Kathleen Wynne explains how she’ll pay for new transit in the GTA, except not really
During a speech earlier today for the Toronto Region Board of Trade, premier Kathleen Wynne slammed the opposition NDP and Progressive Conservative parties for their lack of specific plans to pay for new public transit in Toronto and the rest of Ontario. “If the plan isn’t credible and costed, then it’s not actually a plan,” she said, which is absolutely true. The line would have been a masterstroke had it not followed yet another foray into the fan-dance world of Liberal transit-funding promises.
Last month, Wynne ruled out the two likeliest sources of new money for transit investment in Toronto, but promised that she and her party would be proposing alternative sources to make up the shortfall. At today’s speech, the premier finally identified some of those mysterious sources. There were four things on the list: 7.5 cents of the existing gas tax, a redirection of the HST charged on gas and diesel fuel, money from “provincial assets” (whatever those turn out to be) and the Green Bonds program. High-occupancy lane tolls would also be in the mix, but those were announced last year. Wynne said these measures would help the province raise $29 billion in new money for transit expansion over the next decade. $15 billion would go into a dedicated fund for road and transit spending in the GTA, and the remaining $14 billion would go into a similar fund for the rest of Ontario.
In theory, it’s a crowd-pleasing plan, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions. Most pressing among them: how will the provincial government make up the gaping hole in its budget that redirecting all that gas-tax and HST revenue will surely leave? Wynne would say only that the upcoming provincial budget will include new revenue tools (which is a polite way of saying “taxes and fees”) that will help the province achieve that $29 billion total, but she wouldn’t get into specifics. “You’ll just have to wait until the budget,” she told one reporter who asked.
If at least one of the opposition parties can’t be brought on board with the budget, we’ll be headed to an election over this very issue, and Metrolinx’s $50 billion long-term public-transit plan will be thrown into jeopardy once again. (Among the projects in that plan is the coveted downtown relief line—so don’t believe John Tory when he says he’ll start building it on day one of his mayoralty. He’ll start building when and if Queen’s Park allows him to.)
As unsatisfying as Wynne’s announcement was, though, we’ll give her this: it was nowhere near as nonsensical as PC leader Tim Hudak’s pre-emptive rebuttal.