Who will be paying the new Toronto transit taxes?

By MPP Toby Barrett

The Province of Ontario – after five years of study – has launched a $50 billion plan to build subsidized subways and public transit in the Toronto area.

Guess whose paying for it?

Of the $16 billion spent so far on Toronto’s transit, $13 billion has come from the Ontario taxpayer. As for the remaining $34 billion cost – hang on to your wallet!

The lion’s share of that cost is proposed to come from a five cent increase in gas taxes, and a one per cent increase in the sales tax – taking the HST up to 14 per cent. We in rural and northern Ontario will again be digging in our pockets to help foot the bill, although I know of no one in Haldimand-Norfolk who regularly ‘rides the rocket’ or catches the subway. For years we’ve been paying provincial gas taxes to fund public transit, even though we didn’t have public transit, thus getting nothing back in return. In the tradition of a regime yet to meet a new tax, toll, or levy it didn’t like, the plan for the “Big Move” – as the Metrolinx transit plan has been dubbed – is billing to the tune of $500 a year per family. That household bill quickly rises to almost $1,000 for a family of five with two cars –about $20,000 over 20 years. And any government representative suggesting a “regionalization” of the tax hikes, limiting them to the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), in my view, is either naive or thinks you are. The complicated federal/provincial administration and collection of the HST will likely lead to a province-wide hike. At the same time, jacking up gas taxes in one region and not the other creates unfair competitive hurdles for those gas stations within the higher-taxed region.

Once again government will demand people, who have no subways, no streetcars – those who have no choice but to drive – to fund the transportation needs of their big-city cousins. We’ll believe musings of money for rural roads and bridges when we see the promised two cent a litre tax to be sent back to our two counties.

Given this government’s record of breaking pledges, we have reason to be wary of any promise to commit new tax increases to dedicated purposes – transit or otherwise. It wasn’t that long ago we heard the $1.7 billion McGuinty health tax, “would be dedicated entirely to health.” Ten years later that income tax grab – now some $3.4-billion a year – flows into general revenues and is spent on whatever government fancies.

People are already having a tough time paying the bills. We pay enough in existing taxes for transit, but watch money wasted as a result of ehealth, Ornge, Caledonia and the gas plants.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to pick taxpayers’ pockets, government should seek efficiencies within its own – cut the waste, cut red tape, before thinking of tapping, tapped-out taxpayers. Stop the gravy train if you want to build transit trains. And why not have people who use transit, pay for their transit? Given the far-reaching impact of transit taxes, I encourage Ms. Wynne to call an election and run on the Metrolinx platform – so the rest of the province can get on with a “Big Move” of its own!