Ontario extends Metrolinx CEO's contract despite Eglinton Crosstown LRT delays

Metolinx CEO Phil Verster is pictured at the agency's board meeting on Dec. 1. (Hugo Levesque/CBC - image credit)
Metolinx CEO Phil Verster is pictured at the agency's board meeting on Dec. 1. (Hugo Levesque/CBC - image credit)

The Ontario government has extended its employment contract with Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster, Premier Doug Ford's office confirmed on Thursday.

The confirmation comes one day after Verster refused to provide an opening date for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, telling reporters that technical problems in the testing and commissioning phase have led to further delays.

"Any prediction of an opening date at this stage of the project will just be an estimate, and I'm not comfortable giving that," Verster had said at a news conference.

"When I give you a date it must be something I believe in and we're not there yet."

The transit line, known as Line 5, is expected to run along Eglinton Avenue from Kennedy in the east and Mount Dennis in the west.

Work began on the 25-stop,19-kilometre line in 2011. The opening date has been delayed multiple times.

Verster had said in August that Metrolinx would provide a "range of dates" by end of summer for the opening of the troubled transit line.

In a news release on Wednesday, the NDP had calling for his firing.

'Why does Mr. Verster still have a job?' NDP MPP asks

In question period on Thursday, NDP MPP Bhutila Karpoche asked the government about Verster, saying he has had more than a year to explain the latest delay and no one at Metrolinx seems to be able to hold to account Crosslinx Transit Solutions, a consortium established to deliver and maintain the Eglinton Crosstown.

"Why does Mr. Verster still have a job?" Karpoche asked.

Ontario Transportation Minister Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria responded by defending Verster but wouldn't say whether he knows the Eglinton Crosstown's expected completion date.

"I know how important this project is for the thousands of commuters who will rely on it to get to where they need to go every single day and I know that the public wants certainty on this project. That's why the CEO of Metrolinx was out there yesterday and will continue to deliver those updates to the public so they can have that information," he said.

"This is a very complex project, but we have delivered for the people of Toronto and this province the largest transit expansion plan in the history of this province and North America," he said, adding tunneling on th Eglinton West Crosstown is almost 50 per cent complete and that shovels are in the ground for the Ontario Line.

Answers needed, Liberal leader says

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the government needs to be held accountable for project's ongoing delays.

"The man is making almost a million dollars a year to deliver a substandard project. I don't understand, there has to be accountability, and ultimately, the accountability does rest with the government," she said.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the public has a right to know when the Eglinton Crosstown will open.

"I don't know if Phil Verster's the problem or if the government's the problem. What we actually need are answers on Eglinton Crosstown," he said.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said there's no question that Verster's contract should not have been renewed.

"The fact that we have someone being paid almost a million dollars and can't even provide us any answers: I think he needs to go," he said.