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Toronto Toronto voters will pass judgment on road tolls, Mayor Tory says

Toronto Mayor John Tory, in a meeting with the Globe and Mail editorial board Friday, said he expects the plan to charge tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway will be underway by the next election.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto voters will pass judgment on his plan to toll the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway in the next municipal election, Mayor John Tory said on Tuesday, while dismissing attacks on the idea from Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown.

In a meeting with The Globe and Mail's editorial board, Mr. Tory said that by November of 2018, when he next faces voters, the city should be well on its way to implementing his plan to charge about $2 a trip to fix the two expressways and expand public transit.

"When you have an election it is by definition an election that's all about everything you've done," Mr. Tory said. " … And my record as a whole, on the finances … on the plan that I have going forward to build transit and fix traffic, on the honesty that I have brought to the job in terms of saying that we have to pay for it – that will all be on the table."

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Former councillor Doug Ford, who ran against Mr. Tory in 2014 when his brother, then-mayor Rob Ford, was diagnosed with cancer, has mused about again challenging Mr. Tory and has spoken out against the mayor's toll proposal.

But the controversial plan, a major policy reversal for Mr. Tory, who had long opposed tolls, won't be a central issue just in the next municipal election. A few months beforehand, in June of 2018, Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals will also face voters in a campaign in which the tolls could become a factor in the swing ridings of the suburban "905" belt that surrounds the city. Toronto needs provincial approval to implement the tolls.

On Tuesday, Mr. Brown criticized Mr. Tory's plans in Question Period at Queen's Park, calling on Ms. Wynne to block them. While Mr. Tory says he has received no guarantees from her, the Premier said in the legislature that she has no plans to "take unilateral action against the City of Toronto," suggesting she will approve the plan.

Asked about Mr. Brown's opposition, Mr. Tory said anyone who rejects his idea must show another way to pay for public transit: "If your plan is not to build transit in Toronto and to let the city strangle on its own traffic, I guess that's an option you could put in front of people. I don't think that's what the people of Toronto want."

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Tuesday's attack came from the head of a political party that Mr. Tory himself used to lead. Earlier in the day, Mr. Tory's spokeswoman, Amanda Galbraith, issued a statement accusing Mr. Brown of "trying to score cheap political points in the 905" and lauding the toll proposal as a "smart, prudent, fiscally conservative plan – something the Ontario PCs used to get behind."

The back and forth came as city finance officials unveiled their proposed $10.5-billion tax-supported operating budget for 2017. The books still have a $91-million gap that must now be filled by city council, as the city's budget must be balanced by law.

Proposals that would harmonize the city's land-transfer tax with the recent changes to the province's land-transfer tax could make up most of the shortfall, along with a proposed tax on hotel rooms and a move by the province to cancel a property-tax rebate for vacant storefronts.

The mayor was quick to boast about the cost cutting in the budget, with most city departments spending less than they did last year, including, he said, the police. But the costs of running the Toronto Transit Commission and Toronto Community Housing continue to balloon.

Critics on the mayor's left criticized the budget's proposed cuts to the city's shelter department, public housing agency and parks department, and the mayor's own anti-poverty plan. They warned it would hit the city's poorest the hardest, while better-off homeowners get away with just a 2-per-cent increase to the property tax rate. (City officials say the hike will cost the average homeowner $55.)

"This is the single most unfair budget in the history of the city of Toronto," city councillor Gord Perks told reporters, warning that transit fares and daycare costs will harm the poor, while property-tax rates in Toronto remain below those in other Greater Toronto municipalities.

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Mr. Tory has repeatedly vowed to fight any property-tax rate increase above the rate of inflation, citing concerns that seniors on fixed incomes could be forced from their homes.

With provincial regulatory changes to the tax system, and a previously proposed 0.5-per-cent levy earmarked for infrastructure, city officials say most residential property-tax payers will see the equivalent of a 3.48-per-cent tax-rate increase.

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