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Mulcair says federal government should have a role in funding big city transit

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair hung onto a pole in a subway car as it hurtled under “Canada’s most important city” on Tuesday, and talked about who should pay for improving Toronto’s transit system.

“We’ve got to get more money, generated out of tax revenue, to come to the rescue of urban transit issues in our big cities,” he said, in an exclusive interview with Metro, conducted on the Bloor-Danforth subway line, heading westbound from Castle F rank to Keele.

Mulcair and the NDP want to devote another one cent of the existing gas tax to transit projects specifically, which would contribute an extra $420 million a year to new transit in Canadian cities, including $90 million for the GTA.

His party is also launching national consultations on urban issues. Mulcair is making the case that the entire country should care about the fate of our cities, because Canada’s largest cities are the country's most important economic engines, and everyone should help pay for transit systems that keep them moving.

However, Toronto’s transit needs are expensive and municipal and provincial politicians call for more federal funding often. Metrolinx, the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transportation authority, has developed the Big Move, a plan for transportation and transit in the GTHA that costs $2 billion a year for 25 years.

Mulcair didn’t say the federal government could, or should pay for all of the Big Move, only that it “has a role to play” in funding transit expansion and would play a bigger role if it replaced the governing Conservatives in power.

Other than the extra $420 million from the gas tax, the NDP hasn’t committed to any other new, dedicated revenue for transit, but details could emerge in the party’s next electoral platform. In his leadership campaign, Mulcair called for dedicating $500 million a year to transit and one day increasing that to $2 billion.

Asked about the current debate going on at Queen’s Park and City Hall over instituting revenue tools to pay for the Big Move—such as a gas tax, sales tax, road tolls, payroll tax or a parking space levy—Mulcair declined to weigh-in, other than to reiterate his point that Toronto alone shouldn’t have to pay, when others benefit, too.

“If the question is what can the 2.6 million people of Toronto do to pay for all of the GTHA, that’s not a fair question. If the question is what can the 5.6 million people of the GTHA do to pay for the entire province of Ontario, that’s not a fair question either,” he said.

The question is a political one for Mulcair, considering that the provincial NDP hasn’t officially announced its position on the revenue tools issue, except that Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has said she’s against tolls and raising taxes to pay for transit improvements.

Asked about the political spats at the provincial and municipal level that have derailed transit projects in Ontario in the past, Mulcair said an increased federal investment in transit wouldn’t usurp the province’s and cities’ decision-making power, but would allow it to show some leadership.

“Health care is a purely provincial jurisdiction, yet the federal government plays an active role in working with the provinces and territories because we made it a priority,” he said. “We should do the same thing with urban transit.”

Finance Minister Flaherty responds

In response to Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s announcement of the consultations on urban issues, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released a statement to The Canadian Press saying Mulcair was “no friend” of the Toronto area.

“The NDP and Thomas Mulcair have rejected every single investment made in the (GTA) since 2006,” Flaherty said in the statement.

“Even worse, the NDP voted against the GTA getting more, long-term, predictable infrastructure funding every year by voting against our positive action to double the gas tax fund, make it permanent and index it for inflation.”

Flaherty said Mulcair’s plan is to bring in new taxes, such as a carbon tax, will take money away from Canadians.

-The Canadian Press

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