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Toronto and Transit After McGuinty

Given the clear -- and seemingly unshakable -- lead of the Ontario Liberals, the media has moved on to analyzing what the Dalton McGuinty government is going to be like, and what its prospects are. Readers of this blog will be interested to know what's in store for Toronto.

Some of us are a little impatient to see results. After eight hard years, John Barber observes the mood here:

Yes, there is a menacing overtone in the bell-ringing welcome Toronto is preparing for the hero McGuinty and his horde. First, we will placate our new overlord by ritually executing all remaining Tories in the public square. Then, without either cleaning or sheathing our bloody weapons, we will smile and turn them on him. Time to collect the bounty.

However, things aren't going to be so easy. Trouble is to be found on several fronts.

For one thing, the Eves fudge-it budget was never really balanced by anything more than vague intentions. This has been exacerbated by the challenges that have faced Ontario in 2003. McGuinty's response to this has been to clarify that his spending promises will only be rolled out when they are affordable, based on his tax freeze and his promise to not run a deficit. Jeffrey Simpson writes about this challenge today.

In a competitive environment, Toronto will have to compete for resources with all the other parts of the province. This won't be easy. Although the city has been thoroughly hosed by unfair Harris restructurings, this current state of affairs is the new status quo. Reversing downloading won't be seen as rectifying a wrong; it will be seen as "helping out the cities" -- and this means that such help will have to come out of the pool of politically-doable assistance for cities.

Consider transit. One issue that seems to have helped McGuinty built support across the GTA is gridlock. The Liberals have promised to create a "Greater Toronto Transit Authority" to integrate the city's transit system with those in 905. This may make suburban voters feel better, but it won't actually do much to improve transit. The barrier to broad use of transit in the suburban GTA has very little to do with the inconveniences of connecting from one system to another, and everything to do with the structure of the community: suburban sprawl.

Money spent on integrating Toronto with other transit systems, is money that can't be spent on the TTC. And right now, there's not a lot of new money being promised. From the Globe and Mail:

Two cents of tax revenue from every litre of gas pumped in the city -- the centrepiece of the new deal Mr. McGuinty promoted yesterday at the Toronto Board of Trade -- won't go far enough to satisfy either. When fully implemented after a planned phase-in period, the scheme will deliver about $40-million a year to support public transit, small change in that game.

What Toronto actually needs, according to budget chief David Shiner, is $250-million a year. That projected budget shortfall is due almost entirely to the Tory-era withdrawal of former provincial funding for transit, housing, social services and public health, according to Mr. Shiner.

The only consolation is that it could have been worse. The Tories' highway-building plan -- supposedly designed to reduce gridlock, but actually a great boost for suburban sprawl -- would have been a pure disaster.



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