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City Hall's very messy transit fight leaves some hope for transit expansion

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Published on Fri May 10 2013

It's been said that Toronto City Hall, devoid of any formal party structure, is where you go if you want to see how the political sausage is made. After all, Municipal government is the only place where all debates play out entirely in public.

This week, though, as Toronto councillors had their long-awaited debate about transit funding, we were treated to more than just the regular sausage-making. Instead, we saw the sausage-creation process from its earliest and most primitive stages. We got to see — metaphorically, of course — a pig slowly beaten to death with a hammer, crudely skinned and diced in the most confusingly grotesque way possible, and then roasted over a bonfire — one tiny piece at a time.

Or maybe that's just what it felt like.

And the outcome? Eh. It wasn't the historic victory for public transit that advocates had been hoping for. But it also wasn't any kind of victory for Mayor Rob Ford either. Council did not directly endorse any specific taxes, tolls or fees to fund transit expansion, but the list of funding tools they formally rejected was curiously missing a couple of items. The bottom line message to the province? Councillors in Toronto are probably okay with a regional sales tax and an increase to development charges to fund transit expansion.

(Also missing from the rejection list? Corporate income taxes. Expect to hear more about that.)

The strategy was odd, to say the least. A late-stage motion by Coun. Josh Colle saw councillors opt not to specifically endorse any revenue tools, but instead only indicate to Metrolinx which ones they explicitly rejected. That meant all votes — more than 50 of them — were conducted using double or triple negatives. I would have much rather seen the city take a stronger leadership role in the GTA by simply endorsing revenues.

But then, I guess, to take a leadership role you need a leader.

In the part of the debate actually about transit funding, TTC Chair Karen Stintz ultimately showed a measure of support for five revenue tools from the Metrolinx short list, matching the recommendations from the City Manager, save for her objection to a tax levied on commercial parking spaces. She and TTC allies Coun. Colle and Coun. John Parker voted not to include a sales tax, increased development charges, a fuel tax, road tolls and high occupancy toll lanes on council's list of rejected funding tools.

Here's how things broke down on the five votes related to those funding measures (click the chart for a larger image):

a Google Spreadsheet with the results of all the transit funding related votes

I've also put together . Again, take these with a grain of salt since the nature of the Stintz strategy meant all votes were conducted using double (or triple) negative phrasing, making everything incredibly confusing. I don't doubt mistakes were made on the council floor.

In addition to the mayor — who was forced to have this debate against his will and just opposed everything — 13 councillors voted against every type of funding measure for transit expansion on the Metrolinx list. That list is a bit surprising, as it includes normally left-leaning councillors like Coun. De Baeremaeker, Coun. Maria Augimeri, Coun. Anthony Perruzza and centrists like Coun. Gloria Lindsay Luby and Coun. Ron Moeser. Meanwhile, more conservative members like Coun. Parker and Coun. Peter Milczyn showed a great deal of support for various transit funding strategies.

(To their credit, Coun. Augimeri and Coun. De Baeremaeker did ultimately support a motion to use corporate income taxes to fund transit expansion. Coun. Perruzza didn't even support that.)

It's hard to say exactly what will happen next. For all the talk of how this exercise was about giving Metrolinx advice in advance of the publication of their investment strategy at the end of the month, it's unlikely that today's vote will send Metrolinx staff scrambling to do rewrites. If anything, council's vote may give a preview of what we can expect in that investment strategy. It's a very safe bet that a regional sales tax will be the major focus — and that measure, by itself, is capable of raising nearly 70 per cent of what's needed to fund the Big Move.

That council is not on record as opposing that sales tax is at least a small victory. Despite some serious questions about the wisdom of their strategy over the last couple of weeks, I'll give Coun. Stintz and co. that much. They tried.

Which is more than I can say for some of those other councillors. For those who saw fit to attempt deny the debate, vote against every option or turn this into fodder for some pet hobbyhorse subway they think will aid their re-election chances, I'll say only this: don't bother showing up at any ribbon cuttings for transit lines that might be funded with these revenues.

You've stood against progress. You've chosen your place in history.

This post was originally published at on 2013-05-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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