Last week, Premier Kathleen Wynne surprised Toronto by reversing her position on tolls, instead announcing that the provincial government would be increasing the shares of the gas tax to fund infrastructure in cities across Ontario. This decision was announced during what seemed to be the launch of her 2018 political campaign — “Only Kathleen Wynne can make sure we get it right” — which made it clear that her position reversal had nothing to do with Toronto’s well-being and everything to do with her future at Queen’s Park.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has worked hard to ensure that both city council and the province were on the same page — and until midnight on the day of the big announcement, he thought he had succeeded. Toronto has begged the province and the federal government for money to build much-needed infrastructure and housing, and it’s never enough. The introduction of tolls as a revenue tool would have freed up some of Toronto’s own funding to be used on major issues like housing, while still dedicating the revenue collected from tolls towards transit. It was a win-win scenario in which Toronto would be able to actually contribute to its own growth without forcing residents to pay more in property taxes or sales taxes.
Now, who knows what will happen.
The decision by Wynne to deny Toronto its tolls has been described as political cowardice by many reporters — and Women’s Post agrees. The province’s blatant disregard for municipal authority is unforgivable. By providing the minimum amount of funding Toronto would have acquired through a $2 toll on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (a measly $170 million), the province is disregarding the real benefits of tolls. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what this tool would have done for Toronto. Let’s run through the benefits really quickly:
- Tolls alleviate congestion. Have you ever had to drive along the Gardiner Expressway or the Don Valley Parkway during rush hour? I’m guessing no one within the Liberal cabinet has. The whole purpose of tolls is to make people reconsider taking transit or carpooling to work. This will allow those who absolutely need to drive to get to their destination faster.
- Tolls help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The province of Ontario has committed to a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 2005 levels by 2030. That’s only 13 years away. Ontario is currently responsible for over 170 megatonnes of GHG. As mentioned in benefit number one, tolls reduce the number of cars on the roads, which in turn help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas produced from these vehicles.
- Tolls help raise funds for much-needed transit and infrastructure. Toronto has $33 billion worth of unfunded capital projects on the go. The motherlode of transit plans is underway, whether the city has the money to pay for it or not. It’s too late to turn back. The dedicated funds collected from tolled roads would have gone a long way to helping pay for a bigger and better transit system so that when people choose to take the GO train or the TTC, they will have a more enjoyable experience.
Sure, a $2 toll would have provided about $170 million a year in dedicated funding for transit, but as more transit is built and more options (a word the Liberals used as an excuse not to implement tolls) become available, that fee would have increased. This means Toronto is missing out on closer to $300 million in potential funds for the Yonge Relief Line and SmartTrack.
“Simply put, Toronto is being forced to contend with major issues like housing and roads and child care that were previously funded by the government of Ontario. And we are being denied any real ability to choose how we can pay for those things. That is short sighted, it is not right, and it will ultimately hurt the Ontario residents who need transit and housing the most,” Tory said in a press conference following Wynne’s announcement.
“Toronto has demonstrated that it is willing to do the right thing – to make some hard choices on behalf of our residents and our region and to be honest with people about what is required to serve them better. If we are to be made more reliant on provincial funds and denied ways to be more self-sufficient, we need to know the province’s plan to further increase support to our city, especially for vital issues including child care, waterfront redevelopment and housing,” Tory said. “And we need to know it now.”
The problem is this: It doesn’t matter if the Mayor of Toronto is frustrated. Tory can make as many speeches as he likes in support of tolls, but Wynne won’t listen. All the Liberals care about is re-election, which means that you have a lot of power. You, the voter, need to take a stand. You need to tell the provincial government that you care more about your city’s future than you do an election. They NEED you.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said on Metro Morning that residents don’t care about the fighting between Toronto and the province. “They’re not interested in a civics lesson,” he said. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s the Ontario Liberals who need a civics lesson. They need to be taught that real democracy hinges on the people, not the politicians. There is a reason politicians are called “public servants.” It is their job to serve us. Don’t let it be the other way around.
Sign this petition to show the government that you do understand, and do indeed care, about your city.