Now, when times are tough, is the time to make things happen
Troy Media – by Bruce Stewart
When times are good, and money’s freely available, citizens don’t spend time worrying about which level of government ought to have which responsibilities.
Change the times: make it a long period of iffy prospects, with little to no growth, and the normal delays of negotiation between governments over doing anything constructive become intolerable.
Europe’s there, of course, now – it’s why the Eurozone lurches from crisis to crisis. But we have our own forms of it right here in Canada.
Nowhere did that become more obvious that when Toronto City Councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn de Baeremaeker put forward a 17 line transit expansion plan for Toronto called “One-City”, to be discussed at the July council meeting. Along with a 30 year, multi-modal extension of service, they also proposed the tax changes required to fund the city’s “portion” of the capital costs.
Transit system expansion traditionally is a joint effort: 1/3 the municipality, 1/3 the province, 1/3 the federal government.
Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, immediately dismissed the plan. It has (horror of horrors!) a tax increase in it. In Ford’s world, subways are built with other peoples’ money and surface systems like bus rapid transit and light rail transit aren’t built at all.
The Ontario Minister of Transport was cool. The head of Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, was also cool – after all, it thinks it is responsible for thinking about the future and drawing lines on maps. Ottawa was simply silent.
When you think about transportation, it’s really a differentiator for a city or group of cities. Being able to move easily makes one place a better place to build a business, to live, to handle the tasks of life.
When you have gridlock on the roads, one way or another you’ve got to relieve the pressure. When everything is built up already, that means finding ways to relieve the number of people who need to drive a personal car everywhere for everything.
If Toronto One-City has a liability, it’s not in the 17 line map. You could argue that this route should be here, not here; that this one should be one mode rather than another.
The liability is that the funding mechanism doesn’t go far enough. Toronto Council should step up and figure out how to fund all of the capital costs, plus the operating costs, on its own.
Here’s the reason why: if they do, they don’t need to wait. The City of Toronto Act allows the City Council the authority to proceed to approve a transit expansion plan. It has the taxing authority. It owns the Toronto Transit Commission – which built every line that already exists. Add money, and all the required elements are there.
If Ottawa is silent, and Queens Park is cool, and Metrolinx has its nose out of joint, too bad. There’s no time lost to negotiation, to reworking plans, to waiting for “better times” – and no risk that a change in government suddenly reverses direction and starts filling in the work you’ve done.
There is only one taxpayer, after all. Does it matter which level of government collects it?
Toronto’s taxes are actually amongst the lowest in its region: it has room to manoeuvre without triggering a tax exodus. If council approved the necessary increase to get started on this, it could then turn to better ways to collect what it needs to benefit from what these lines will deliver. Then it would have money for other much needed repairs and expansion of other city facilities.
Instead of waiting, begging bowl in hand, for the rest of the money, the job would get done – and Toronto, its region, Ontario and Canada would all win. It’s time to seize the day and use the power the city already has.
Of course, that will take an adult conversation at City Council about there being no free lunch, and no free ride on provincial and federal money. Now, when times are tough, is the time to make things happen.
Troy Media columnist Bruce A Stewart is a Toronto-based management consultant. You can reach him at http://about.me/bastewart.