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Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

Ontario will still have a revenue problem

I became a Liberal advocate in 2011 because they were the only party honest enough to admit that both Ontario and Toronto have huge revenue problems. Services like healthcare and education suck up all the tax dollars collected by the province and, as our population grows, there is an even greater need for more funding options. Few politicians have the guts to stand up for increasing taxes or implementing tolls because they risk their chances of re-election. But Toronto Mayor John Tory did. He stood up for tolls despite the risk of losing support in the suburbs because he, like many of us, understands that dedicated funding for transit has to come from somewhere.

I met Kathleen Wynne and others in the Liberal party who said they were willing to admit that Ontario didn’t collect enough revenue to pay for the services residents want — services like transit and housing that cities desperately need. I became a Liberal because of these facts. I believed the Premier would stand up and do the right thing, and not cave to low-polling numbers or pressure from cabinet members desperate to get re-elected. She once believed that tolls were a necessary tool to get the dedicated transit funding Toronto needs.

Tolls on Toronto highways are just as important as tolls on provincially-owned highways. Not allowing Toronto to access this funding tool will simply push the cost of transit expansion and other services on to future generations. From health care, to education, to efficient transit, we don’t have enough funding to pay for everything. But today, Premier Wynne has decided to ignore that problem and gamble that economic growth and low gas prices will last forever.

Relying on our current gas taxes for the billions of dollars needed over the next decade for transit expansion in Toronto is the same “do nothing” approach that has caused the growth of gridlock in the city. Gridlock is costing residents over $13 billion per year in time and lost revenues. A slight slip in economic growth, or increase in gas prices will lower the amount of revenue Ontario collects, meaning we’ll be financing all this transit expansion through debt.

So, why would Premier Wynne go against everything she stood for? Rumours of internal “poli-tricking” swirl with cabinet ministers outside Toronto apparently demanding she stop her support of Mayor Tory’s plan. The Premier should remember how flip flopping on the gas plant in Mississauga almost cost Liberals the 2011 election and this huge change in her position on Toronto tolls may very well lose her the liberal base of support in 2018. This kind of internal poli-tricking is why voters lose faith in politicians, and will choose an honest buffoon over a smart, intelligent, candidate.

Today I am ashamed.

New Mainstreet Research poll shows Toronto crazy for tolls

There has been a lot of criticism following Toronto Mayor John Tory’s new proposal to toll the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. But, what do Torontonians really think? A recent poll published by the Transit Alliance, a non-political organization that works with people in the transit and infrastructure industry, shows that over 50 per cent of Toronto residents actually support the use of tolls.

The poll, which was conducted by Mainstreet Research on Nov. 25, surveyed residents from all 44 wards in Toronto to find out if they supported tolling major roadways to pay for infrastructure and transit. What they found was an overwhelming endorsement of the mayor’s proposal. Sixty-five per cent of Toronto respondents said that tolls were the preferred source of revenue compared to increasing property taxes or introducing a sales tax.

This statistic was further broken down into regions: 72 per cent in the downtown core, 64 per cent in North York, 62 per cent in Scarborough, and 57 per cent in Etobicoke.

When asked specifically about tolls, respondents across the board said they would be supportive of implementing them on the DVP and Gardiner.

The question was: “Proponents of road tolls for the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway say road tolls would force non-city of Toronto residents to pay their fare share; critics say road tolls are an unnecessary tax hike. Do you approve or disapprove of introducing tolls on the DVP and Gardiner Expressway to pay for transit and infrastructure?

Support for tolls was the highest among downtown residents, with 70 per cent of respondents approving — including 52 per cent strongly approving — of the revenue sources. Residents of Etobicoke and Scarborough were less supportive of tolling, at 61 per cent and 68 per cent support respectively — still relatively high within the margins.

Only a third of Toronto residents approved the use of property tax increases, and even less supported the use of a sales tax (22 per cent).

While there are a number of critics that believe tolling to be an unfair tax on those living within the 905 region, this poll shows that even those living in Etobicoke understand the need to create revenue for better transit and infrastructure. The city needs to grow, and if the choices are between an increase in taxes or a toll on drivers, Toronto has made it clear that tolls are preferable.

If there is this much support throughout all the wards within the city, hopefully the mayor’s proposal will soar through council and Toronto can finally start to accumulate the funds it needs to continue developing transit and infrastructure throughout the GTHA.

Mainstreet Research surveyed a random sample of 2,280 Toronto residents, calling a mixture of landlines and cell phones. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.05 per cent.