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- 04/03/13--06:37: _Matt Gurney: Rob Fo...
- 04/11/13--11:00: _Matt Gurney: What T...
- 05/07/13--08:31: _Matt Gurney: Ontari...
- 05/10/13--07:29: _Matt Gurney: Rob Fo...
- 05/27/13--09:03: _Kelly McParland: We...
- 05/27/13--09:13: _Matt Gurney: Metrol...
- 05/27/13--23:02: _Scott Stinson: Onta...
- 05/28/13--00:16: _Terence Corcoran: T...
- 05/28/13--07:20: _Kelly McParland: To...
- 05/28/13--08:31: _Matt Gurney: The ND...
- 05/28/13--09:14: _Full Pundit: Will O...
- 05/30/13--08:18: _Kelly McParland: Ka...
- 05/31/13--21:01: _National Post edito...
- 07/29/13--09:47: _Full Pundit: Canada...
- 08/21/13--10:01: _Full Pundit: Call a...
- 09/18/13--08:26: _Matt Gurney: If Ont...
- 06/05/13--15:47: _Ontario minister ma...
- 06/28/13--18:30: _Metrolinx threatens...
- 07/11/13--08:21: _‘Over my dead body ...
- 07/11/13--08:42: _Passengers stranded...
- 04/03/13--06:37: Matt Gurney: Rob Ford’s 1,000-year plan to build transit in Toronto
- 05/27/13--09:03: Kelly McParland: Weak links abound in Metrolinx funding plan
- A one percentage point increase to the Harmonized Sales Tax, estimated to generate $1.3-billion annually.
- Afive cents per litre regional fuel and gasoline tax, estimated to generate $330-million annually
- A business parking levy on all off-street non-residential parking spaces, estimated to generate $350-million annually.
- Development charge amendments, with an estimated annual contribution of $100-million.
- High-occupancy toll lanes, estimated to generate up to $250-million annually.
- Pay for parking at transit stations, estimated to generate up to $40-million annually.
- Land value capture, estimated to generate at least $20-million annually.
- Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised in the past that residents of the Greater Toronto Area, which extends from roughly Oshawa to roughly Hamilton, will pay for GTA transit expansion. But an increase in the HST would have to apply to all Ontarians. So she either has to break her word, or find some way to have two HSTs, one for the GTA and one for the Rest of Ontario. (Metrolinx says any HST collected outside the GTA would go to non-GTA projects. I’m not sure that would lessen the resentment a lot).
- A regional fuel tax is easier said than done. Where does the “region” end? What happens to all the gas stations that are just inside the regional border and will quickly lose most of their customers, because everyone will drive to the nearest station outside the region where gas is 5¢/litre cheaper.
- The NDP has already said it’s against high-occupancy toll lanes, calling them “Lexus lanes” in the weird belief that only rich people own cars and will use toll lanes. However bizarre that belief, it would be an impediment to NDP support, which Wynne’s government needs to stay in power.
- People who live in the GTA but don’t go into Toronto very often aren’t going to be thrilled about getting hit with a gas tax and HST increase to fund a system they will rarely use, and which is mainly required because past governments have chronically neglected transit.
- People outside the GTA, especially anyone 100 km or more distant, will be even less thrilled. Wynne is doing her best to woo back rural Ontario, which is upset at regularly getting the back of Dalton McGuinty’s hand. A big fat tax increase isn’t going to help with that.
- Metrolinx calculates it will cost “the average Toronto region household” $477 to cover the funding proposal, increasing to about $977 for a family of five with an “above-average income” and two cars driven a total of 40,000 kilometres a year. That’s hardly small potatoes, especially those at the lower end of the scale: seniors, single parents, low-income groups, i.e. all the people for whom the Star and Toronto’s left-wingers are always demanding more concern and more money. Presumably there will have to be subsidies to tide them over, which means the cost will be higher for the rest.
- Given that the GTA will benefit more than elsewhere, especially those within the central core of the city, why wouldn’t they be expected to carry a much bigger share of the costs? It’s hard to find an average home in central Toronto for under $1 million; why would people in Windsor or Walkerton or Timmins want to subsidize costs for people living in million-dollar homes?
- Even many groups that might be able to afford $477 will have cause to be unhappy. Why should an elderly couple living in Kingston or Kincardine have to fork over more money to help out Toronto? If they wanted to live there, they would. The province has lots of people who deliberately avoid its largest city, and have their entire lives. Now they’re expected to help it out of the mess it’s in.
- An increase in parking charges at transit stops seems counter-productive. People won’t be encouraged to use transit if they’re going to be charged to leave their cars behind.
- 05/28/13--08:31: Matt Gurney: The NDP’s strange definition of ‘fair and balanced’
- 05/28/13--09:14: Full Pundit: Will Ontarians pay for public transit?
- 07/29/13--09:47: Full Pundit: Canada’s complicated relationship with freedom
- 08/21/13--10:01: Full Pundit: Call a wambulance for Canada’s wireless giants
There was an intriguing admission hidden amid Rob Ford’s vomit theatrics on Tuesday.
The mayor of Canada’s largest city was asked by reporters what he thought about Metrolinx’s revenue-generation recommendations. Metrolinx is a provincial agency tasked with managing transit expansion throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). It has developed what it calls The Big Move, a prioritized list of infrastructure projects that, if built over the next 25 years, would improve transit dramatically at the local and regional level. But the majority of those projects remain unfunded, which is why Metrolinx rolled out its recommendations for revenue tools that would generate $2-billion a year.
Which brings us to the vomit.
Ford, whose mantra is “Respect for the taxpayers,” responded to Metrolinx’s proposal for more fees, tolls and taxes by making retching and gagging sounds for reporters. After his good-humoured fake stomach troubles, the Mayor offered his actual, official response: “You want to pay for transit? I’ve got a good idea: it’s called a casino.” And that’s where it gets interesting.
Let’s accept the high-end estimate for how much the city would receive if it had a casino: $50-million in hosting fees a year. Fifty million bucks is $50-million bucks and the city could do a lot with the money. But the casino would need quite a bit of time to generate enough revenue to meet Metrolinx’s goal of $50-billion so as to fund The Big Move. By my admittedly shaky mental math, it seems that it would take … a millennium. One thousand years. The Big Move would be funded by approximately 3013.
The example above isn’t fair, of course. Ford has never suggested his much-desired casino be used to fund The Big Move in its entirety, just transit in general. So rather than calculating how long it would take to fund The Big Move, it’s probably more revealing to check it against Ford’s favourite transit project: Completion of the Sheppard subway line, extending it from its current stubby little thrust into North York deep into Scarborough, where it would connect with existing transit lines. This would complete a loop in the city’s northeast quadrant.
The eight-kilometre line wouldn’t come cheap. Estimates for the cost have ranged from a billion bucks to nearly $3-billion (depending on what proportion of the extension was funded with already existent funds). Even the low-end figure for the cost, funded by the high-end estimate for the casino, would require two decades. A higher price or a lower casino yield, or both, extends that timeline into absurdity. A year’s worth of slot machine revenue would tunnel out a few hundred yards more subway.
It’s not news that Ford’s grand transit dreams aren’t funded. He’s right that people want subways, and he’s right that it would be ideal to close the loop in the city’s northeast, but he has not been able to find a way to do that. And this is what is so interesting — so revealing — about Ford’s casino comments: The only solution he has left is woefully inadequate to the task.
If he insists on rejecting any new revenues, OK, fair enough, but it’s incumbent upon him to find the money elsewhere : eliminating waste and finding efficiencies, or by cutting deals with the private sector. He originally pledged to do both. There is no sign that either of those things is happening. Ford has found savings, but in dribs and drabs. Nothing close to what is needed to fund much more than a few new buses. The private sector has not come to the table with plans and deep pockets. Other governments seem ill inclined to give him the cash he needs. The one suggestion Ford has been left with, the casino, just doesn’t deliver the cash necessary to finance major projects all by itself. It would help, but it’s not the silver bullet.
Metrolinx’s proposals aren’t perfect, and seem to go awfully easy on the downtown core of the city, leaving the heavy lifting to the suburbs. But it is a plan, one that could work. Ford can by all means propose alternatives. But until those alternatives make fiscal sense, he’s just holding things up. He’s not even pretending otherwise anymore. His one idea just doesn’t get the job done.
Just about everyone in the GTHA would prefer that transit be funded out of existing revenues. If Ford has some plan that would make this possible, now would be a really good time to let us all in on it.
But there doesn’t seem to be any. Torontonians could be forgiven for gagging at this state of affairs. They wouldn’t have to fake it.
I feel a bit lousy jumping on my colleague Terence Corcoran’s back so soon after my other colleague Chris Selley did so, but I do feel compelled to respond to Terry’s recent piece on traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto Area.
In that piece, Corcoran noted that there is nothing in Metrolinx’s The Big Move plan that has been proven an effective means of reducing congestion. And that’s true — though I’m not sure how such a thing could be proven without building the whole thing and then seeing what happens. But it’s worth pointing out that The Big Move doesn’t need to reduce congestion, per se, in order to succeed. The Toronto area is expected to add another three million people over the next two decades, or roughly a 50% increase. That’s like taking the entire Greater Montreal Area and plunking it down within the region. The Big Move would be considered a smashing success if it simply held the line. Nine million people commuting with the same “ease” (relative term, believe me) as six million, in the same area, is a win.
(For what it’s worth, Metrolinx does forecast a small decrease in average commute times once its plan is completed — some five minutes. Not much, and admittedly unproven, but there it is.)
Corcoran also noted, rightly, that congestion is a fact of life in other major global urban areas, and that levies or fees that target congestion have not changed that. Again, true — cities around the world that have imposed some form of restricted access to their downtown cores still have crowded downtown cores. But congestion is not a problem specific to Toronto’s downtown. It’s a regional problem that begins well before you ever get to downtown.
The brutal reality is that the Toronto area’s road network is largely tapped out. Very little freeway infrastructure has been added for decades, and it would be a nightmare of expropriation to build new ones where they’d do some good. What has been added or scheduled for adding — there are currently projects underway to extend the 404 north and 407 toll road east — will just bring more people into the already jammed Toronto roads. Take a drive up the 404 if you don’t believe me. From Richmond Hill through Aurora and well into Newmarket, new subdivisions are popping up alongside the freeway. Proximity to the 404 is a selling point for developers — “New community just minutes from the freeway!” — but the freeway is, for large periods of the day, useless. Anytime between roughly 6:30 and 10:30 in the morning, you can expect the entire thing to be at a literal dead stop in two separate places: A stretch where the arterial roads in Markham and Richmond Hill pour into it, and anywhere close to where the 404 converts into the Don Valley Parkway, at the juncture with the 401.
I wish to be very clear here: I’m not saying it’s slow, or crowded, or busy. I’m saying you will spend five minutes advancing 200 feet. This is not mere congestion, this is absolute gridlock. And as soon as you’re through the bottleneck at Richmond Hill and Markham, you’ve got five minutes of smooth driving until you hit the next one near the 401. That one is even worse.
This describes my morning commute (or, more specifically, why I come into the office after lunch). But the problem is the same on every main access route into the city. A few seconds listening to any traffic report will confirm that: The Q.E.W., the 400, the 410, the 401 in both directions — all have brief periods of moving at a brisk face followed by zones where traffic simply does not move. For hours, every weekday.
And this is where the problem with congestion becomes most clear. People aren’t sitting in these jams for lack of imagination. They’re sitting there because there are no better alternatives. Transit is a joke. All of the major side streets are no better. Even arterial residential roads can become bogged down with commuting traffic. Some of this can be blamed on poorly timed construction and stoplight synchronization that seems designed to frustrate. But the lion’s share of the responsibility goes to simple mathematics: Same roads, ever more people.
That’s the Toronto context in which we have to discuss congestion. Even if you never intend to go downtown, you get caught up in the mess. The entire GTA is a congested zone.
There’s an element of urban planning in all of this, of course. If I had godlike powers for a day, among other things, I’d probably mulligan the post-war expansion of the suburban belt around Toronto in favour of denser development downtown. But even densification has limits: Downtown’s relatively lavish layers of mass transit are also tapped out. Even if you could suddenly relocate all three-million 905ers down into the city of Toronto itself, every last one of them living in a condo tower, it wouldn’t matter. The TTC’s main subway lines are nearing, or at, capacity.
I share Terry’s sense that The Big Move will come in overbudget, and agree that a lot of it’s unproven. I also agree with him that the better way of funding it would be carving the cash out of existing government spending — indeed, Terry’s own “Chopping Block” project over at the Financial Post would be a model for doing exactly that.
But it’s important to understand the extent of the problem, and its immediacy. This isn’t something we’re working to head off, it’s something that’s already here. Much like colleague Selley, I’ll take an imperfect solution that we can start ASAP over a potentially better solution we need to argue about for six or seven more election cycles first.
Politicians who like to speak sometimes get in trouble for saying too much. This is something that Ontario’s recently installed Minister of Transportation, Glen Murray, ought to keep in mind.
Mr. Murray, a former Winnipeg mayor, caused a bit of a fuss last week. He criticized the Toronto region’s official transit plan. Known as The Big Move, the plan has been stitched together over the course of many years by Metrolinx, the provincial agency tasked with providing integrated, regional transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Mr. Murray suggested that the plan wasn’t all it could be, and that his office was going to be looking into some possible improvements.
Normally, that sort of thing would be non-news. Minister of Transportation to review transportation plan … who cares? But the context is different here. Toronto is choking to death on traffic. But now, there does seem to be some alignment of the stars above. Progress seems possible. There are serious conversations happening at high levels about what kind of revenue funding tools will be needed to actually implement this plan.
In other words, this was a particularly bad moment in time for Mr. Murray to inject any doubt or ambiguity into the plan. We’re close here — and the next step is going to be selling the public on what revenue tools (a.k.a. taxes, levies, fees and tolls) will be needed to pay for it. “Shouldn’t we maybe wait until the Minister is happy with his own plan before I pay for it?” would understandably be a common thought among Toronto-area residents.
It’s not that Mr. Murray is wrong. The plan could be improved, in any number of ways. But a good plan now is better than a perfect plan … maybe never. No doubt someone quickly communicated that to him, as he backtracked quickly. A statement from Mr. Murray’s office was soon emailed to members of the media, endorsing the plan as-is. Here’s the key phrase: “Our government is moving forward with The Big Move. This regional strategy for transportation and public transit will unlock gridlock, create jobs and get people and goods moving in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).”
OK, good. No ambiguity there. The plan is a go, and we won’t — as many had briefly feared — need to reset the whole process back to zero and begin again.
If it makes sense for everyone in the region to pay for region-wide improvements, why doesn’t it make sense for everyone in the province to pay for something that will, as the Minister of Transportation said, benefit them?
But there was one other thing that stood out in the several hundred words of press release wrapped tenderly around the full retreat already quoted above: “Those living in northern or eastern Ontario will not be paying for projects in the GTHA but they will benefit from them….”
That’s intriguing. One of the main problems with getting something like Metrolinx to approve a plan like The Big Move is the issue of each little municipal fiefdom wanting to know why it’s paying for a new rail line in downtown Toronto or a bus line in Richmond Hill. Getting leaders to think regionally is a huge part of this plan — convincing people that while their local community’s project may not be first on Metrolinx’s to-do list, they will benefit from the region-wide effort. And because they’ll benefit, they have to pay.
That raises an interesting question. If it makes sense for everyone in the region to band together and pay for region-wide improvements, why doesn’t it make sense for everyone in the province to pay for something that will, as the Minister of Transportation said, benefit them. Personally, I prefer the idea of local governments paying for as much of their local needs as is possible. I don’t think the good people of Thunder Bay or Timmins will benefit much from improved bus systems in the outlaying fringes of the Toronto area. But I also don’t think most downtown Torontonians will, either. Why go out of the way to ensure parts of Ontario that they won’t be paying for something that’s good for them? How is that supposed to read in Toronto?
We’re either all in this together or we’re not. Either answer is fine with me, but it would be nice to have some clarity.
It’s good that Mr. Murray has said that his government is committed to The Big Move — Toronto can’t afford a full reset of this process. But it will be interesting to see how Mr. Murray’s government can insist that Toronto-area residents should shoulder the full cost of something that will apparently be a big win for all Ontario. Sharing the pain shouldn’t be something that only happens within sight of the CN Tower, right?
Toronto politics has always been a little bit funny. But I can’t help but feel that it’s getting a little bit weirder lately.
Take this week’s much discussed “revenue-tool” vote at city hall. A variety of revenue tools — which, as you may have guessed, involve money going from the public to the government — are felt necessary by most government officials in southern Ontario. A provincial agency, Metrolinx, has a plan to finally build some transit infrastructure throughout the Toronto region, but it doesn’t have the money. The revenue tools would, it is hoped, create dedicated streams of money that will be directed only to this transit plan (and, eventually, to sustaining it).
Metrolinx wanted Toronto’s official recommendations on what tools to use. The recommendations by Toronto wouldn’t be binding, but they’d be an important gesture of municipal “buy in” into the plan. Put bluntly, it would give the province some political cover to impose the tools on Toronto.
Rob Ford hates the plan. No, pardon me — he likes the idea of some of the stuff getting built (subways, folks, subways). He just hates the idea of taxpayers paying for it. Mayor Ford wants it built. But he’s not willing to support realistic plans to raise the money. Are we all clear on this?
Mayor Ford so opposed the revenue tool plan, in fact, that he did his best to prevent it from being implemented. Metrolinx is operating on a deadline. It is mandated to report back to the province with its recommendations for revenue tools by next month. Mayor Ford tried to use his executive committee to defer Toronto’s opportunity to vote on the matter. Due to scheduling issues, had the votes been deferred, Metrolinx would have had to go to the province with its recommendations without Toronto’s input. Again, Toronto’s votes are not binding. But Metrolinx would have suffered a credibility hit had it been denied the ability to claim that Toronto, the region’s largest government, had not been consulted.
Toronto City Council wasn’t having any of that. No, siree. They mobilized and overruled the Mayor’s executive committee by pulling together the requisite two-thirds supermajority needed to override a committee ruling. Toronto would have its say, on time, and Metrolinx would go to the province with the city’s recommendation in hand.
This was seen as a yet another major defeat for the Mayor. Critics, on and off council, declared this one more sign that Rob Ford had lost control of the city’s transit agenda. Or city council altogether.
Ford is treating this as his own little Battle of Thermopylae, where he “held off the wolves” and respected the taxpayers
And then council went and pretty much shot down all the new revenue tools. It didn’t rule out every last one, leaving a regional sales tax and development charges on the table as unendorsed options. But it didn’t embrace any, either.
Mayor Ford immediately declared victory, and with typical Fordian exaggeration, proclaimed, “This is one of the greatest days in Toronto history.” (Right alongside VE Day, no doubt.) The Mayor is already claiming that he saved each household a thousand dollars in new taxes a year, which he hasn’t, since the decision always lies with the province. But he’s treating this as his own little Battle of Thermopylae, where he “held off the wolves” and respected the taxpayers.
The entire affair is undeniably weird. The Mayor doesn’t want new taxes, so he tries to push off a debate. Council overrules him in a very public embarrassment, and then proceeds to vote the way the Mayor would have wanted, thus handing him a victory. The Mayor is now telling everyone who’ll listen that he won the vote against those who forced the debate on him … but he only won because the same people who insisted the matter be debated proceeded to vote against it.
The decision will now go to the province, of course. Premier Kathleen Wynne has been having a rough time of it lately, what with the gas plants scandal and all. But she does have one advantage: Compared to Toronto City Council, it’s not hard looking like the adult in the room.
I can see several reasons why a list of “transit-expansion revenue tools” recommended by the provincial transit agency Metrolinx on Monday might be in for a rough ride.
First, here’s the list:
Now, here’s some potential problems:
There’s no question that Toronto needs better transit and that the cost will be monumental. But I suspect there will be enormous resistance to the notion that the rest of the province should pay heavily to help it out. The Metrolinx list, which is similar to a list released by the Toronto Board of Trade, smells a lot like Toronto people trying to unload their costs on others. Where was Toronto when other communities were in crisis, or struggling to make ends meet? Too busy bragging about being “world class” to be of much use.
On Monday, Metrolinx — the provincial agency tasked with expanding transit throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) — submitted its recommendations for new “revenue tools” to the provincial government. Any number of revenue tools — taxes and fees — had been proposed and debated, but Metrolinx has identified seven that they believe will generate an approximate combined $2.4-billion a year. The proposals include a 1% boost to the harmonized sales tax, charging tolls for single drivers who travel in a high occupancy lane, and a 5¢-a-litre gas tax. One media report so far suggests that the average household in the GTA will end up having $477 a year revenue tooled out of their pocket.
The justification for that, of course, is that gridlock in the GTA is a serious problem requiring serious efforts to combat it. And there’s truth to that. The road and transit networks in the region are already clogged, and population projections for the next two decades show that another three million people will be moving in. That’s the size of Greater Montreal, added to an already overloaded system. So making the case that the region needs more of everything is easy.
Figuring out how to pay for it — now that’s hard.
In a perfect world — or even a world with somewhat more competent political leadership than Toronto or Ontario can lay claim to — this wouldn’t be a complicated process. Projects would be identified as needed, and funds would be provided out of existing revenue streams. In real life Toronto and area, circa 2013, what we have instead are various political and community groups demanding this subway tunnel instead of that LRT line. And politicians who can’t agree on how to pay for anything. And governments running such massive deficits that even if they eliminated billions and billions in waste and lower priority spending, the books would still only be balanced … at best. (John Tory, a Toronto-based transit booster and NewsTalk 1010 radio host, said it well when he recently told the National Post editorial board that the Ontario government could chop 10% of its spending and still be running deficits, even without one new dollar for transit.)
To get around this, Metrolinx has come up a monster of a plan. Fifty billion will be spent over 25 years. Downtown Toronto will get subways, the northern parts of the city will get LRTs. The surrounding communities will get a mixture of commuter rail, rapid bus lines and a system that, in theory, will connect seamlessly with Toronto’s. It’s a plan that no civic leader would ever choose for their own community, but one that gives everyone something. The proposed projects might not be their top priority, and it might be 20 years in the making, but Metrolinx has cleverly made sure that pretty much everyone in the region has some skin in the game.
And it’s a good thing they did. Barely a week goes by where some official or another isn’t bemoaning the fact that their taxpayers will be funding subways in Toronto (or that Toronto’s citizens will be putting in buses in York Region). There is much grumbling and discontent.
But even though it’s an imperfect plan, it’s the entire region’s plan. And since it’s the entire region’s plan, the entire region is going to pay for it. To the tune of that above-mentioned $477 a year from each household.
Metrolinx’s proposals are just that, of course: Proposals. They need to be approved by the provincial government. That may not be easy. The current government is a Liberal minority, and though Premier Kathleen Wynne is on record as saying she supports revenue tools, she’ll need other parties to sign on. That won’t be easy. And it’s conceivable that Premier Wynne will balk at these particular revenue tools, even if she’s open to the idea in theory. A 1% sales tax, for example, will hit low-income earners just as hard as the downtown elites. How will that play to the left-leaning Ms. Wynne’s socially just constituents? (Apparently there will be offsets for low-income earners, but that’s just another set of negotiations the province will have to sweat through.) Local governments can also be expected to howl against the new proposals. They’d take the money offered, sure, but it never hurts to rant and rave against the proposed revenue tools. After all, it would be the provincial government that would take the heat.
Metrolinx’s unloved plan now has a variety of unpopular ways of paying for it. Whether anything gets done, or this just becomes the latest in a long line of go-nowhere Toronto transit plans, should be determined within the next few months.
Not long after the non-elected members of the Metrolinx board explained their reasons for advocating $50-billion in new taxes to fund a public-transit expansion plan, it was hard to find an elected member of the provincial parliament to say anything kind about it.
“It’s not something we can support,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath at Queen’s Park.
“We totally reject that report,” said Progressive Conservative transport critic Frank Klees.
Even the Liberals, though their party, and their Premier, have championed the idea of new streams of dedicated funding to ease gridlock in the Toronto region, weren’t exactly keen on selling the new taxes now that the impact on Ontario residents — an estimated $477 per year per household, but closer to $1,000 annually for a family with three kids and two vehicles — has been formally put to paper.
“Right now, these are recommendations,” said Transportation Minister Glen Murray when he was asked how his party planned to campaign on a platform of tax hikes which, if the Metrolinx plan were to be adopted, would include a one-point bump to the HST, a five-cent-per-litre hike to the gas tax, plus parking levies for businesses and increased tolls on some commuter lanes.
Again, Mr. Murray was asked, how will you get the public, and the opposition parties in this minority government, on side with tax-increase proposals?
“Right now, we’re looking at these measures,” he said. And, “we haven’t landed on the strategy yet.” An enthusiastic endorsement it was not.
Though it was a bit odd to hear the government side express reticence about the idea of new “revenue tools” after months of telling the public that it was firmly committed to them, the opposition’s reluctance to embrace such a plan is not surprising. And they have good reason to be skeptical of it.
The simplest argument for such significant new taxes is that, after decades of neglect, there’s simply not an easy way to collect enough of the necessary funding — $50-billion is a lot of money — without imposing on the taxpayer. That’s about the only argument, really, that can justify the plan: expediency.
Because, taking a step back, this is $2-billion a year for a government that is already spending $127-billion annually. The taxpayer is entitled to ask: what does the money provided to government from the public do, if not support the cost of services like public transit? If this investment is essential, is there not some other way to fund it by, say, getting rid of programs that are non-essential? And while one should be wary of the opposition politician who vows to find “efficiencies” to pay for needed investments, as Mr. Klees did on Monday, this government has the ability to find $2-billion annually if it wanted to do so. The Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, a rebate that’s intended to mask the rising cost of electricity, costs the treasury $1.1-billion annually. The government gives more than $1.3-billion annually in grants and loans to businesses, and another $2.3-billion in indirect “business supports” such as tax credits. These are just cherry-picked examples, to be sure, but the point is that the provincial piggy bank is not empty.
But the main reason to be wary of Liberal promises to collect these billions for a certain purpose is because the government has a history of not keeping such pledges. When the Ontario Health Premium was instituted in 2004, when new premier Dalton McGuinty realized he couldn’t keep his campaign promises, finance minister Greg Sorbara vowed that the $1.7-billion it would bring in “would be dedicated entirely to health.” That money has remained on the books ever since, and then some: a year from now, the health premium is expected to bring in $3.4-billion, or double what it collected from the public at its inception. And though in its early days the government tried to show the specific ways in which health premium money was applied, it doesn’t bother anymore, flowing it into general revenues and spending it however it likes. Keep in mind, too, that the health tax remained even as program spending in the McGuinty years rose by close to 50% in the pre-recession period between 2003 and 2007. Even as revenues climbed dramatically, by more than 40%, the Liberals didn’t repeal a tax that was brought in as a desperate-need, one-time measure.
That sounds awfully familiar to where we are today. The government insists that gridlock in 2013 must be addressed with the same urgency that it spoke of health care in 2003. Plans to raise billions are announced, and without having taken the plan to voters during an election campaign. As it stands, the way the opposition parties are talking, the Liberals will have an opportunity to do just that when transit taxes are the government’s eventual downfall. For now, then, it looks like a $50-billion road to nowhere.
Years in the making, millions spent, thousands of participants — but through it all, the agency charged with imagining a new regional transportation system expansion for Canada’s largest metropolitan area, came on Monday to a crashing dead-end. The conclusion: Raise taxes. Raise the HST from 13% to 14%, raise gasoline taxes five cents a litre, raise parking charges and increase property taxes on some businesses by 15%.
Billed as an “Investment Strategy,” the report from Metrolinx — the Ontario government’s official transit/transport planning agency for a vast region surrounding Toronto — reinforces an unfortunate reality. The Liberal government has no money and no ideas on how to continue operations without doing the one thing it does best: raise taxes and spend more.
“Right now, these are recommendations,” said Transportation Minister Glen Murray when he was asked how his party planned to campaign on a platform of tax hikes which, if the Metrolinx plan were to be adopted, would include a one-point bump to the HST, a five-cent-per-litre hike to the gas tax, plus parking levies for businesses and increased tolls on some commuter lanes.
Whether those taxes will be spent economically or in the best interests of people who use transportation systems — be they on roads or on tracks — will remain forever buried under the giant central-planning apparatus known as Metrolinx.
The new report, which serves as advice to the Liberal government, tried to downplay the cost to Toronto and Ontario households: Only $477 per household per year, or up to $977 a year for a family of five. That’s about $20,000 over 20 years, but for what?
In a sly bit of gimmickry, the report compared the annual tax increase burden to the annual cost of recreation ($3,742) and food ($7,284).
Aside from the conceptual fraud of comparing the increase in future new annual taxes with current actual cost of feeding a household, the Metrolinx report fails to mention that when it comes to food and recreation, citizens make their own choices in a market system. And then, in a classic big-government fallacy, it claims the new taxes will generate up to 900,000 jobs and an “infusion” of up to $130-billion into the area economy. Never mind the jobs and investment that will be lost in the “exfusion” of taxes from the public.
For decades, economists and planners have highlighted the need to bring market forces to bear on urban transportation. Roads should properly be paid for by people who use roads, transit by people who use transit, and parking spaces by people who park. Private operators should replace public control; competition and market forces should determine the nature and operation of the system.
As far back as 1776, Adam Smith said public services such as roads “may easily be so managed, as to afford a particular revenue sufficient for defraying their own expenses, without bringing any burden upon the general revenue of the society.”
Nothing like this illuminates the new Metrolix report on how Ontario should raise money to pay for big city transit. Instead of basing transport on at least an attempt to follow demand and cover real costs through user fees, the entire $34-billion in new spending — on top of $16-billion already committed — will be funded out of that great honey pot, what Smith called “the general revenue of the society.” In this case, the HST will bear the bulk of the burden, raising $1.3-billion a year or 65% of the total. When you buy a pair of walking shoes or a bicycle, you would be paying a new tax to fund highway and transit expansion in Brampton. All connection between supply and demand is severed.
The five-cent a litre hike in gasoline taxes to raise $330-million, and the parking fee — on off-street non-residential parking spaces — might be characterized as user fees, but only if we’re willing to use an elastic definition of user fees. Indeed, the Metrolinx report describes the five-cent gasoline tax as necessary to ensure “road users … contribute fairly.” Costs and benefits, it says, should disturbed fairly so that “no one group pays too much or benefits too little” — a kind of restatement of “from each according to ability to, each according to need.”
All the new taxes collected would be funneled into a giant transit slush fund to be known as the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas Transportation Trust Fund. The fund will also be able to borrow. “Revenue from the investment tools [Metrolinx’s euphemism for tax increases] may be used to service long-term debt to finance transit and transportation infrastructure.” It will have its own board of trustees to oversee the management and distribution of the money.
The entire Metrolinx operation is a great massive exercise in state planning and spending, described as “one of the largest transit construction programs in North America.” In its present form, Metrolinx is also overseeing one of the largest evasions of market forces in modern transport history, an era brimming with new technologies and methods that would allow market economics to regulate supply and demand.
If there is a price for road services at which traffic on a new road would pay for the cost of constructing it, it should be built
Why ignore such good ideas? Milton Friedman and Daniel Boorstin, writing in the early 1950s, were more explicit: “If there is a price for road services at which traffic on a new road would pay for the cost of constructing it, it should be built; if the extra traffic on a better road or the higher price people would be willing to pay would yield enough revenue to pay for making it better, then it should be made better.”
A testament to how off the market Metrolinx has become, it failed even to support a reasonably enlightened proposal from the Liberal government for tolled express lanes on major highways. As described by Finance Minister Charles Sousa, such tolls would be charged to allow for the expansion of existing roads, using the latest technologies.
Metrolinx has no interest in any new thinking. Privatization is not mentioned. Not one market-driven idea is part of the plan. Instead, Metrolinx is fixated on major expansions of long-run transport initiatives — to Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Brampton and beyond — that would increase urban sprawl and therefore increase the congestion it claims to be relieving with its tax-based central planning.
It’s tempting, in a way, to praise Ontario’s newish premier, Kathleen Wynne, for her courage.
Her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, never had the nerve — or perhaps it was the interest — to wade into the thankless issue of Toronto’s traffic nightmare. McGuinty was more about photos ops at schools, where he spent borrowed money on all-day kindergarten, or floating loans to slap up more windmills on rural land in communities that wouldn’t vote Liberal if you held a gun to them. He didn’t like to get personally involved in a fight, preferring to either buy off opponents or slather more money around when hostile voices were raised.
Wynne, to her credit, has put herself front and centre on the “transit” issue. It needs to be done, and should be done, she says. It’s a brave thing to do. It’s hard to see how she comes out on top, though.
As with any issue as fraught as this one, there is not one argument going on, but several. For instance, there are two distinct views of what constitutes the problem: for commuters and businesses outside Toronto, it’s the constant horror involved in trying to get into, out of or across the city without getting snarled in some day-long traffic disaster. For downtown residents it’s about improving the trip around town: subways are too crowded, buses are too slow, many routes are under-serviced, stations are too dirty…
Neither camp sympathizes much with the other: commuters figure subway riders should pay higher fares if they want better service; regular transit users reckon people with cars should fork over more money if they want bigger or better roads. Toronto doesn’t want to pay the shot for its own needs; people outside Toronto don’t see why they should foot the bill for the city’s decades of neglect. Business groups are full of suggestions on financing a big expansion plan, yet, funnily enough, few of the costs would fall on business.
Wynne has problems of her own to deal with. Not least is that, after almost a decade of McGuinty, very few Ontarians still trust the Liberals when it comes to handling money. As Scott Stinson ably points out, she heads a government that found ways to raise tens of billions of dollars for favoured hobby horses, without ever deciding transit was one of them. Program spending doubled, yet somehow gridlock never became a top priority. The health tax that McGuinty introduced, after promising not to, was supposed to go entirely to health expenditures, but doesn’t. The Liberals spend more than $1 billion a year just on subsidies to hide the increases they imposed on electricity bills. Out of $127 billion in annual expenditures, the government evidently can’t find any programs less crucial than transit that might be axed so the money could be diverted. With that record, crying poor just isn’t going to work.
There’s also the politics. Wynne needs the ongoing support of the third-place NDP to hold onto her job as had of a minority government, but NDP leader Andrea Horwath has already denounced the whole notion of tax hikes to pay for transit.
“We don’t see to see any new taxes or fees on everyday families who are already struggling to make ends meet,” she said Monday (my italics). Presumably she feels the bill should fall wholly on “rich people” and businesses. Horwath already squeezed one new wealth tax out of McGuinty though, and you can only go to that well so often. There’s a case to be made that Toronto’s corporate and finance leaders should be picking up a bigger share of the tab, but, typically, the NDP is busy obsessing with minutiae, declaring its opposition to high-occupancy toll lanes on the spurious notion that rich people would get more of the benefit.
Metrolinx, the agency that proposed the “transit-expansion revenue tools”, doesn’t help much by being so obviously clueless. It suggests the new taxes would cost $477 a year for an “average” family, and almost $1,000 for a family of five. But “congestion” costs families $1,600 a year, so they’d be ahead of the game, right? Except most Ontario families haven’t figured out yet how to take that saved $1,600 and transfer it directly to the government without still ending up out of pocket.
Metrolinx also notes that any money collected outside the Greater Toronto Area via an HST increase would be spent on non-Toronto projects. Great eh? But that doesn’t change the fact everyone in Ontario would be paying a higher HST thanks to Toronto’s poor transit planning.
It doesn’t help that all this is going on against the background of municipal chaos in the province’s biggest city. Without delving too deeply into the squalid allegations against Mayor Rob Ford, and the related media circus that now constitutes daily life at City Hall, you can appreciate that Ontario taxpayers would be reluctant in the extreme to turn over an additional penny for the sake of a pack of bozos who evidently couldn’t run an ice-cream stand without turning it into a disaster.
The province needs money if it is to see the big transit project through to fruition. But opposition to the Metrolinx plan isn’t really about money. It’s about trust, about a total lack of belief that the people in charge of the affair can be relied on to deliver the goods without the population eventually regretting it gave them the chance.
Would I trust the Liberals with any more money? Not a chance.
As discussed here on Monday, Metrolinx, Ontario’s provincial transit agency, has recommended several “revenue tools” be used to fund infrastructure projects in the Greater Toronto Area. The region desperately needs transit, and Metrolinx has a plan to build it. But there’s no money. After literally years of consultations and meetings, the agency has told Queen’s Park which specific revenue tools — taxes and fees — it believes should be imposed to fund their planned projects. The plan calls for raising $2.4-billion a year. The majority of that — $1.3-billion — would come from a 1% boost to the province’s harmonized sales tax (HST). The rest would be raised through parking space levies, road tolls and development charges.
But, based on provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s rather illogical response, it may never happen.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Liberal, wants to get Metrolinx the revenue it needs. She’s said, publicly, that her government is going to go ahead with revenue tools, though she’s also been careful not to commit to, or rule out, any particular tax or fee. The problem for the Premier, though, is that she leads a minority government. She needs opposition support to do anything much more involved than ordering lunch. The Progressive Conservatives aren’t interested in raising taxes or fees, so good luck there. And the NDP … well … they have their own way of looking at things.
Responding to the Metrolinx recommendations on Monday, Ms. Horwath didn’t sound too impressed. “We don’t want to see any new taxes or fees on everyday families who are already struggling to make ends meet,” she told reporters. “[The Metrolinx plan] is not fair and balanced.”
That’s an intriguing statement. It all hinges on the definition of “everyday families.” One assumes that Ms. Horwath, who’s been trying to play the folksy populist card for years, was speaking of typical Ontarians. Ordinary Ontarians. John and Jane Q. Public living at 123 Main St. in Anytown, Ont. Just your average nice folks.
OK, fair enough. No one likes to ask them to reach even deeper into their pockets. But “fair and balanced”? What could be more fair than taxing the average?
Not exclusively the average, of course. All must pay their share. This will almost certainly mean that the rich will pay more than the average and the poor less than the average. A progressive tax system at work.
But that’s already the case in Ontario. The rich pay more on their income taxes and, generally, through their property taxes. This is especially true in Ontario, where the NDP forced the minority Liberals to hike income taxes on incomes over $500,000. The poor pay less, receive credits for some of what they do pay, and under the Metrolinx proposals being discussed, would receive yet further discounts — the HST hike would be structured in such a way as to exempt low-income earners (how exactly this would happen is unknown, but some form of rebate cheque based on ones tax returns seems likely).
So the poor are already paying less, and will continue to pay less. The rich are already paying more, and will continue to pay more. That leaves only the middle. The average. Or, in Ontario NDP parlance, “everyday families.” If they’re not going to pay, who does the NDP expect to tax? Just the rich, again? Perhaps, in Andrea Horwarth’s mind, that’s “socially just.” But exempting the average from taxes isn’t just bad economics. It’s explicitly unfair and unbalanced. Populist rhetoric can’t gloss over this unfortunate reality.
Let’s hear it for revenue tools
Gridlocked Ontarians ponder a temporary refund adjustment, and at Toronto City Hall … holy cow, it just keeps getting worse.
The National Post‘s Scott Stinson wasn’t surprised to hear the Ontario New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives dismiss the new taxes and fees proposed by Metrolinx, the provincial agency in charge of transportation projects in the Greater Toronto Area. But he thinks “it was a bit odd to hear the government side express reticence about the idea of new ‘revenue tools’ after months of telling the public that it was firmly committed to them.” We don’t think that’s particularly odd, actually — they’re just following Toronto City Council’s precedent, surely. It’s pretty much a rule in Canadian politics: As commitment approaches, courage diminishes.
Mind you, as the Toronto Sun‘s Sue-Ann Levy observes, the ongoing ClusterFord at Toronto’s City Hall gives the Liberals more cover than they could have dreamed of to support it. Normally, the Mayor would be out there pounding his lectern about this plan. But they’re still on the fence.
The Toronto Star‘s editorialists, as you would expect, are foursquare behind these new “revenue tools.” But Stinson argues that Queen’s Park could find $2-billion a year to fund Metrolinx projects without new “revenue tools” if it employed a different brand of rare courage and slashed some spending.
The Financial Post‘s Terence Corcoran, meanwhile, smells Marxism. We still think his mixture of defeatism and free-marketism is a recipe for inaction, which the GTA simply cannot afford. But Corcoran is dead right about tolling and road-pricing options: Those are completely mainstream options, yet nobody in Ontario will touch them with a barge pole. It’s infuriating.
The Globe and Mail‘s Marcus Gee sagely advises against believing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford when he insists that his press secretary and deputy press secretary resigned in order to pursue new opportunities, and that it’s “business as usual” at City Hall. “Press secretaries do not generally leave in the midst of a crisis by dropping off a letter and clearing out their office before the boss gets to work,” he assures us.
Thinking of the children
The Globe’s editorialists and the Star’s editorialists are pleased and just brimming with moral rectitude at Hockey Canada’s decision to ban body checking at the peewee level. We’re not too fussed about that decision either way; we just can’t stand the righteous tone of the commentary. To wit, the funniest line of the day goes to the Citizen‘s editorialists, who say that while pro-checking Don Cherry “may know a bit about hockey, … his knowledge of child physiology is disturbingly lacking.”
We struggle to think of anything less relevant than Don Cherry’s knowledge of child physiology. His influence is a fraction of what people for some reason imagine it to be — as illustrated by the fact that he’s constantly offside mainstream opinion, including Hockey Canada’s decision in this matter. .” (The Citizen editorial also includes a typically ridiculous opinion from Emile Therien, which is that full-contact peewee hockey “borders on child abuse.” If the Citizen thinks that’s even a wee bit over the top — turn yourselves in, generations of Canadian parents! — they don’t say as much.)
Colby Cosh of Maclean’s brings news of an interesting gambit by Brian Burke’s lawyers in his effort to bring Internet trolls to civil justice: He wants to serve notice in the very forums in which he alleges he was defamed!
Tasha Kheiriddin, writing for iPolitics, argues that Justin Trudeau’s remarkable ability to create controversy when talking about Canada’s various regions is providing as much cover as the Conservatives could hope to have as senatorial sleaze continues to rain down upon them. (We suggest a sort of mock-interview electroshock treatment: If Trudeau says “us” or “we” or “them” he gets zapped.) But she suspects the aforementioned sleaze has a lot more staying power in the public consciousness than any of Trudeau’s individual gaffes.
When an Ontario election comes, which could be at any time, it appears possible it will play out as a referendum on taxes versus transportation.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, having presumably sniffed the wind, insists she’s determined to put a plan before the province that would trade a raft of revenue enhancements (one of the many cute euphemisms for tax increases) for the promise of reduced gridlock in and around the country’s biggest city.
“There is no doubt that we need to build transit so that we can grow the economy of the province,” she said Wednesday, days after the provincial transit agency Metrolinx revealed its proposals for new money-raising taxes and fees.
“There has not been a commitment by the provincial government in this province for decades to a dedicated, on-going build of transit. We’re going to make that commitment.”
The Metrolinx plan is rife with bold talk of “an integrated transportation system that enhances our quality of life, our environment and our prosperity,” but whether any of it will end the daily gridlock on the 401 remains open to question.
It’s either a gutsy move, or utter foolishness from the point of view of a premier who has yet to be elected and would obviously like to win her first mandate. Conservative leader Tim Hudak has made clear the Tories are opposed to the price tag — $2 billion a year, or $50 billion over 25 years — and the means of raising the money. NDP leader Andrea Horwath is similarly opposed, although for different, NDP-type reasons (she sees traffic jams as class struggles and thinks the rich should pay).
Wynne has also hinted at the positioning the Liberals will take in making their argument. It will be all about the economy, as in: we need better transit and less congestion to return Toronto (and Ontario) to the position of economic leadership that has been frittered away by recent governments. (The bulk of the damage, of course, took place under Ms. Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, whose nine years of economic mismanagement included inaction on the steady decline in infrastructure. But don’t expect her to say so).
To this end, the Liberals will quote all sorts of fuzzy economic projections, the kind economists love to pull out of the air, and which governments love to quote: failure to act will result in billions of dollars of “congestion costs” to the economy and individual residents. Metrolinx has already started on that course with the claim that the Big Move’s anticipated costs — $477 per “average” household, rising to almost $1,000 for larger families — is less than the $1,600 in “congestion costs” they allegedly face.
They will also point to support from the business community, which likes the costing plan because they won’t have to pay much of it, and from regional politicians who smell all that money and can’t wait for a piece of it (especially given that the province, not them, will take the blame for collecting it.)
Ms. Wynne seems to think she has up to a year to prepare for her side of the argument, during which she plans more consultations with all the usual “stakeholders”. She may be a bit optimistic in that regard.
Whether this flies is the big question. The opposition will have a strong case to make, focused mainly around the issue of trust.
This is the government, after all, that has overseen a decade in steady economic decline; that pours billions into subsidies for an energy plan that subsidizes windmills to produce unneeded power it has to pay Quebec and the U.S. to take off its hands; that spent $600 million (and counting) to shut two gas plants in the midst of an election for purely partisan reasons; that imposed a health tax on the promise the money would only go to healthcare costs, but now funnels it into general revenues for unspecified spending; that spent billions on an e-health system that still doesn’t work; and that just recently launched a provincewide revamp of its lottery operations, just to fire its boss and bring it to a screaming halt part-way through.
And those are just a few examples. There’s also the question — which seems not to have permeated the public consciousness yet — of whether it will all work. As the e-health disaster showed, just spending billions on a proposal doesn’t guarantee the promised results will appear. The Metrolinx plan is rife with bold talk of “an integrated transportation system that enhances our quality of life, our environment and our prosperity,” but whether any of it will end the daily gridlock on the 401 remains open to question. Toronto’s effort to build just one small piece of the plan, a streetcar corridor on St. Clair Ave., ended in five years of controversy that cost double the original estimate. The Metrolinx money, if approved, will definitely be spent. It will be decades before the results are clear.
Ms. Wynne seems to think she has up to a year to prepare for her side of the argument, during which she plans more consultations with all the usual “stakeholders”. She may be a bit optimistic in that regard. But you’d have to be an optimist to pitch an election on the basis of $50 billion in new spending, extracted from an electorate that has seen far too much of its money wasted already.
On Thursday, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty threw a wrench into Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s efforts to create dedicated streams of revenue to fund transit expansion in the Toronto region. Metrolinx, a provincial transit agency overseeing the province’s “Big Move” plan for infrastructure construction, recently proposed a slate of new “revenue tools” — taxes and fees — to fund said plan. By far the biggest component: A one-percent hike to Ontario’s HST. The added revenue, estimated to amount to $1.3-billion a year in the Toronto area alone, would be dedicated exclusively to funding transportation.
Premier Wynne has previously signaled her openness to this plan, on the understanding that some of the additional revenue would be rebated back to low-income earners. She also insisted that only residents of the Toronto region would have to pay, and that the good people of Timmins, Cornwall and Sudbury would not be asked to open their wallets for the benefit of GTA commuters.
But Mr. Flaherty was quick to signal that the federal government was skeptical.
“We did not lower the GST to have it taken away from Ontarians by the Wynne government with a new sales tax hike,” Mr. Flaherty wrote in a letter to his provincial counterpart. “As you are well aware, the Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreement signed by the government of Ontario does not allow for the provincial component of the HST to vary between regions within the province.”
“Let me be clear, our government will not accept such a proposed regional sales tax increase on the residents of the [Toronto region],” Mr. Flaherty added.
The Ontario government was quick to fire back, pointing out that as it is still in the planning stages, it had yet to make any official request of the federal government, beyond that it commit to stable national transit funding (which it has not done).
But political bickering aside, it’s clear that Ontario’s plans to fund the Big Move just got more complicated.
In principle, there is no reason why transit funding in Toronto should not be accomplished through dedicated revenue streams. The transit file in the region has been so chronically mismanaged, for so long, and by so many different leaders, that we support anything that brings predictability to the process. We have no faith in the ability of elected leaders at city hall or at Queen’s Park to provide the funds necessary to complete needed projects in a timely manner: Even that basic function of regional and municipal government has proven beyond their abilities. New, dedicated funds are a way to address their dysfunctionality on this file.
At the same time, however, Mr. Flaherty is entirely correct to question whether the HST is the appropriate tool for this task. Yes, a 1% boost to the sales tax is a relatively simple way of raising a lot of money. But the HST is supposed to apply equally across the province (the “H” stands for “harmonized,” after all).
Moreover, deciding where precisely the Toronto region is demarcated for transit purposes would be a politically tricky process prone to absurd outcomes and compromises. There are people who live north of Barrie, and West of Hamilton, for instance, who commute five days a week to Toronto, traveling 100km-plus in each directions. In this sense, most large communities in Ontario would be affected in one way or another by the Big Move.
Mr. Flaherty’s refusal to relax the HST rules leaves Ms. Wynne with two unpalatable options.
She could attempt to use Ontario’s taxation powers to establish a regional sales tax separate from the HST. This would require establishing a whole new administrative bureaucracy and would still require politically sensitive determinations of where the relevant region begins and ends, but would not require federal approval. Or Ontario could simply seek to raise the HST province-wide — with the money raised in the Toronto area going toward transit, and the money raised everywhere else going toward some as-yet-undefined purpose.
If Ontario chose the latter course, some estimates suggest that $1.7-billion would be generated in the rest of the province. In theory, that money could be put to good use. In practice, it would become a sort of slush fund. A province with a gigantic deficit should not be creating new excuses to waste money — just to provide political cover for a tax hike that is primarily needed by the Toronto region.
Some of Metrolinx’s proposals make sense — including fees and tolls limited to the Toronto region that will then fund transit in the same area. That seems a more promising avenue for raising funds than bloating the provincial tax structure with regional boosts and carve-outs. The fairest way to fund new road infrastructure is to get the money directly from the people who use it.
The freedom to intoxicate
Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne prepares a list of things that Canada’s provincial premiers might do at their annual gatherings that would make them worth paying attention to: They could agree to eliminate “regulations … barring citizens from ordering wine from out-of-province vineyards”; “to stop their professional bodies from discriminating against those who have received their training elsewhere”; “to allow each other’s oil and hydroelectricity to cross their soil without being held to ransom”; or “to collect and adopt each other’s best practices” on health care spending. Because they instead spend their time “writing Ottawa’s budget, and amending the Criminal Code, and drafting federal safety regulations, and demanding to be consulted on everything under the sun,” and then “us[ing] whatever time they have left to complain about federal interference,” Coyne suggests we pay them no mind.
The Toronto Star‘s editorialists also think it ought to be possible for Ontarians to order wine from out-of-province vineyards, because … well, we don’t actually have to explain why, do we? It makes as much sense as a prohibition against blue socks. They hope Premier Kathleen Wynne will “let the wine pour in,” which she has already said she will not. At this rate we’re going to have free trade with half the bloody planet before we have it across Canada.
Colby Cosh of Maclean’s quite magnificently supports the legalization of marijuana, but not along the lines that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has proposed — i.e., taxing and regulating the bejesus out of it, and then spending vast resources policing the market. Rather, Cosh suggests “simply eliminating the words ‘marijuana,’ ‘cannabis,’ and ‘tetrahydrocannabinol’ from all federal statutes” and letting the market run amok. He imagines “future connoisseurs … fly[ing] from Earth’s four corners to the Okanagan and Niagara Valleys [for marijuana] the way they flock to the Côtes du Rhône or Sonoma [for wine],” and cannot fathom why anyone would consider this a negative outcome.
Cosh nevertheless concedes he could live with “a few legal arrangements concerning cannabis and THC for the comfort of brain-damaged soccer moms and the newspaper columnists who speak for them,” such as “the death penalty for selling marijuana within 200 feet of a school.”
Right on cue, here’s The Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Wente explaining that legalizing marijuana would fail to accomplish a whole bunch of things that Trudeau never said it would accomplish. It wouldn’t “drive the Mexican drug cartels out of business,” for example, because “the real money’s in hard drugs.” Gosh, if only there was something we could do about that.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Ian Mulgrew reminds us that British Columbia may well have a binding referendum on legalization, and that it may well succeed. He imagines the jurisdictional dominoes tumbling one by one, as is occurring in the United States. Here’s hoping.
Naturally, the Sun Media editorialists think pot should remain illegal, because you shouldn’t smoke pot.
In light of outrageous recent subway-vs.-LRT shenanigans, Toronto Region Board of Trade president Carol Wilding, writing in the Star, reminds us that the provincial transportation body Metrolinx is “specifically mandate[d] … to ‘ensure the efficient and cost effective resolution of matters of shared concern respecting transportation,’ including ‘the optimal use and location of transportation infrastructure” — and that similar bodies routinely succeed in building successful multimodal public transit systems all over the world, even as politicians come and go. At some point, Metrolinx is going to have to seize the agenda back from the democracy monkeys at Queen’s Park and Toronto City Hall and build something.
Speaking of idiocy Toronto and its City Hall and idiocy, renowned deli owner Zane Caplansky, writing in the Star, deplores the anti-competitive and megalobureaucratic instincts that make food carts in this city objects of suspicion and interminable study by committees. They’re trucks. There’s food in them. For the love of mercy, why can we not just let them be?
The Globe‘s editorialists reject the notion of relocating the entire flood-ravaged town of High River, Alta., because it would cost far too much and beget fierce opposition. “The culture of southern Alberta does not lend itself to any form of state coercion,” they warn. Those simpering nanny-staters up in Edmonton, on the other hand, would abandon ship in a heartbeat for a double-wide on high ground and a case of Canadian.
The Globe‘s Doug Saunders introduces us to some interesting new methods we might employ to save the Earth from climate change: “Putting chemicals in the atmosphere to make it more reflective so less sunlight reaches the surface; changing the chemistry of the oceans (possibly by dumping millions of tonnes of iron filings into them) so they absorb more carbon; and increasing the carbon absorbency of the soil by seeding it with substances such as biochar (a form of charcoal).” These solutions come with all the same problems as reducing carbon emissions — and more — he warns, but we’ve tried that and it isn’t working. We might support dumping millions of tonnes of iron filings into the oceans just to see the look on David Suzuki’s face.
The Globe‘s Konrad Yakabuski suggests that Newfoundland would be better off “burying the hatchet” with Quebec over the Churchill Falls power plant swindle — especially as Quebec’s negotiating position gradually weakens — than paying miles over the odds to build a revenge-based power project on the Lower Churchill. But he concedes “most Newfoundlanders … would probably rather drink cyanide than accept that logic.”
Paul Wells of Maclean’s notes that highly regarded journalist Chrystia Freeland, who wants to run for the federal Liberals in Toronto Centre, “left Canada to pursue a post-secondary education and seems since then to have lived here only … from 1999 to 2002-ish.” Also, within the past week has referred in writing to Americans as “we.” What could possibly go wrong?
Chrystia Freeland herself, writing windily in the Globe — honestly, this did not need to be 900 words — explains that she is returning to Canada in hopes of reviving our “hollowed out” middle class, whose prosperity and security are essential to “our national economy” and “our democratic society.” The keys to salvation apparently lie in education, “entrepreneurship,” and “find[ing] ways to realign business incentives with public ones,” whatever that means. On the bright side, she explains that “we are much better” at “ensuring middle lass prosperity” than the United States … which doesn’t exactly bolster the urgency of her pitch — or Justin Trudeau’s, for that matter.
Sun Media’s Lorne Gunter describes former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s changes to family class immigration procedures as “minor,” but warns that reversing them, as Trudeau has suggested, would amount to “disastrous public policy.” We’re not sure both can be true.
In the Edmonton Journal, Peter Goldring, who fought a drunk driving-related charge and won, announces a campaign to better inform potential impaired drivers of the risks, and thereby protect them from both the police and themselves. Between this and his Turks and Caicos annexation campaign, he’s a busy backbencher!
William Kowalski of PEN Canada, writing in the Star, thinks recent events make it necessary to say “loudly and clearly” that “there is no law against public photography in Canada; no one here can ever be arrested for the simple act of making a picture or film, unless other laws are being broken in the process; and police officers who are in uniform and executing their duties in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy,” despite what some of them clearly believe.
Tabatha Southey, writing in the Globe, has an unsettling thought: What if Anthony Weiner doesn’t actually get off on distributing photos of his penis? (He was practically begging to be caught, as she says.) What if, instead, he gets off on “getting caught and grovelling.” If so, she suggests, we all “just unwittingly played dominatrix to a man who’s co-opted the American political system as his own personal dungeon. And we did it for free.” Not us. We don’t give a damn about Anthony Weiner.
Verizon to the rescue?
In a cringe-inducing paean to Canadian mediocrity, Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank worries that while allowing Verizon into the Canadian wireless market might “save [people] a few bucks a year on their phone bills,” it’s also possible that “a Canadian company or two could stagger, perhaps die, at a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in Canadian investment and thousands of Canadian jobs.” He continues, nauseatingly: “Bell, Rogers and Telus … are accountable to Canadians for the airwaves we entrust to them in ways a foreign firm with 100 million customers back home could never be.”
Blech. Look, we’ll happily listen to arguments against the government’s efforts to facilitate Verizon’s entry into the marketplace — although given the Big Three’s allergy to true competition, the alternatives are imperfect as well. But Cruickshank evinces a revolting (though not necessarily misplaced) lack of confidence in Canadian companies’ ability to compete against Big Bad American ones. And while he’s worrying about his Bell stock, there are a whole lot of people out there — people the Star purports to represent — for whom a “few bucks a year,” which let’s face it could be a lot more than that, would make a massive difference.
Policy aside, the Star‘s Tim Harper thinks it’s “unseemly for this government to turn Canadian companies into the bad guys in its white hats-black hats world,” and to use its war of words with the Big Three to fundraise. He’s right. And there’s a lesson here: If you treat your customers like crap, they may actually pay money to see you suffer.
Meanwhile, the National Post‘s Jonathan Kay humorously imagines the future operations of the Crown wireless corporation that the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada hilariously wants the government to set up. We’ll give the labour movement this much: It seems they’ll cling to their superannuated principles all the way to the bottom of the sea.
Moving on to other federal business, Tom Flanagan, writing in The Globe and Mail, notes that Harper’s interest in the North began simply as “a as a way to fight back against Liberal charges” during the 2006 election campaign that he “would be an obsequious suck-up to the Americans” — but has since developed from a mostly military focus to an economic imperative.
Postmedia’s Michael Den Tandt reports from Hay River, N.W.T., where Harper was bigging up resource extraction and an untapped aboriginal workforce that can hopefully prosper from it. But as great as that idea sounds in theory, Den Tandt reminds us that doing anything in the north is insanely complicated and expensive.
Aaron Wherry of Maclean’s thinks it’s a good thing that Harper’s cynical use of prorogation has made each subsequent one a “fraught exercise” that demands an explanation to the public. But as he says, in the case of the rumoured forthcoming prorogation, the procedure itself is pretty much beside the point: The real question, if reports are correct, is why Harper wants to “eliminate 20 sitting days from the current schedule.” And the answer, as Wherry says, depends on whether you give a damn about Parliament. (The question remains why Jean Chrétien’s not-much-if-any-less cynical use of prorogation produced such a tiny fraction of the outrage.)
Tarek Fatah, writing in the Sun Media papers, is not amused by Justin Trudeau’s appearance at a Surrey, B.C. mosque, or with the mosque for letting him “dress up as a fake Pakistani” and “participate in our ritual prayers” — especially since said mosque was horrible to a Muslim NDP candidate back in 2004 who asked to speak and “instead … had to take a back seat and endure what the website MuslimWakeUp.com described as a scorching sermon” against same-sex marriage. Fatah calls it all “a mockery of piety and politics,” “as if God was being entertained at a fancy-dress competition.” Ouch.
The Calgary Herald‘s editorialists, who recently demanded an end to birthright citizenship, now demand that Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who left Canada when he was four, acknowledge his inherent Canadianness by virtue of birthright. It’s not clear why they care about this.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s editorialists think it’s outrageous that an Ontario charity was allowed to collect government money for ages even as it banned employees from pursuing (among other activities) homosexual relationships. “In taking public money, there is an implicit acceptance by all groups of all the rights available to every Ontarian,” they say. “The provincial government should have clear anti-discrimination rules and enforce them to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.” At first blush that sounds both correct and easily achievable, but there is the small matter of taht publicly funded school system run by the Catholic Church, which requires teachers to be Catholics in good standing. Awkward.
The Toronto Sun‘s editorialists want Metrolinx, the Greater Toronto Area transportation-management agency, eliminated — not least since by throwing support behind the Scarborough subway, Kathleen Wynne showed “the Liberals are now running Ontario’s transit policy right out of the premier’s office anyway.” The real answer is for Metrolinx to grow a bloody spine.
And the Vancouver Sun‘s Ian Mulgrew has the latest news from British Columbia’s campaign to eliminate impaired driving by denying people due process. It’s going great!
I had one of those commutes this morning. I was heading from my home to an appearance with my friend (and National Post contributor) John Moore, at NewsTalk 1010. In optimal traffic conditions, that’s a 30 minute trip. In typical traffic, 40. In bad traffic, an hour. I gave myself an hour and a half. And I didn’t even come close to making it. Not even close. By the time I abandoned my effort and just drove to my office, I’d been on the road almost two hours, to cover a commute that, in off peak times, is 25 minutes, tops. There were no major accidents or construction delays this morning. The roads were fine. They were just full.
I had company, though, during the slog. In the skies above, circling overhead, was the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne. She was riding along in the traffic spotting plane for a local radio station, offering bubbly commentary about how wonderful it was to be up there on such a fine morning, and, gosh, wow, that’s a lot of traffic! This little aerial photo-op was ahead of an announcement Wednesday that Anne Golden, a widely respected civic leader, will be chairing a panel on the future of funding transportation expansion in the Toronto region.
No disrespect to Ms. Golden, who deserves her high reputation and is, in fact, the sister of a close friend of mine. She will do good work. But why are we having yet another panel? The province already has the answers it’s looking for.
Metrolinx, a provincial agency tasked with overseeing transit expansion across the Toronto region, has already studied this issue, exhaustively. They concluded that sustained dedicated revenues of at least $2-billion a year are required to expand the transit infrastructure in the region. Given the lousy fiscal health of the province, that money cannot simply be reallocated from existing sources — indeed, the province would have to cut billions in spending just to balance the books. So that money will have to come from new sources (taxes and fees) that will be streamed into infrastructure improvements.
No one is happy about this, since it means paying more, which is a bad thing for not only the public, but the politicians who would ask for it. But the writing is on the wall. Toronto needs transit, but there’s no money. It isn’t hard to solve this riddle.
Indeed, Metrolinx has solved it. Last May, it announced that it had selected the mix of new taxes and fees — revenue tools, in the modern vernacular — that would fund the planned improvements. The HST would be raised 1% in the region. A new gas tax would be imposed, as well as parking levies and development charges on new building projects. Again, no one is thrilled with this.
But it’s a plan! And the panel that Ms. Golden will be leading isn’t tasked with coming up with a new one, precisely. It’s just tasked with getting input about the plan that already exists.
Here’s some input: Build. Some. Frickin’. Transit. Already.
We know the facts: Toronto, and the surrounding region, is an urban planner’s worst nightmare — sprawl as far as the eye can see. There’s almost six million people trying to commute on roads that, in large part, are the same as they were when the regional population was less than half that. Current projections forecast adding another 3-million-some-odd people to the region in the next few decades. This is a point I’ve made repeatedly, but it stands repeating: That means the Toronto area will absorb, into its current infrastructure and land area, the same number of people that currently make up a metro area the size of San Francisco or Seattle. Or almost an entire Greater Montreal. And they’ll all have cars, too.
Ms. Golden will do her job and prepare a thorough, professional report. But we know already what needs to be done — build more transit — and we already have a plan to do it. Premier Wynne may not relish the idea of implementing a plan that raises taxes with a minority government and an election believed imminent. But she’s not fooling anyone with this report. It’s a punt, to buy time. Nothing more.
Time that will be felt, acutely, by the voters in southern Ontario as they try to get where they’re going, and can’t. We can’t afford another panel. We’re too far behind already. It’s time to act. Ms. Wynne shouldn’t need a plane ride, or yet another report, to show the leadership required to face this challenge.
It was a dreamy photo op for any politician. Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister of transportation, stood resplendent in a hardhat and reflective orange safety vest, in a gaping hole at Eglinton Avenue and Black Creek Drive, in front of a tunnel boring machine, christened “Dennis.” The machine began Wednesday excavating the glacial till for the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail line, which, when it opens in 2020, will stretch 19 kilometres and count 25 stations.
“Our government is moving forward with the largest transit investment in a generation,” the minister said.
Truly, it was a day for celebration. But then Mr. Murray struck an oddly partisan tone.
The minister noted that it is almost 18 years to the day since the Tory government, in 1995, sent bulldozers to a tunnel dug for an Eglinton subway train and filled in the hole.
“There is a little bit of irony and fun in finally getting back to where we were,” Mr. Murray said. “And we hope we never see bulldozers again.”
Mr. Murray then took to Twitter to take some swipes at former Tory MPPs, now in the federal government in Ottawa.
“18 yrs after Harris, Hudak & Flaherty PCs buried the 1st Eglinton subway. @Kathleen_Wynne Liberals started boring the tunnels again,” Mr. Murray typed, continuing, “No surprise the former PC team now entrenched in Ottawa is not contributing a single cent to the Eglinton line.” He added, “City of Toronto is not putting funds into the Eglinton Crosstown Line.”
Come to think about it, Ontario did look lonely up there on the podium. A $4.9-billion project, to knit Etobicoke to Scarborough, really does need some help from other governments. Mr. Murray would do better to build bridges than to take shots.
He could, for example, have invited MPs, councillors, heck even Mayor Rob Ford, to his celebration. His spokesman, Patrick Searle, told me, “Normally people who pay for a project are invited. Because this project is fully funded by the provincial government, municipal officials were not invited.”
We asked Bruce McCuaig, chief executive of Metrolinx, what guarantee we have that Ontario will complete this rapid transit project on Eglinton.
“We are too far down the path with this project,” Mr. McCuaig replied. “The vehicles are on order, and we are in a procurement process for the station design. The momentum on this project is very visible and accelerating.”
Quite true. That said, the province’s problem, as in 1995, is cash. Ontario projects a deficit next year of $11.7-billion.
Some of that red ink relates to this job. Metrolinx has “spent about $415-million on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT so far,” Malon Edwards said. That’s before they even dig the tunnel. Transit megaprojects are money pits, and should the Tories win the next provincial election, they could be tempted to halt this project, being built to serve people who never vote for them anyway.
Still, let’s end on an upbeat note.
On the site I met Joe Dombrowski from Obayashi Corp., a construction giant that is lead partner, with Kenny Construction, Kenaidan and Technicore Underground, in building the Eglinton line. Mr. Dombrowski is commuting right now from Pittsburgh, where Obayashi recently completed a subway under the Allegheny River, vastly improving circulation in Pittsburgh, he said, “especially on game days for the Pirates or Steelers or Penguins.” In downtown Pittsburgh subway users ride for free.
“Now, everybody in our city loves this,” Mr. Dombrowski said. “In the end you will have something that will transform your city. You have to think of your children and your children’s children.”
For the sake of those yet to be born, I hope Mr. Murray can learn to make friends, and make his tunnel vision come true.
COC13 0605 LRT07.jpgColin O'Connor for National PostColin O'Connor for National Post
The provincial agency in charge of transit expansion in Toronto is threatening to stop work on a light rail line to replace the ageing Scarborough rapid transit line, if city council does not reaffirm its support of the project.
Bruce McCuaig, chief executive of Metrolinx, wrote a letter Friday to city manager Joe Pennachetti seeking clarity on the city’s contradictory position on the transit corridor.
He referenced a vote in May by city council that supported extending the Bloor-Danforth subway line to the Scarborough Centre and Sheppard Avenue. Last year, councillors voted to build light rail line on the stretch; the city, Metrolinx and the TTC signed a master agreement to build four LRT projects, including the Scarborough LRT, in November 2012.
“Given the uncertainty created by Council’s May resolution, we ask that City Council reaffirm its support for the Scarborough LRT project,” Mr. McCuaig wrote. “If this reaffirmation is not received by August 2, 2013, Metrolinx will suspend work on the Scarborough LRT project, pending clarification of the City’s position on the Master Agreement.”
Mr. McCuaig wrote that the suspension would minimize any further sunk costs, now estimated to be $85-million. “At the same time, however, a suspension would result in a delay in the delivery of improved, modern and efficient transit service to the people of Scarborough.”
Mr. McCuaig noted Metrolinx is in the midst of two competitive bids related to the $1.8-billion Scarborough LRT. One is for the overall Eglinton-Crosstown-Scarborough LRT project and the other is for the storage facility. “To ensure value-for-money, we need to attract high quality bidders to our procurements, and this cannot be achieved if there is uncertainty about city council’s support for the projects,” he wrote. Mr. McCuaig also disputed the cost differential between an LRT line and a subway extension. According to the TTC, a subway at this location would cost $500-million more than light rail. Metrolinx thinks a subway would cost $925-million more, once sunk costs and canceled contracts are factored in.
Karen Stintz, the TTC chair, voted in February 2012 to build light rail in Scarborough, then in November supported the master agreement to that effect. Six months later, she supported building a subway, instead. She said Friday that she met with Transportation Minister Glen Murray last week to gauge his openness to changing plans. “When I left the meeting, my understanding was the answer is no,” she said.
She said she will now seek to meet with the minister again to “better understand his expectations so we don’t send any more mixed messages.”
Ms. Stintz added: “We took a vote at a moment in time and then we took another vote at another moment in time. The question is what vote do you want to go with? But, we never had a discussion on who pays for scope change?”
COC13 0605 LRT13.jpgMatthew Sherwood / National Post
TORONTO — Ontario’s governing Liberals say they’re open to a proposed subway for east-end Toronto, after nixing the proposal just two months ago.
Metrolinx, Ontario’s transportation agency, is already on track to replace the current surface rail in Scarborough with light rail with $1.8 billion from the province.
It’s part of a multibillion-dollar master plan for Toronto transit, funded mostly by the province, which the city’s subway-enthusiast mayor Rob Ford re-negotiated in 2011.
But Transportation Minister Glen Murray is now leaving the door open to discussions on extending the subway to Scarborough.
“I have said over my dead body will people in Scarborough be left out of transit,” he said Thursday.
“We have a plan. I’m really not fussed about whether it’s a subway or an LRT. I’m not.”
Murray said he’s not negotiating a deal with the city right now — contrary to published reports — and isn’t making any immediate commitments.
He’s waiting for city council to make up its mind by July 16, and if it wants a subway, he’ll discuss it with council, he said. But the final decision will rest with the province.
It’s a sharp turnaround from May, when Murray said he wouldn’t amend the transportation blueprint to extend the subway line.
At the time, he said he wouldn’t revisit any of the 15 projects under the plan.
It’s interesting that Murray is backtracking on the subway as five Liberal-held seats — including one in Scarborough — are up for grabs, the Progressive Conservatives said. The byelections are set for Aug. 1.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak has been vocal about his support for subways, and the Liberals are now nervous that momentum is moving away from them, said Conservative Lisa MacLeod.
“While I think it’s interesting that Mr. Murray is now climbing down, I don’t think that his intentions are exactly being made from the bottom of his heart,” she said.
Metrolinx, Ontario’s transportation agency, is already on track to replace the current surface rail in Scarborough with light rail with $1.8-billion from the provinceFrank Gunn / The Canadian Press
Passengers stranded for hours when flood waters overtook a Richmond Hill GO train Monday evening will each get a $100 GO credit for their troubles.
GO Transit will upload $100 to the PRESTO cards of affected riders to cover out-of-pocket expenses like dry cleaning, the company said in a statement. The credit should be uploaded to the cards by Friday.
“We understand how difficult and uncomfortable the experience was for riders on our 5:30 p.m. Richmond Hill train on Monday night,” the statement says.
A record downpour drenched the Toronto area on Monday evening, causing widespread flooding and power outages and sending an overflowing Don River surging onto the train tracks near Bayview Avenue and Pottery Road.
The 5:30 p.m. Richmond Hill train was quickly surrounded by water. In the next six hours, water poured into the lower levels and the 1,400 passengers climbed to the top level of the 10-car train to stay dry.
Some waited until 12:30 a.m. for police and fire department boats to cart them ashore.
GO Transit said any passengers from the train who used paper tickets on Monday evening will have to provide proof of their ride to attendants at Union Station or stations along the Richmond Hill line in order to receive the $100 PRESTO card.
The company said it will also consider claims from passengers for property damage from Monday evening’s train ride that exceeds $100.
Normally, when GO Trains are delayed more than 15 minutes, passengers are eligible for a fare refund.
Passengers with questions can email the company’s customer relations department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Jake Edmiston
WEA Ont Storms 20130708 TOPIXTom Hicken for National Post