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Time for accountability: Ontario’s ballooning subway expansion costs

It sure looks like Premier Doug Ford has been hoodwinking Ontarians by using one of the oldest tricks in the book: underselling the cost of expensive transit projects.

The price tag for Ford’s signature Toronto-area subway expansion projects has been increasing more often than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.

And that’s saying something.

Ford’s latest price-tag fiasco is his signature Ontario Line.

This new subway line is being built to go through the heart of Toronto, mainly to bring relief to the city’s overcrowded Line 2.

Ford announced the project in 2019 and had a groundbreaking ceremony in March 2022.

When Ford announced the project, he told Ontarians it would cost $10.9 billion to both build the new subway line and operate it over the course of 30 years.

Last year, the Ford government updated the cost to $19 billion.

And just this month, the Ford government quietly announced that costs have increased to $27.2 billion.

That means in five short years, the cost of the Ontario Line has increased by 150 per cent. And costs have jumped by 43 per cent in the past year alone.

In the private sector, if a project manager was overseeing a multi-billion dollar project and costs ballooned by 43 per cent in a single year, that project manager would be shown the door.

At Queen’s Park, the Ford government is shrugging its shoulders.

When Ford announced the Ontario Line in 2019, it was one of four new transit projects that were supposed to cost, collectively, $28.9 billion.

One can only imagine what Ford’s full subway expansion bill will be if the cost of the other three lines trend in the same direction.

The government is blaming the increased cost of the Ontario Line largely on inflation. But inflation over the past year has been roughly three per cent. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that a 43 per cent cost increase can’t be blamed on three per cent inflation.

And Metrolinx, the Crown corporation put in charge of managing the construction of Ford’s new subway projects, says the updated $27.2 billion Ontario Line price tag “does not reflect the full cost of the project.”

Translation: taxpayers should expect costs to balloon even further before the government’s anticipated delivery date in 2031.

Ford sold Ontarians on a subway expansion plan that would see four new projects cost $28.9 billion. If the other three new subway lines see cost increases as rapid as the Ontario Line, taxpayers will be staring down the prospect of a price tag of more than $100 billion.

What needs to happen now?

First, it’s time to fire Metrolinx as the province’s contractor.

Time and time again, Ontario governments of both parties have turned to Metrolinx to build transit projects. Every time, transit projects have gone billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

It’s time to hold Metrolinx accountable.

Second, the Ford government needs to call in the auditor general. Ontarians deserve to know if the government sold its signature transit expansion plan to taxpayers by deliberately lowballing the cost.

The auditor general should do a comprehensive study of all four transit projects and give Ontarians an accurate assessment of the full cost.

So far, just a fraction of the Ontario Line’s full budget has been spent. The same is true for the other expansion projects.

It’s not too late for Ontario taxpayers to get a better estimate, look for ways to get the costs under control or even pull the plug if necessary.

Ontarians are downing in government debt. Taxpayers can’t afford a $100-billion boondoggle.

It’s time for transparency. Metrolinx and the Ford government need to come clean about the full cost of all four transit projects.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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