Toronto 'left to fend for ourselves' in Ontario budget
Toronto's priorities, including transit and housing, are conspicuously absent from the 2016 provincial budget.
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It’s a budget for Ontario, just not Toronto.
The provincial Liberals unveiled the 2016 budget Thursday, announcing free tuition for low-income families, $3 billion in new infrastructure spending and plans to regulate the sharing economy.
However, the budget lacks any major new funding for Toronto. There’s no dedicated cash for Toronto Community Housing, and once-touted light rail projects along Sheppard Avenue East and the Lakeshore aren’t even mentioned.
“It looks like we’re being left to fend for ourselves,” said Coun. Mike Layton.
The budget largely reiterates existing commitments in Toronto, including $13.5 billion for Regional Express Rail along the GO corridor and already announced funding for the Eglinton LRT.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa did announce a $178 million boost to the Liberals’ affordable housing strategy, but it’s unclear how much – if any – will go towards helping plug TCH’s massive $2.6 billion repair backlog.
Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the lack of concrete support for Toronto infrastructure “worrisome.”
The budget does mention Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan, which would run along GO rail tracks, but says the project will only proceed if “partner funding” is secured, presumably from the federal government.
“Typically, those projects are funded one third from the city, one third from the province and one third from the federal government,” Layton said. “If the province doesn’t come in, people waiting for their houses to be fixed or for better transit will be waiting for a long time.”
James McKellar, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said it’s unfair for the city to expect handouts from the province when it hasn’t made full use of its own revenue tools.
“Everyone is saying we need the money but we don't want to use our taxing powers to do it,” he said. “There’s a day of reckoning coming, and if the city wants more infrastructure, it’s going to have to bring in user fees.”
In particular, McKellar said the city should consider implementing road tolls on the Gardiner and the Don Valley Expressway, and use the revenue to fund transit plans.
“As a transit rider, I pay a toll every time I use public transit, but when I look out the window next to me, the drivers aren’t paying anything.”