The Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance turned up the heat on Toronto and area politicians, calling on them to show their public support for new transit revenue tools during a forum Wednesday, April 17.
At a forum organized by the regional advocacy group, CivicAction’s chair John Tory and CEO Mitzie Hunter unveiled a pledge for supporting dedicated revenue tools – a suite of new fees and taxes Metrolinx is researching to pay for future transit.
Hunter said the pledge would be sent to every politician in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
“Right now at this minute we are pressing ‘send’ on an invitation to all of our elected officials at all levels to sign this pledge,” said Hunter to the audience of forum attendees gathered at the Allstream Centre,on the grounds of the CNE.
“We need politicians to show that there is wide, regional support for new transportation funding.”
Prior to the pledge announcement, a group of GTHA mayors could find little common ground on supporting the selection of new taxes and fees for transit shortlisted by Metrolinx for inclusion in its final report to the province due in June. The list of 11 revenue tools under consideration includes a regional sales tax, parking levy, land land use charge and tolls.
The four mayors, Frank Scarpitti of Markham, Rob Burton for Oakville, Rick Goldring of Burlington and John Henry of Oshawa, took part in a roundtable discussion moderated by journalist Steve Paikin, and expressed concerns about escalating gridlock.
But Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who took part in the discussion in place of Mayor Rob Ford, said he had “grave concerns” about asking residents to chip in for transit without assurances from the province the money will go towards transit projects that stay within budget.
“Until the accountability and transparency is there, I have some real problems selling revenue tools to my constituents. When I go to the door and people ask me why the TTC’s projects are out of control and Metrolinx is spending all this money I don’t have an answer for them.”
Scarpitti, taking aim at the absent Ford who has already voiced his intention to vote against funding recommendations put forth by Toronto city staff, said residents are in favour of seeing the Big Move transportation plan, which would require $2 billion annually over 25 years, completed in full.
“It’s great for some mayors to say we don’t want any new taxes or fees but the public doesn’t agree with that point of view,” said Scarpitti.
However, Markham’s mayor did not support building a downtown subway relief line in Toronto, which Metrolinx considers a priority for completion, before 905-area projects such as a northern expansion of the Yonge subway into Richmond Hill. “For all of us to wait in the 905 area while that line gets built is not feasible,” said Scarpitti.
“We have some of the worst roads all over the GTA so let’s get on with implementing the plan.”
When it comes to gridlock, residents are in agreement that it’s an issue region-wide, said pollster Lorne Bozinoff. Breaking down the results of a recent survey of GTHA residents on supporting revenue tools for transit, Bozinoff from Forum Research International, said a majority of residents showed a willingness to pay for specific projects such as the DRL, through congestion fees, transit fares and tolls on the Gardiner Expressway.
“The point is, if we can link the revenue tool to an actual solution it makes a big difference in the polling numbers,” said Bozinoff.
During her keynote speech, Premier Kathleen Wynne acknowledged the “opinion gap” of residents skeptical about paying out of their pockets to complete the Big Move.
“We need more people to understand that fixing this problem requires a new dedicated source of funding,” said Wynne. Despite saying last week she would not comment on any of the revenue tools on Metrolinx’s shortlist, Wynne said her government would not support property taxes for the project.
“They cannot sustain the size of investment that is required to fix our transportation woes, and nor can hard-pressed property taxpayers,” she said.