Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford denounced a proposal to fund an ambitious regional transit expansion through a package of taxes and fees, insisting that the city’s voice was being ignored.
Speaking one day after directors for the regional transit agency Metrolinx formally approved its recommendations for transit funding, he dismissed plans for above-ground transit and insisted people couldn’t afford to pay more.
“Toronto council took a firm position last month, they stood beside me and said no to these new taxes,” Mr. Ford told reporters, who were more keen to ask him about recent crack cocaine allegations.
“Yet the province is moving ahead without consulting with the public with a plan to hit Toronto families with taxes that will cost approximately $500 to $1,000 per year, if not more. Ask yourself: What will my family have to give up to pay for these new taxes?”
His comments, which came weeks after debate that saw Toronto politicians reject almost all funding tools, confirmed that the city’s leadership is out of step with the generally positive reaction to the plan from the suburbs.
A number of mayors from municipalities near Toronto have lined up behind the plan to cut congestion, which is estimated to cost the region $6-billion annually. Business and civic groups have praised the mix of funding tools as well, though the Toronto Transit Alliance warned that Metrolinx may be biting off too much at once.
Metrolinx is calling for a number of revenue tools that would generate about $2-billion annually, enough to pay for the unfunded portion of a $50-billion expansion known as the Big Move. The plan calls for 10 new projects, putting 80 per cent of residents within two kilometres of a transit line separated from traffic.
The funding plan has gone to the province and city politicians do not get a veto. Premier Kathleen Wynne will have to persuade at least one opposition party to back a funding strategy, though, in a high-stakes battle expected to take up to a year.
Mr. Ford’s brother and closest ally, Councillor Doug Ford, has said he wants to run provincially as a Progressive Conservative and on Tuesday again voiced his desire to have voters decide directly on the proposals. The two men reiterated their view, shared by the provincial Tories, that new money may not be needed to pay for transit.
“Until the Premier exhausts all the other options available to her, I will not, and I emphasize I will not, support any of these new taxes on the residents of Toronto,” the mayor said.
Liberals insist that efficiencies will not be nearly enough to cover the plan and that any money found must be used to pay down the deficit. On Tuesday, Transportation Minister Glen Murray told Question Period that more funds are needed.
“No other jurisdiction … has built transit without raising some of these revenues,” he said. “People who tell you that you can build a major regional transportation system without additional revenue are fibbing – and that’s a polite word for it.”
With a report from Adrian Morrow at Queen’s Park