.4 million to build, while capital costs for Lawrence East are estimated at around $23 million.
In a letter sent to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk on Monday, Progressive Conservative transportation critic Michael Harris requested a “full value for money audit” of the stops.
“The minister of transportation’s office has unfortunately provided very few answers as to why ministry-funded analysis recommending against these projects was overruled,” Harris wrote to the auditor general, who is charged with monitoring government spending.
“Before any more hard-earned tax dollars are sunk into these projects, taxpayers deserve to know that the money will be spent effectively and efficiently,” said Harris, who is the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office and Metrolinx declined to answer questions Monday about the stations. A spokesperson for Del Duca said he was away and unavailable.
All three referred the Star to statements the minister and Metrolinx issued on Sunday.
The statements asserted that the studies that showed Kirby and Lawrence East wouldn’t benefit the transit network were just one input into the decision-making process, which also included consultation with local municipalities and affected communities.
They stressed that all the new GO stations Metrolinx is considering will undergo further study and won’t be built if they’re not warranted.
Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard issued a one-word answer in response to a question about whether he stood by the station approval process. Through a spokesperson, he said “Yes.”
Analysis commissioned by Metrolinx determined that adding Kirby and Lawrence East to the GO network would lead to a net loss of ridership, as well as increased car travel and pollution. A consultant report recommended that they not be pursued for at least 10 years.
The documents obtained by the Star show that the Metrolinx board met behind closed doors in June 2016 and approved a list of new stations that didn’t include the two stops. The following day agency officials were surprised when Del Duca’s ministry sent Metrolinx draft press releases that showed he intended to announce the stops were going ahead.
Metrolinx subsequently redrafted reports to support the two stations, and the board then reconvened in public to approve them as part of a package of a dozen stops the province intends to build under GO Transit’s $13.5-billion regional express rail (RER) expansion plan.
According to Metrolinx its station evaluation program, which analyzed more than 120 potential sites, cost $1 million.
In an emailed statement on Monday, Ontario NDP urban transportation critic Cheri DiNovo slammed the approval of the stops as politically-motivated.
“Commuters in the GTA have every right to be concerned that Kathleen Wynne is making transit planning decisions in the interests of the Liberal Party instead of in the public interest,” she said.
The Progressive Conservative’s request comes one week after a transit advocacy group made a similar complaint to the auditor general about the approval of Kirby and Lawrence East stations, as well as construction of the Scarborough subway extension.
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