Toronto councillors demanding answers from Metrolinx about Ontario Line transit project

The Ontario Line will be a 15-stop subway route that's slated to run 16 kilometres from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place. (Metrolinx - image credit)
The Ontario Line will be a 15-stop subway route that's slated to run 16 kilometres from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place. (Metrolinx - image credit)

Three Toronto city councillors are pushing for more insight and input into the massive Ontario Line project, slamming the provincial transit agency charged with building the multi-billion dollar subway line for being too secretive.

Ausma Malik, Chris Moise and Paula Fletcher received the backing of their colleagues on the Toronto and East York Community Council this week to create a sub-committee to dig into the project. The group will begin meeting next month and will receive formal updates from city staff and can hear deputations from community members.

Malik, who represents Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, said they decided to form the sub-committee because as planning for the Ontario Line has proceeded, communities and the politicians representing them have been consistently left out of the process.

"Metrolinx and the provincial government have fallen short in terms of their community engagement, in terms of their responsibility to ensure that they're listening to local stakeholders," she said.

The 15.6-kilometre Ontario Line was announced by Premier Doug Ford in 2019. The route is set to have 15 stations and run through the downtown core from Ontario Place in the west to the Ontario Science Centre in the east.

Its initial price was pegged at $10.9 billion. But in November, the province updated that estimate, revealing that because of supply chain issues and inflation the price tag has jumped to between $17 and $19 billion. Those figures don't include a number of costs, including the actual trains themselves or storage facilities for them.

Construction was first projected to wrap in 2027. Asked Friday when the line is expected to be completed, Metrolinx would not say.

Metrolinx criticized for plan and communications

Critics have questioned Metrolinx's plan and have accused the provincial agency of a lack of communication and poor consultation with communities that are affected. Metrolinx also landed in legal hot water when a number of groups challenged its plan to cut down trees on the historic grounds of Osgoode Hall to build a station on the line.

Moise, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre, said his constituents and those of the other two councillors are the most impacted by construction on the project. And while the committee cannot compel Metrolinx to take part in its work, good planning comes from rigorous community consultation, he said.

"We are in dire need of more transit," he said. "I'm very much in support of the Ontario Line. But we know that Metrolinx have not always been forthright and  forthcoming."


Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, said Metrolinx has been communicating its plan "in chunks," which has impeded local councillors' ability to view the scope of the project. The committee will allow councillors to take a longer view of the work, she said.

"Right now, we're just seeing the trees … we really need to see the forest," she said. "And I think this will give a very clear overview of the entire area."

Metrolinx 'too secretive,' Matlow says

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul's, said lessons from Metrolinx's delayed Eglinton Crosstown LRT must be applied to the Ontario Line and he supports forming the sub-committee.

"They're too secretive," he said of Metrolinx.

"The sooner there is more accountability and transparency with Metrolinx, the better transit will be built. And we're just not accepting that Metrolinx can just run roughshod over the people of Toronto without having a place where we are demanding answers."

Angelina King/CBC
Angelina King/CBC

Metrolinx said in a statement that it regularly updates and seeks feedback from communities across Toronto on the Ontario Line.

"We continue to work closely with our partners at the City of Toronto, meeting on a weekly basis, as we deliver this important project," said the agency's media relations department.

"We have been coordinating plans with city staff and we look forward to continued collaboration as we move this project forward."

 Canada's 'most expensive' subway?

Stephen Wickens, a Toronto freelance researcher and journalist who specializes in transit issues, said the Ontario Line has been desperately needed for at least four decades, so he has been willing to overlook some flaws with the current plan. But he said he's increasingly worried about the approach to designing the project and the lack of communication.

"The secrecy that goes with Metrolinx's approach of not providing crucial information to anybody who might ask good questions is a problem," he said.

"They like to use this excuse that it's commercially sensitive material. It's not serving them and I don't think it's serving the people of Ontario."


Wickens, who in 2020 penned a report on the spiraling costs of subway projects for the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, says the project could be on track to break a record when it comes to costs..

"This Ontario Line was supposed to have been a way of getting better value for the public," he said.

"It looks to me like, and certainly from the early contracts that have been signed, that this is going to be the most expensive subway ever built in this country."

"And I'd be shocked if it's ready by 2030," he added.

The committee will meet next month to develop terms of reference for its work headed into the spring and could hear from the city's Transit Expansion Office on the status of the line.

That update is also expected to include details about the pedestrian and traffic management plans and to identify places where the city and residents can be involved in the project's development.

"We're hoping that Metrolinx listens," Malik said.

"And I believe that it's in their best interest to be able to come to the table and for the provincial government to step up."