Change is in the air, sunny ways and sunnier days are coming to Toronto. Taking us out of the freeze that has limited our ability to grow. And this isn’t just because the Federal liberal government has announced infrastructure funding – although it helps – there is a noticeable difference in the culture at city hall. Gone are the plotting whispers in the cafe, gone are the unanswered phone calls, and almost all of the arrogant attitudes and elitism that used to elevate public servants high above the people they worked for.
Instead the city is starting to feel like a well run machine, and although it is in desperate need of funding for housing, transit and other services, city manager Peter Wallace is bringing the passion back to city hall. But for all his hard work and commitment he will have his hands tied if council doesn’t come up with a way of funding the infrastructure and services they have voted to move forward on.
With a $2.1 Billion backlog in affordable housing repairs and the need to raise over $10 Billion for transit improvements and infrastructure like the Relief Line, and the Scarborough subway and LRT extension, the city is stuck in a cycle of denial that started decades ago. Desperate for re-election politicians refused to deal with the lack of funding choosing instead to ignore the need to build transit and social housing. They allowed gridlock to grow and housing to fall into a such a state of disrepair that it will take decades to rebuild.
Today Toronto is at a crucial point in our history, our success as a city depends on this current council stepping up to the responsibilities we elected them to handle. Mayor Tory has stated in the past that he believes a basket of revenue tools is needed. Without his strong leadership and commitment to creating a viable revenue stream to fund the gaping hole in our city budget, there is little chance that the self interest of councillors wanting re-election won’t once again ignore the issue of funding the promises they have made.
Lately in the darker corners of City Hall a few councilors are whispering that perhaps the city should freeze development, or at least put a pause on it. This blatant attempt to gain favor with older neighbourhood voters, shows their utter lack of awareness on the dependence our city has on property taxes and the desperate need to grow our tax base through development. Instead of trying to find ways to fund the services and infrastructure these councilors are more interested in finding ways to make voters re-elect them.
Mayor Tory is up against a huge challenge, he will need to get the self-serving councilors to support a revenue tool big enough to allow the city to pay for the infrastructure and services they have all promised Toronto voters. If he isn’t able to get the support of council on this issue, he risks being just one of a long line of Mayor’s who have added to the cities growing debt unable to lead council to deal with the growing debt that will impact our children and grandchildren.
Organizations across the region have called for creating revenue tools. The Board of Trade supports a basket of revenue tools that include a parking surcharge, a regional sales tax and tolls. The Chamber of Commerce has suggested a fuel tax and tolls. Just about every organization that has looked at the economic impact of gridlock have called on council to implement tolls. Given that Toronto owns and pays to maintain both the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and is now looking at rebuilding the Gardiner at a pricetag of over $2Billion now is the time to put tolls on these highways.
The city of Toronto has a critical choice to make. Our council can continue refuse to create a revenue stream like tolls but this will push the entire cost of funding our infrastructure repairs onto Toronto property tax payers. And this would also require huge cuts to services we now take for granted – everything from snow clearing, to garbage collection, libraries, and recreation centres would be on the chopping block. Or council can finally move forward on revenue tools, and put tolls on the Gardiner and DVP dedicated to the $2Billion needed to rebuild the Gardiner and then to building the relief subway line.
Mayor Tory will need help convincing his council that the time has come for each of them to do what is best for the city. Write your councillor today and tell them that you want them to support tolls or another revenue stream that will allow our city to tackle the growing infrastructure deficit. You can find their email address here: