Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Mayoral candidates shouldn’t back off on revenue tools for transit

By: Metro Published on Wed Feb 26 2014

Toronto’s mayoral race got more crowded this week. Karen Stintz jumped in, as we knew she would, but so did John Tory, who has at least now shown that he is capable of making a decision. (Up next: proving that he knows how to actually win an election.)

Add the two of them to the already-declared field of Mayor Rob Ford and David Soknacki and, baby, we got a stew going.

But with the race heating up, I’d like to make a transit-related request: Can the candidates please stick to reality? Because I’m really tired of magical thinking.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to see so much conversation about transit so early in the race. That the decades overdue downtown relief subway line looks to be a major issue is a very positive thing. However, I am concerned that the debate is too focused on which technology and proposed routes candidates support and not the more important issue of how Toronto should actually pay for new infrastructure.

Planning transit is easy. Building it is hard.

Both Stintz and Tory have shown disappointing signs this week that their earlier openness to new revenue tools — taxes, tolls and fees — to pay for transit improvement has been tempered now that they’re officially running for Toronto’s top office.

Stintz, who last year called out Ford for rejecting all revenue tools while still wanting to build subways, told reporters this week that she thinks maybe new revenues aren’t needed: “I think we can do things to improve congestion that don’t involve revenue tools.”

Meanwhile, Tory, despite being one of the city’s most vocal advocates for dedicated transit revenues over the last couple of years through his work as Chair of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, has kept conspicuously quiet on the notion since his flashy announcement. Instead, he's structured the early days of his campaign around a pledge to keep property taxes low.

I get why Tory and Stintz may want to avoid talking about revenue tools. Nobody likes to talk about raising taxes. Campaign strategists are probably dead set against the idea. But Toronto is very poorly served by the prospect of yet another election cycle in which voters are fed the outright lie that real improvements can materialize with existing revenue — that good transit can happen for free.

We’ve been down that road before. A succession of politicians over the past few decades have put together transit plans with no real funding. They’ve ended up building either nothing or just small stubs. It’s never worked. It’s never going to work. There is no getting around the fact that the city’s infrastructure needs are massively expensive, and there’s no unicorn on the horizon riding toward us carrying saddlebags of gold coins.

Most of the candidates in this race are smart enough to understand that. And they owe it to voters and themselves to be honest about the situation facing Toronto. Don’t just show us lines on a map. Don’t just talk broadly about subways or LRTs. Show us how you’ll pay for your transit plans. Show us how you’ll deliver — and leave the magical thinking out of it.

This post was originally published at on 2014-02-26T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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