The right choice, the fair choice
The editorial writers at the Toronto Star, commenting about Ontario’s refusal to allow road tolls got the headline right (“A hard slap for Toronto”), but the content wrong. Toronto tried to do the wrong thing, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. The rest of Ontario said no. Toronto’s proposed road tolls ($2 each way on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway) on highways leading into and out of the city were not so much dead on arrival, but dead before departure. Here’s why:
- Toronto simply acted unilaterally, as if nobody else mattered, and all that was important was what Toronto wanted, even though they had no concrete plan for what they wanted, other than to collect taxes from non-citizens who would not benefit from whatever Toronto proposed to do with the money. It was in every way taxation without representation;
- Based on what I have heard from business groups and municipal leaders across the 905 region, Toronto made no attempt to work with other municipalities, or to consider any of the 905 region’s transit needs;
- Toronto attempted a bald cash grab before coming even close to using what revenue measures were available to them. For example, homes on the Toronto side of the Etobicoke creek are often subject to only about half the property tax as an equivalent home on the Mississauga side. Mississauga, Brampton, York, Durham and Simcoe Region commuters whose residents do pay their fair share of property taxes were being asked to subsidize owners of under-taxed Toronto mansions. Not likely;
- Toronto failed to see that its proposal meant, for a commuter needing to go into Toronto twice each day, five days per week, and about 50 weeks each year, a $1,000 annual ‘Toronto Tax’ hit, while receiving none of the benefits of whatever transit plan Toronto never explained.
That’s why the idea of a Toronto transit tax on non-Toronto drivers was a flop. And deserved to fail. As a measure of pure cynicism, some Toronto politicians point out that the road tolls would also apply to Toronto drivers commuting to work in cities like Mississauga, as if somehow a Toronto resident paying the same $1,000 annually for a mythical transit system from which they would never benefit would somehow be better off.
The gas tax sharing alternative
Right now, of the 14.7 cents per litre that Ontario collects as a gasoline tax to build, maintain, police, plow, surface and repair Ontario roads, two cents goes to municipalities to use for public transit. The Province will double – in annual stages – this amount to four cents of the 14.7 cents to Ontario municipalities. That means that Toronto money can stay in Toronto, and Mississauga money can help improve transit links in Mississauga. Or even better, help knit together the entire GTA transit system.
The 905 belt of municipalities circling Toronto has long since stopped being a group of bedroom and commuter cities. Halton, Peel, York, Durham and Simcoe regions together now out-populate Toronto. Those fast-growing, and well-governed, cities are hosts to complete business sectors that are independent of Toronto. Getting around on public transit must mean treating people less like freight, which means not using Toronto as a hub-and-spokes system. We need to be able to get around the periphery of Toronto, and connect the city centres of the 905 belt with public transit. Toronto’s proposal accomplishes none of this. There is no more to be gained by Toronto’s attempted cash grab from 905 commuters than there would be for Mississauga to put up a countervailing toll plaza leading into and out of Pearson International, which is in Mississauga, in retaliation.
- See also: Making somebody else pay on this web site.
Ontario stood up for all the six million people in the Greater Toronto Area by turning down a bad proposal by Toronto. Let’s now solve the problem for all our Oshawa-to-Hamilton residents without a conflict designed to pit residents of one city against another. We are all in this future together.