Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath rejected a Toronto Region Board of Trade proposal to help relieve the city's gridlock problem — including new taxes and a parking levy — saying the measures were not "fair and balanced".

Horwath added that the Toronto Region Board of Trade's recommendations were simply shifting the cost of transit improvements to "everyday folks" and instead proposed that the province should close "huge corporate tax loopholes" to generate the cash.

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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said corporate tax loopholes should be closed before introducing new taxes and a parking levy to pay for transit improvements. (CBC)

"I've said all along that the solutions have to be found, but when the solutions are simply putting the burden of the costs on families who are already struggling, I'm concerned," she told CBC's Metro Morning.

Horwath's comments come one day after the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) released its proposal of four dedicated revenue tools to pay for much-needed improvements to alleviate traffic and transit congestion.

Metrolinx, the province's regional transit planning authority, has outlined the region's transit needs in a $50-billion plan called The Big Move. But existing revenue sources will only cover a portion of that bill.

The four measures TRBOT is putting forward for "serious consideration," which they believe can generate as much as $2 billion, include:

  • A regional sales tax.
  • A $1 a day parking space levy.
  • A 10 cents per litre regional fuel tax.
  • High-occupancy toll lanes in which drivers of single occupancy vehicles would pay 30 cents a kilometre.

"We must act or fall behind," said Carol Wilding, the president and CEO of the TRBOT at a news conference Monday.

'If you don't participate, don't complain'

She said dedicated revenue tools must be implemented to improve mobility and economic competitiveness, and the tough decisions can no longer be deferred.

"For those who disagree with our proposed recommendations … we ask that you respond with an alternative," she said. "Saying no is simply no longer an option. If you don’t participate, don’t complain."

Horwath however dismissed the TRBOT's recommendations, saying that corporate tax loopholes should be closed first before considering implementing other taxes and levies.

She estimated that these tax closures alone could generate roughly $1.3 billion.

"They're not unachievable. They're not magic. They exist, and they need to be closed. And when we get to that point, and we're actually having a fair approach to this, then we'll look at what the options are. But at this point, we're not looking at a fair and balanced approach, the Board of Trade's recommendations are completely unbalanced."

However, Derek Burleton, the vice-president and deputy chief economist with TD Financial group, said the TRBOT's proposals were "sound".

"Obviously no one likes to see taxes go up and fees go up, but, I think we do need to think long term. This is a long term investment that will require upfront spending to get us there," he told Metro Morning.

Gridlock costs hurting business

He said the bank, as well as its clients and employees, are being hit by the growing cost of gridlock.

The TRBOT has long argued that Toronto's traffic congestion costs the city $6 billion each year, a number it says will grow to $15 billion by 2030.

"It is a big issue, I think. It is one of the five key pillars to growing our economy down the road," he said.

Angela Iannuzziello, the vice-president for the transit sector in Canada with EACOM, said she supported the TRBOT's "bold position".

"Our employees are caught in a congestion every morning, as they come into work. It affects their daily lives. The opportunity to take alternative modes, to take transit, to work could allow them the savings of a car on an annual basis. So there's a real benefit to our employees. And there's a real benefit from a business perspective."

Concerns that these measures will hit lower-income families hard can be mitigated, said Burleton.

"The design of taxes can be set up to help shoulder some of that impact, whether you introduce credits in the tax systems," he said. "We can look after some of the disadvantages of the hit."

Iannuzziello said this is the "time to act."

"It's time that we stopped planning, and we stop talking … It's time to act. And yes, all of us need to pay. Every single individual needs to pay in order to see that those dollars that are collected and that are dedicated to moving and building transit in this community."