Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Getting on the Big Move

Unlike at previous times, a consensus appears to be forming within the GTA/GTHA for greater investment in public transit and transportation. Political leaders from across the region have expressed the need for new projects to help mitigate crippling congestion and delays. The question now falls to how it will be paid for. This is ultimately the sticking point for most public policy; great ideas need to be paid for.

Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with developing a regional transportation plan, will be releasing its plan to finance its program, the Big Move, soon. Before Metrolinx can present its work the Toronto Board of Trade offered its suggestions for how to pay for it: a 1 percent increase in regional sales tax, a parking space levy of about $1/day, a regional fuel tax of perhaps 10 cents per litre, and high-occupancy lane tolls. The region has to raise approximately $1-2 billion, or as Oakville’s mayor recently put it, $1000 per household.

There are the usual suspects who hear any talk of raising taxes and see red, but according to the Toronto Star two-thirds of regional residents would accept paying more in taxes for an improvement in public transit.

To make progress Queen’s Park and local civic leaders are going to have to come to some sort of consensus. Given that we have a minority government to pass such a plan would require the support of at least two political parties. It appears, at least at the moment, that the Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) will introduce plans similar to what Metrolinx and the Toronto Board of Trade has suggested. Hopefully politics does not get in the way of good policy on this one. Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) has even been making positive noises towards transit funding. Obviously the Conservatives are hesitant to support any tax, and Hudak frames his support by saying that any investment would be predicated in first getting Ontario’s budget in order, but still, a positive development, no doubt.

My party, the Ontario New Democratic Party, has me a bit worried. John Lorinc, senior editor at Spacing, says that Andrea Horwath (ONDP –Hamilton Centre) and the NDP are missing the point on transit. This is very damaging for the party most associated with transit funding. It seems odd to me that the NDP would be getting cold feet on this issue at this late hour. Horwath made a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade in which she said that funding of transit should not fall on the backs of working people and that consensus must be achieved. Lorinc characterizes Horwath’s remarks as being vague and details in particular are absent. From my point of view I was most frustrated by the idea that the billions needed should come from corporate taxes and increasing income taxes on the wealthy. MPP Rosario Marchese (ONDP –Trinity-Spadina) offered a response to Lorinc in the comment section. Marchese did a lot to undue my preconceived notions on this topic. According to Marchese $2.5 billion has been cut from corporate taxes, which would be enough to fund the Metrolinx program.

Marchese raises other concerns. Support for these projects could be lost if efforts aren’t made to include all constituencies. He cites the collapse of Mayor David Miller’s Transit City strategy, and the frustration in Oakville over the delay of all-day train service and cancellation of stations. As a centrist-New Democrat I am often concerned by the party’s knee-jerk response that corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy will cover everything. In this instance perhaps my party has a point.

When Metrolinx comes out with its report we will see how the parties respond to concrete recommendations. I hope civic and provincial leaders feel the urgency to do something. Every day of inaction only exacerbates the problem. The clogged arteries of our regional economy can only take so much before the heart gives out. 

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