Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has stepped up her push for new taxes or tolls to pay for public transit expansion, warning that without such measures, badly needed infrastructure will never see the light of day.
And she broadened her transportation-building ambitions to include roads and bridges across the province.
“There are tolls, there are taxes, there are fees. There are a whole lot of names, words for these mechanisms. Tools is the word that’s being used and I’m not using it as a euphemism. I’m using it as a catchphrase for all the different ways that we can raise new revenues,” she said. “The reality is, we need more money than we’ve got in the provincial treasury in order to build transit.”
Ms. Wynne and her government have previously pledged dedicated funds for transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, but her comments Monday were one of the first times a high-level politician has been specific on what this could entail.
She also pledged to put in place dedicated funding to build and repair infrastructure for drivers. The money could come from existing dollars or from a new revenue stream.
The Liberals have tasked provincial transportation agency Metrolinx with drawing up a detailed strategy to pay for a $50-billion network of new subways, light-rail lines and dedicated bus corridors.
The agency will report back this spring, after which the Ms. Wynne must implement the plan, navigating the divided views of politicians at Queen’s Park and the municipal level.
The Progressive Conservatives have argued money could be found by eliminating spending inefficiencies, but the party has left the door open to new methods of raising funds.
The NDP opposes road tolls or a gasoline tax, arguing such measures are too great a hardship for drivers, a position Leader Andrea Horwath echoed in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade Monday.
“We don’t want to see a burden, an unnecessary burden or an unbearable burden, put on the backs of everyday folks,” she said afterward.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford takes a similar stand as Ms. Horwath. He maintains new taxes are unnecessary and government can find the money by other means. Asked last week about transit revenue tools, he replied: “I told you before, I don’t support any of that.”
Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, by contrast, has lobbied Queen’s Park for a transit tax.
“If you don’t want tax increases, you’re not going to get the service. It’s as simple as that,” she told reporters last year.
The Premier’s position is in sync with that of transit advocates and the business community, both of whom have long called for a steady source of money to ease gridlock.
Paul Bedford, Toronto’s former chief planner, applauded the Premier’s comments when told of them Monday.
“Good on her. She’s showing leadership and that’s what’s needed,” he said. “I think she’s telling the truth and people want to hear the truth.”
The board of trade proposed four ideas last week: sales and gasoline taxes, a parking levy and tolls that would allow lone drivers to use high-occupancy lanes.
Ms. Wynne, for her part, said that when Metrolinx presents its report, she will be ready to pick revenue tools and put them in place.
“I’m not afraid of making that decision,” she said. “If we don’t make that decision, if we don’t come down on the side of more transit in the GTHA, we lose an opportunity and we’re going to short-change another generation of people living in this region.”