Olivia Chow will try to convince a handful of Conservative MPs to break ranks and support her push for long-term infrastructure spending, arguing that cities struggling with congestion problems should be able keep more of the tax money they send to Ottawa.
The NDP MP, who represents a downtown Toronto riding, is pushing a private member’s motion that will be debated next week Tuesday.
“My motion talks about [an infrastructure] plan that needs to be long-term, predictable and accountable, and not precisely how much dollars, because the key thing is the structure of the plan,” she told reporters after taking a ride on the King streetcar, the busiest surface transit route in the city. “It’s not just about funding, it’s about the shape of the plan.”
The motion comes amid mounting debate in the Toronto region about the burden of growing congestion, which the Board of Trade estimates to cost $6-billion annually. The city recently held a series of public meetings on the topic and the regional transit agency Metrolinx is preparing an investment strategy designed to raise $34-billion for transit expansion.
Metrolinx is due to report its strategy in late May. Among the revenue options being considered are possibilities such as road tolls and parking levies, as well as increases to sales, property or land transfer taxes.
On Friday, though, Ms. Chow would not be drawn in which options might be the right ones, noting that the discussion was ongoing. And she suggested that it might be more important to look at re-prioritizing money currently being spent elsewhere.
“The Senate itself costs us $90-million a year and I know how many streetcars and buses we can purchase with $90-million a year … stopping the gridlock problem and dealing with crumbling infrastructure is a very high priority. Saving the Senate, for me, is not,” she said.
“All the GTA MPs, they know their constituents are stuck in traffic, and I just need 18 votes more to get a motion through. That’s not a lot of MPs, there are more than 18 MPs inthe GTA. So I hope they listen to their constituents and say ‘yeah, we need to do [something] about $6-billion that we’re losing on productivity because of gridlock’.”
The chances of Tories supporting the motion appeared dimmed by the government’s response Friday. Denis Lebel, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, quickly issued a statement condemning past NDP actions on this file.
“We are reviewing the motion,” Mike Winterburn, his director of communications, said in a subsequent email. “Our government has provided unprecedented investments to improve infrastructure, reduce gridlock and create jobs. Ms. Chow has voted against every federal infrastructure initiative in Canada over the last seven years.”
Ms. Chow fired back that this was no time for a “blame game” in Ottawa.
"It's time to work together,” she said. “I voted against the omnibus budget bill as it gutted environmental protection, eliminated public jobs and cut funding to via rail."
At her event, Ms. Chow said that a new infrastructure plan has to be included in the forthcoming federal budget to avoid losing an entire year of construction. And she suggested that some of the money could come out of existing resources.
“We need federal support, because we pay taxes to the federal government [and] it’s about time we get some of that money back,” she said.
“Torontonians pay $3-billion just in GST alone. We’re about to pay more income taxes, it’s almost April. And we need to get some of that money back to the cities all across Canada, so we can solve our crumbling infrastructure and cut our commute times.”