Tag Archives: Toronto

Toronto loses when Wynne, Tory play politics with road tolls

Facing a growing transit deficit and a dearth of funding in Ontario’s biggest city, Toronto’s city council and the Ontario provincial government combined to deliver a solution that should satisfy nobody. Toronto mayor John Tory, who spoke out against road tolls in his days as an aspiring public servant, saw tolling two stretches of highway under city management as a way to raise some desperately needed transit funds, but Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne stepped in to override Toronto and instead offer another morsel of annual funding from the gas tax to all municipalities in the province.

It’s the kind of back-and-forth undercutting Ontario citizens have come to expect from our various levels of government. Toronto is billions behind in infrastructure improvements alone, thanks in no small part to a mayor who spent plenty of time bragging about saving billions without considering the consequences of his cutbacks, and a council that is gutless when it comes to implementing more-practical but less-popular revenue tools like taxes. The province is arguably worse off, saddled with a Liberal government that is still in power due to the incompetence of its opposition despite handling the energy file so poorly that provincial hydro bills are indistinguishable from mob-level extortion.

I don’t think Tory ever really wanted road tolls, just like I don’t believe Wynne’s concern about the finances of Ontario families. Tory’s boardroom background helped him see tolls as a way to leverage the province into giving Toronto more money, because the Liberal government is too afraid of losing votes in the Toronto suburbs next year. Sure enough, Liberal MPPs in ridings surrounding Toronto made the most noise about the potential tolls, forcing Wynne to pull the plug and spin it as a cost-of-living issue. If Wynne truly cared about that, reining in hydro bills (and giving back some of that $37 billion in overcharges) would go a lot further than quashing a small fee people would only have to pay on the Gardiner or the DVP. While many commuters use those roads on a daily basis, everyone uses electricity, and the personal financial benefits would be much more universal.

This isn’t to say that tolls and other user fees are the right way for Toronto to overcome its many financial shortfalls. Toronto is an obscenely wealthy city, in that it is home to the headquarters of many obscenely wealthy Canadian businesses and contains some of the country’s most luxurious neighbourhoods, from Forest Hill and Rosedale to the Bridle Path. Rather than tapping into that wealth, usage fees like road tolls will disproportionately affect people who live in less-affluent neighbourhoods further from downtown. And tolls don’t do much to incentivise alternative forms of transit, especially in corners of the suburbs where non-car transportation isn’t an option.

If Tory’s original toll plan seemed like a half-baked way to stir up some headlines and force the province to act, that’s because it was. If the response from Wynne’s Liberals comes off as a naked and impractical vote grab, that’s because it is. Other mayors in the province are laughing because of the extra money they will receive as a result of Tory and Wynne’s political maneuvering. Tory will likely cruise to reelection on the strength of his pragmatism being mistaken for genius following the disastrous Ford years, while Wynne and the Liberals have successfully dodged an electoral bullet the Conservatives would have probably misfired anyway in 2018.

And the only people who end up losing in all this are the citizens of Toronto. As usual.

The Only New Taxes Toronto Should Consider

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It should come as no surprise that four years of Rob Ford respecting taxpayers left Toronto in dire need of cash. The city has a massive repair backlog and a slew of unfunded infrastructure projects, including Ford’s legacy: a tiny subway extension in Scarborough with a cost eclipsing $3 billion. As much as Ford Nation wants to believe all budgetary shortfalls could be overcome with a combination of internal efficiencies, private partnerships, and shouting, more money will need to come from somewhere, and soon.

A report commissioned by the city recommends five new taxes to solve the problem. Actually, that’s four new taxes and one we already had – the vehicle registration tax – but repealed due to “war on the car” yadda yadda yadda. Along with bringing the vehicle registration tax back, the report also suggests a congestion tax for driving downtown, an alcohol tax because those fancy emulsified cocktails you’re drinking at a bar on Ossington aren’t expensive enough already, a parking tax because two vehicle-related taxes weren’t enough, and an amusement tax which I can only assume would be similar to Ticketmaster charging me an extra $5 on a $20 ticket.

But these tax ideas are boring and generic. They lack Toronto’s elusive personality and none of them hint at what makes this city such a unique place to call home. Instead, city hall should consider adopting new taxes that play to the city’s true strengths. Taxes like these:

Transit etiquette tax
Enforcing the unwritten rules of Toronto public transit will provide a steady source of revenue. TTC fare inspectors will note any passengers who make eye-contact with or attempt to speak to other passengers and bill them accordingly. Conversely, passengers who avoid all eye-contact during their journey will be eligible for a rebate.

Drake tax
Contrary to what the Toronto Raptors would have you believe, there is such a thing as too much Drizzy. This tax will apply to: adding Drake to the playlist of any bar, restaurant, or Jewish community centre; listening to Drake within earshot of six (6) or more people; and sharing Drake-based memes over Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

Internet tax
All residents and businesses will be charged an extra monthly fee for internet access, regardless of whether or not they have a connection or how slow and unreliable their connection is. All money collected will go to Rogers and Bell because they own all our sports teams so they kind of have us by the balls here.

Albino squirrel tax
Albino SquirrelIf Toronto ever needed a mascot, this little guy would be at the top of the list. People who frequent Trinity Bellwoods will be subject to a small fee to ensure the health and safety of everyone’s favourite anomalous rodent. Acorns will be the preferred form of payment.

PATH tax
There’s plenty to be gained by turning downtown Toronto’s underground network of food courts into a toll route for pedestrians. The only thing better than walking in circles underneath Brookfield Place for half an hour trying to find your way to Union Station is paying for the privilege.

Obvious consulting tax
Every time city staff want to commission a report by an external firm to tell them something they should already know, 100% the money budgeted for that report will instead go towards paying for things the city actually needs, like road repairs and competent city staff.

I will be forwarding my recommendations to mayor John Tory and the rest of city council once the accounting firm I’ve hired produces some unrealistically favourable revenue estimates for each of them.