Tim Hudak promises magical tax-free subways

Tim Hudak promises magical tax-free subways

What, me worry about taxes? (Image: Ontario Chamber of Commerce)

It turns out that years of policy debates about how to fund transit expansion in the GTA with new taxes and fees have all been pointless, because Tim Hudak and the provincial Tories have it all figured out: we’ll just build all the public transit we want and make no sacrifices whatsoever.

The latest in a series of white papers being released by the Ontario PC party in anticipation of the next provincial election says essentially that. It suggests that recent proposals to raise billions of public-transit dollars each year with new taxes and fees are misguided, and that the province can fund badly needed infrastructure improvements—like the construction of a downtown relief subway line—using existing funding in combination with money from the sale of surplus land and provincial buildings.

“We believe that transit expansion must be funded not with some kind of sin tax on driving,” the white paper says, “but by re-examining the priorities within government’s existing budget.” The money would be put in a special trust fund, to prevent it from being absorbed into general revenue.

The Tories are even asking for help from an unexpected quarter: some of the very pension funds Hudak has derided as being “gold-plated.” “We should raise additional funds for transportation infrastructure by encouraging Ontario and Canadian pension funds to invest in government-owned businesses,” the paper says. It’s not clear how the pension funds would earn returns on that investment. If public transit were a money-making business, the TTC would be funneling its capital budget into something a little flashier than some bendy buses.

The proposal seems a little too convenient, but our interest is definitely piqued. At the very least, the thing could stand to be fleshed out—not that it necessarily will be. Making impossible transit promises and then blaming others when they turn out to be unachievable is a tried-and-true path to election in Toronto. Just ask Exhibit A.