With the likelihood increasing that Stephen Harper may find himself Prime Minister after Monday, local politicians are reviewing Conservative policy and the likely status of various projects agreed to by the previous Liberal government. Some are raising alarms that recent gains could be lost, and others are finding the Conservative alternatives lacking.
Councillor Joe Mihevc is quoted in the Star as saying that the Tories’ transit fare tax credit may force the TTC to increase fares. While the 16% tax credit could get people out of their cars and into transit vehicles, it doesn’t generate the revenues required to ensure there are transit vehicles waiting for those users. Mihevc points out that portions of the TTC, including the Yonge subway, are operating at capacity, and could not handle the additional loads the tax credit might bring, especially if the Conservatives don’t follow through on funding for capital projects. One solution could be to raise the cost of the Metropass by as much as 16% to take some of those tax savings and put it to transit use.
The Conservatives maintain that they will respect the funding agreements reached between the Liberal government and the cities, including the NDP budget amendment that accellerated the flow of money, but they wouldn’t commit to fund certain projects beyond the next couple of years. They did commit to maintaining the flow of five cents of the gas tax money to municipalities, not only to 2009, but beyond.
Clearly, voters will have a lot to think about as they head to the ballot box this Monday.
Personal Commentary: The issue of the Conservative commitment to public transit and urban affairs is a complicated one. If you are looking for a federal party that will make urban affairs a priority, the Conservatives are probably the wrong place to park your vote, despite the fact that they’ve committed to maintaining the agreements the Liberals have signed. The party at its core favours increased decentralization and tax cuts over new spending initiatives, and as such can be considered no friend to public transit. I have said that the Tory tax credit for transit use may get passengers out of their cars, but it won’t get the shovels into the ground, or buy new buses and streetcars, which is what the Toronto Transit Commission needs, right now.
That said, the Toronto Star’s frankly apocalyptic tone regarding a possible Conservative victory does little to help their case. Conservative commitment to current Liberal agreements and to transferring tax points to the provinces and municipalities will ensure that municipalities don’t come off of their federal funding with a bump — at least, a bump they couldn’t plan for. And beyond this, the Conservatives have a point: what business does the federal government have in meddling in urban affairs? On this, our constitution is clear: urban affairs are the sole purview of the provinces, and before Mike Harris, the province of Ontario was happy to fund transit agencies like the Toronto Transit Commission to the best of its ability.
If the federal Conservatives signal that it is time for the provinces to do their jobs properly, especially if that signal comes with a significant transfer of taxation power, then that is a fair argument to make. Ultimately, the voting public will decide which argument has greater resonance.
Whatever the case, if Stephen Harper is elected prime minister on January 23, the sun will rise in the east on January 24. Yes, transit users will have to pay attention to their various levels of government and prod to ensure that their needs are respected and addressed. But hasn’t this always been the case? It will likely continue to be the case, even if Paul Martin is miraculously reelected. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and never expect the fight to end.
A Thank You Note
I would like to thank Brian Bukowski whose hard work has helped make our Transit Alert page relevant and up-to-date once again. This page, set up as a feature almost a year ago, proved difficult to maintain, and as a result the most time-sensitive information, such as the elevator and escalator alerts, got so out of date as to be useless. Brian kindly volunteered to regularly contact the Toronto Transit Commission and pass on the information you see here. Thank you again, Brian. I hope we’ll be seeing more of you in the days and weeks to come.