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Metrolinx CEO's contract extended despite absence of Crosstown target opening date

Phil Verster

The province has extended the employment contract of Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster, news that comes just days after the head of the provincial transit agency held a news conference to announce yet another delay in the construction of a major Toronto transit project.

On Wednesday, Verster told reporters that after missing an earlier target date for the opening of the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the agency is now simply unable to provide a reliable timeline for when the project will be complete. He conceded that new problems on the line are being discovered weekly.

Construction began on the transit project in the summer of 2011 and it was originally supposed to open in 2020.

When Metrolinx failed to meet that target date, officials indicated that the project would be substantially complete in 2022, but Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS) – the consortium building the line – missed that deadline as well.

During Question Period at Queen’s Park on Thursday, Bhutila Karpoche, the NDP MPP for Parkdale—High Park, asked why Verster still has a job.

“Mr. Verster has not only had over a year to explain the latest delay, he has received massive pay increases and enjoys the support of 59 vice-presidents who all seem unable to hold the P3 contractor to account,” she said.

In response, Ontario’s Transportation Minister Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, who did not attend the news conference with Verster on Wednesday, said he understands 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.”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow called the repeated delays with the project “unbearable.”

“Ten years later, you still can't tell us when you can open it up,” she asked. “It's really disappointing.”

In a news release issued earlier this week, MPP Joel Harden, the NDP’s transit critic, accused the Ford government of losing control of the transit agency.

“It’s clear they can’t build transit projects in this province, and people are left waiting for transit that feels like it will never arrive. What a colossal—and costly—disaster,” Harden said in a written statement.

He said the Official Opposition wants to see Verster, who earns an annual salary of nearly $900,000, booted from his position.

The premier’s office did not provide any further details of its deal with Verster, confirming only that his employment contract had been extended. It is not clear when the decision was made to extend the CEO’s contract.

When asked about whether he should step down due to the ongoing problems with the project, Verster said Wednesday that he feels “accountability and responsibility” to get the project “over the line.”

“This is what myself and my team and 1,400 other people are dedicated to achieve. I serve at the pleasure of the minister,” he said.

In response to a question about reports that his new salary would be over $1 million, Verster said he had "not signed any revised contract as such." 

"I don’t determine my salary. It is a matter that is resolved by the minister and the board," he told reporters. "I have not asked for any increases, I’ve not asked for anything at all. I’m just humbled to be here and to continue to do the work." 

-With files from CP24’s Josh Freeman Top Stories

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