Ontario’s Liberal government will move ahead with new tolls or taxes to fund decades worth of public transit upgrades in the Toronto-Hamilton area, even if municipalities oppose the new revenue tools, Premier Kathleen Wynne warns.
The province is waiting for a report due in June from Metrolinx, the transit planning agency, on exactly what combination of tolls, taxes or levies it will recommend to raise the $2-billion a year for 25 years needed to help ease gridlock in a region where about 6.5 million people live and work, Ms. Wynne said.
“The whole process will be much better if we have municipal support and we can act in concert, but the reality is that we have to take action, and as a provincial government it’s my responsibility to determine the actions that we will take,” she said in a speech to municipal politicians and transit advocates on Wednesday.
“New money has to be found. We have to remove any doubt about that.”
Metrolinx has already said it will consider highway tolls, raising the sales tax and a half-cent-a-litre tax on gasoline to help fund transit, in addition to a per-kilometre charge or congestion fees.
Municipal politicians outside Toronto are concerned about having to pay for improvements to services their residents don’t use, while Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has said he’ll oppose any tax hike to fund transit, but Ms. Wynne wasn’t backing down.
“I’m being clear right now that we’re going to move on this, and whether it’s this bundle of tools or that bundle of tools, we’re going to take action on this. Stay tuned,” the Premier told reporters after the speech.
Getting local politicians to support whatever revenue tool the province decides to adopt seems crucial, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“I’m worried when a Premier thinks a big project like this can actually be successful if the majority of people aren’t on side,” Ms. Horwath said.
“Whether that’s ordinary people or whether that’s municipalities, to me it seems like a recipe for failure, and I’m quite concerned.”
The Progressive Conservatives attacked the Liberals for considering tax hikes as a first option to fund transit, and said they would not agree to put tolls on any existing roads or highways.
The New Democrats said they support increased funding to pay for public transit in the Toronto-Hamilton area, but don’t want to see any tax hikes.
“There’s no doubt that a dedicated revenue stream and revenue tools need to be found,” said Ms. Horwath, “but if the tools that the Premier is looking at are ones that hit families hard in the pocket book, then that’s not something we support.”
Last week, Ms. Wynne suggested that she will not hike property taxes, saying it would not raise enough money to pay for all the transit infrastructure that’s needed in the region.