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Toronto mayor John Tory leads push from cities for more independence

The mayor penned an open letter, Tuesday, signed by the mayors of Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver

Amid his own campaign for road tolls as revenue, Toronto mayor John Tory is spearheading a call for Canadian cities to have more autonomy in making decisions about how to raise money.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Amid his own campaign for road tolls as revenue, Toronto mayor John Tory is spearheading a call for Canadian cities to have more autonomy in making decisions about how to raise money.

Toronto Mayor John Tory is leading the charge for Canadian cities to have more independence on revenue tools as the debate over road tolls plays out at city hall.

Council endorsed his plan for road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway Tuesday, despite objections from some suburban councillors.

The mayor penned an open letter Tuesday, signed by the mayors of Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver, calling for cities to have more say in how they raise money for infrastructure.

The five cities face many of the same challenges, but need to go “cap in hand” to their respective provinces when looking for ways to cover the cost of things like transit and roads, Tory told Metro.

“If we want to change our socks it seems we have to go and ask for permission,” he said.

Tory said there were some revenue tools he rejected before settling on a proposal to add road tolls to the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. But measures like a municipal sales tax or a tax on booze were quickly scrapped, Tory said, because he knew he wouldn’t get support from other levels of government.

“I’ve discussed it with senior government people - the notion of putting 50 cents on a bottle of alcohol - and they just said no,” he said. “I didn’t stomp my feet and walk away, I just felt it was very unfortunate.”

Tory said he’s not planning to reopen the debate on what revenue tools to use now. Rather, he’s looking towards making it easier to adapt in the future.

In an email, Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Mark Cripps said the government is open to working with both the city and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario “to ensure any decision made reflects the best interest of communities” across the province.

Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor in the department of geography and planning at the University of Toronto, said the letter “reflects the reality that cities across the country are facing” as expensive public services have been downloaded onto their backs.

“The revenue just hasn’t kept pace with the significant increase on the large funding demands,” he said.

The five urban centres banding together and “speaking with one voice” is an important sign of a growing strength within Canadian cities, he said.

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