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If You Read the Toronto Star, You May Be Confused

In a column today, Royson James writes about the misleading funding announcements that we hear from governments. In this case, he's talking about transit, and it is even worse than I made it seem last week.

As James points out, the "$1 Billion for the TTC" that headlined the Toronto Star last week was nothing to get excited about. Here are the main points of the story:

  • In the late 90s, Mike Harris cut TTC funding off. It had been 50% of the operating cost and 75% of construction, vehicles and maintenance (capital).
  • In 2001, Harris made a comeback. He proposed a plan for $3 billion over 10 years. The province was going to pay 33% of the capital costs and none of the operating costs. The feds were expected to pay 33% also.
  • The federal government refused. I imagine this was because they didn't want Harris to get the glory when he was actually responsible for slashing funding and then demanding Ottawa pay instead.
  • As best as I can tell from the article, Queen's Park didn't come through with their share.
  • During the election campaign, however, Dalton McGuinty promised to live up to Harris' plan. One billion over ten years for maintenance plus 2 cents per litre of gasoline tax, phased in over four years.
  • Last week we got rumours of the big announcement -- The three levels of government will jointly contribute one billion over five years! Hooray! Right? Except, that sounds like less than Mike Harris' plan. McGuinty is giving $333 million over the five years. So is Martin. The rest comes from where it is already coming from, City property taxpayers.
  • What's worse is that there are now rumours that McGuinty will insist on setting up a Greater Toronto Transit Authority and bringing the TTC under its wing. This would bring integrated transit service to 905, but the bottom line means spending a lot of money outside the City of Toronto despite the fact that the projects with the best potential (in terms of riders per investment dollar) are all in 416.

But this is not the most interesting part of Royson James' column, as far as I'm concerned.

What interests me is Royson's lament that the citizens must be confused by all this misinformation:

In fact, the front-page headline last Thursday should have read, "TTC promised $3 billion, Liberals deliver only $1 billion."

Instead, readers were fed the spin of a big transit boost coming to the TTC. And it wasn't until the following day that reality checked in. ...

Now, the average citizen must be very confused by this. We get all the wonderful promises of transit aid, yet the TTC is cutting back on service and raising fares, petitioning the city for money just to maintain operations, and planning to cut back on the most modest plans to increase the number of riders.

Gee, I wonder if the Toronto Star has any responsibility itself for this confusion? After all, the 2.5 million residents of Toronto weren't privy to the rumours until the Toronto Star "fed [them] the spin" in a big, bold headline screaming from every street corner, and only those who came back to read the small print in a Royson James column get to know what's really going on.

I'd like to think that the Star might learn its lesson, but as far as I can tell it has a history of this sort of thing.



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