Wynne rejects road tolls for Toronto, Tory calls decision 'paternalistic and shortsighted'
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Friday, January 27, 2017 6:30AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 27, 2017 4:13PM EST
The province will not allow tolls to be placed on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway and will instead double the portion of the gas tax that is given to municipalities for transit, a move that could ultimately provide the city with an extra $170 million annually.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made the stunning announcement in Richmond Hill on Friday morning, noting that there are not the necessary alternative options in place to justify tolls on the two busy highways.
“With this request, I have always said that there needed to be options for people and they needed to be affordable options and those options are not in place,” Wynne said, noting that there are alternative means of transportation for people who wish to avoid provincial toll roads like Highway 407. “The conditions are just not right and that’s why we made this decision.”
The portion of the gas tax that will go to municipalities will increase from two cents to four cents by 2021, though the tax itself is not going up.
Based on the amount of revenue Toronto received from the gas tax in 2016, the city would be in line to receive an additional $170 million annually as of 2021.
Speaking with reporters, Wynne contended that city is getting exactly what it asked for and admonished those who favour road tolls as an “ideological position,” noting that Toronto is “getting the same amount of money that was put forward in the proposal.”
Mayor John Tory, however, rejected that notion while speaking with reporters at city hall after the announcement, calling Wynne’s decision “paternalistic and shortsighted.”
“Simply put Toronto is being forced to contend with major issues like housing, roads and childcare and then told we are not able to take the measures that we choose to take to address those financial needs,” he said. “That is shortsighted, it is not right and it will ultimately hurt the Ontario residents that need transit and housing the most.”
Tory said the additional revenue from the gas tax is good news for Toronto but he said it is likely to fall short of what the city may have generated through road tolls and will "certainly" fall short of the city's overall needs.
More generally, he said that the about-face from Wynne undermines Toronto’s autonomy and “severely limits” the city’s ability to solve its own fiscal challenges.
“It is time that I stop being treated as a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants and saying ‘Please, could you help me with something that is in the City of Toronto Act that I can do’ and being told ‘No, come again another day’ when houses are falling down, transit needs are not being met and transit is in chaos,” Tory said.
City staff have previously estimated that a $2 toll on both the Gardiner and the DVP would generate $166 million annually while a $3.90 toll would generate $272 million.
That said it should be noted that the motion approved by council in December did not make any specific stipulations about what the toll would be or how much revenue it would generate.
“I have a bit of tunnel vision on transit and an extra $170 million a year for transit is fantastic news but I think there will be a lot of questions about how will the difference be bridged between the amounts that are now being committed and what we could have generated (from tolls),” TTC Chair Josh Colle told CP24 following the announcement. “The toll could have been up to $300 million a year in some of the scenarios.”
The provincial City of Toronto Act identifies road tolls as a possible user-fee available to Toronto but it states that the city "does not have the power to designate, operate and maintain a highway as a toll highway," unless a regulation is made under the act.
Wynne initially expressed a willingness to consider signing off on that regulation but changed her mind, following repeated criticism from PC Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
In an interview with CP24 on Friday, Horwath described the doubling of the gas tax revenue given to municipalities as “meager” and said that more funding will be necessary to keep Toronto moving.
“You can’t run a transit system in an international city such as Toronto on a property tax base,” she said.
The portion of the gas tax going to municipalities for transit will increase by half a cent per litre in 2019-2010, another half a cent in 2020-2021 and then a full cent in 2021-2022.
The gas tax resulted in 99 municipalities receiving $334.5 million for transit in 2016.
In a statement issued late Thursday night, PC Leader Patrick Brown described the ruling out of tolls for the DVP and Gardiner as a “victory for affordability.”