Saturday, December 10, 2016

Memo to Kathleen Wynne: Upload the Gardiner & DVP back to the province to stop tolls

There has been huge debate recently over Toronto mayor John Tory's proposal to impose tolls of some kind on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP).

Lots of anger too, mainly from those motorists who will potentially get stuck with extra user costs for choosing to drive into the already-congested city of Toronto.

Some progressives argue that tolls are good because they ding the actual users of the roads to pay more for their upkeep.  Tory has said such tolls would also help finance the many public transit projects he hopes to build like Smart Track.

Of course, this follows his dumb decision, backed by the majority of councillors, to spend $3-4 billion and counting to extend by one stop the Scarborough subway.   How progressives can give Tory such a blank cheque to continue to find new money for his "priorities" remains a mystery to me.

Yes, Toronto needs more public transit that covers all the corners of the city and gives 416 residents better transportation options.  The now-dead Transit City would've seen high speed transit added to the far corners of Scarborough and Etobicoke.  Other light rail options to some of those areas may still see the light of day though.  The Eglinton Crosstown line will eventually be finished, I hear, with 2021 as the expected start date for operations. 

Had Mike Harris not cancelled the Eglinton subway in 1995, that line would've already been a reality today.  We might instead be seeing the near completion of the Scarborough subway extension or even the Downtown Relief Subway Line today, rather than years or decades from now.

Such is the continued toxic legacy of Mike Harris and his neo-conservative, penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to government.   The debate over Gardiner and DVP tolls is also a part of that legacy as it was Harris who stupidly downloaded the costs for maintaining those regional highways to the city of Toronto.

Yes, property taxpayers in Toronto (and that's everyone who owns or rents anything in the city) are the sole funders of upkeep for the Gardiner and the DVP.   Folks who live outside Toronto pay nothing for them, even though they are clearly major regional arterial highways.  This is wrong and Tory's proposal, in part, corrects that.  There are no other such highways in the province so important regionally that are only funded by local taxpayers.

Ever since the fiasco of Donald Trump's election, I've been thinking hard about how progressives have lost touch with the working classes they claim to represent. 

It's clear that the father-knows-best attitudes of some progressives, particularly those downtown folks perceived as "urban elites", are contributing to this phenomenon.  If our progressive policies like road tolls and carbon taxes are just making it more difficult for average folks to live, then we are pushing them into the arms of neo-conservatives with their easy answers.

That's got to stop.  We've seen an erosion of support for Kathleen Wynne due to the perception that she's out of touch with the hardships faced by ordinary Ontarians.  Skyrocketing hydro bills are a part of that.  Teary admissions of guilt won't do much to reverse the damage to her popularity.  Some major populist moves that prove she's re-engaged with those hardships and willing to make tough decisions just might. 

I do believe that if John Tory succeeds in implementing tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP, with the approval of Kathleen Wynne, this will mean a total collapse of support for Wynne's Liberals in the one area of the province she still has much potential support: Toronto and the surrounding 905.   Tolls might be the final nail in the coffin that all but guarantees a Patrick Brown government after 2018.

What's the solution?  Simply deny Tory the road tolls and do nothing else?  Or refuse tolls but increase funding for Toronto transit projects?  Perhaps.  But that one-time capital funding won't help Toronto's long-term operating costs for these two highways. 

A better choice would be to reverse the stupid decision by Harris to download the Gardiner and the DVP to Toronto, I think.

If Ontario uploaded responsibility and upkeep costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to provincial taxpayers and continued to promise never to implement tolls on them or other existing Ontario highways, this would relieve local Toronto property taxpayers, and also remove the threats of tolls on 905ers.  Instead, all provincial taxpayers would be supporting these highways like they do all others.

Sure, John Tory might be miffed he lost a potential source of revenue.  But Tory put Wynne in this awkward position by proposing this in the first place, while also highlighting one of Wynne's least popular decisions (privatizing part of Ontario Hydro) by ruling out selling Toronto Hydro.  She owes him nothing on this issue.   

Sadly, the uploading option doesn't seem to have dawned on Wynne based on her most recent statements.  She's still describing the Gardiner and the DVP as "local roads." 

The Gardiner and the DVP are not local roads used by local residents only.  They are major arterial routes that bring traffic from miles away directly into the core of the city.  Estimates are almost half of daily users of the DVP and the Gardiner are not from Toronto.

Wynne's current reaction to the tolls proposal - that she would simply approve any city of Toronto request for tolls - is the wrong one.  Unfortunately, it's in line with some of her other tone deaf decisions that have created the impression she's out of touch with the average Ontarian.  She better get smarter if she doesn't want to hand power over to Patrick Brown's PCs. 

Uploading the costs for the Gardiner and the DVP back to the province would be a major win for the premier, who's got to be desperate for one these days.   It might even be the beginning of the recovery she so desperately needs if she's going to pull her Liberals out of the popularity basement and have any chance of hanging on to power in 2018.  Seems like a brilliant plan to me. 


UU4077 said...

Sorry, but, maybe Torontonians should pay an appropriate level of property taxes. Toronto's property tax rates are about 60% of most of the rest of the province.

Matt Guerin said...

Road users should pay for their upkeep. People outside Toronto pay nothing to maintain the Gardiner or DVP. If they're not uploaded back to the province I do support the tolls