It wasn't so long ago that Toronto Mayor John Tory was dismissing road tolls as at best a remote possibility, and not on his agenda. The city's civil servants may have been actively exploring tolls and other congestion charges, but they at first got few signs of encouragement from the city's chief executive.
Mr. Tory, to his credit, is a pragmatist. He looked at the city's books; he saw that something had to give. Toronto's politics have come to be dominated by public transit, or rather the lack of it, and the painfully slow progress of the building of any new tracks.
Reasonable people can question the details of Mr. Tory's public transit plans, and whether the routes he backs are the right ones. What cannot be questioned is that the city's current finances can't pay for the transit it needs. And despite Toronto's relatively low property taxes, Mr. Tory's voters have little appetite for a tax hike.
What's more, the city is facing a $3.6-billion repair bill for the Gardiner Expressway – a highway whose upkeep and maintenance the province foisted on an unwilling city and its taxpayers.
The compelling conclusion is that drivers should pay to use the Gardiner and another Toronto highway, the Don Valley Parkway. That's economically logical. It's financially sound. It may even fly politically, given that a high percentage of drivers don't live or pay taxes in Toronto. If Toronto is spending billions of taxpayer dollars on highways, it can't spend those dollars anywhere else.
So far, city council has responded well. On Tuesday, councillors voted 32 to nine in favour of examining road tolls. That's only a preliminary expression of opinion, but after years of self-deception and near-paralysis, it's a long stride ahead.
The province years ago gave the city the power to introduce new revenue measures, such as road tolls. But instead of handing the issue to municipal politicians, the province foolishly retained a veto: Before acting, the city must ask Queen's Park for permission.
That has turned Mayor Tory's local plan into a provincial issue. The Progressive Conservatives are demanding that Premier Kathleen Wynne block the city's request. If she doesn't, the PCs will paint her as the author of the tolls. In the 2018 election, they'll try to use them against her in the swing ridings surrounding Toronto.
The provincial party that Toronto's mayor once led should reconsider its love of taxpayers subsidizing free highways. Mr. Tory did.