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Four reasons why Patrick Brown needs to steer clear of Toronto's plan for road tolls

John Tory's plan to add tolls to the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway would create revenue for a dedicated infrastructure fund.
John Tory's plan to add tolls to the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway would create revenue for a dedicated infrastructure fund.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown made it clear last week: he really, really doesn’t like Mayor John Tory’s plan to put road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

But I’ve got no time for Brown’s opinion on this, and neither should you.

Why? Let’s count the reasons.

First, for all of Brown’s agitations against highway tolls, he has yet to suggest a workable alternative for funding Toronto transit.

He didn’t promise to increase the provincial operating subsidy to the TTC. He didn’t promise to kick in a few billion dollars for the badly-needed relief line subway.

Instead, he pointed to a recent auditor general report outlining some Liberal government screw-ups, suggesting that there’d be money for transit had these mistakes not been made. But those screw-ups, while frustrating, are in the past and don’t add up to anywhere near enough money to provide predictable, sustainable long-term transit funding.

Second, one of messages the PC party is using to oppose tolls is out of step with reality. Their anti-toll petition website suggests tolls on the Gardiner and DVP are unnecessary because “we’ve already paid for these roads.”

That doesn’t sound like a road that’s been paid for.

Third, even though it’s been two decades since the PC’s under Premier Mike Harris nearly destroyed the TTC, I still find it hard to give much transit credibility to the party.

If Brown wants to be seen as someone Toronto can trust on transit, here’s a good first step: acknowledge that Harris’ cut to the TTC operating subsidy and the decision to fill in an under-construction subway tunnel on Eglinton were mistakes.

Fourth, consider this: even if you’re ready to curse Tory’s name for his toll plan — and I have my own misgivings — do you really think the city shouldn’t have the autonomy as a mature level of government to decide whether or not to toll its highways?

The notion that Toronto — a government larger than all but four provinces — should have to ask Queen’s Park permission to raise revenue using city-owned assets is absurd.

It stems from the paternalistic idea that cities aren’t capable of governing themselves.

That’s the biggest problem I have with Brown’s anti-toll act. It’s not enough that provincial politicians have refused to fix Toronto’s transit funding imbalance — now some of them want to stand in the way of Toronto’s plan to try to fix things on our own.

This post was originally published at on 2016-12-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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