Ontario's 2018 budget promises relief for Toronto transit riders, parents
Mayor John Tory says Liberal budget is a good one for the city
The Liberals are offering a steep discount for some Toronto transit riders, while also vowing to make some child care free in a bid to win over voters in the city.
If elected, Premier Kathleen Wynne's government would set a $3 fare for all GO Transit and UP Express trips for those using a Presto card — matching the TTC's rate. Mayor John Tory says he believes this is a "game-changer" for transit in the city.
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The government's also backing up its $2.2 billion promise to provide free child care for kids aged two-and-a-half until Kindergarten with a plan to spend $534 million over six years to build new spaces across the province.
Both moves appear to be aimed squarely at the pocketbooks of those in vote-rich Toronto.
"This is a budget that ensures more money in people's pockets," Finance Minister Charles Sousa told reporters.
However, Sousa refutes the suggestion that this spending is just an election move, saying the new initiatives are part of long-term plans.
PC Leader Doug Ford accused the government of buying people's votes with their own money. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the budget a "last ditch" effort to hang on to power.
But at city hall, Tory is calling it a good budget for Toronto, praising a number of "big wins."
Around this time last year, the mayor was accusing Queen's Park of treating him like a "little boy in short pants." Tory laughed when asked about his pants on Wednesday, before saying he believes this budget shows the province recognizes Toronto's needs in a range of areas.
"I'm encouraged by what I see today," he said.
The Liberal government's plan to slash the price of GO Transit and UP Express trips within the city would provide a significant break for some commuters. It also clears the way for a key promise of Tory's SmartTrack plan: that fares will be the same as the TTC.
The government also says it will begin discussions with the city to determine whether the province should take ownership of the TTC's subway system — a plan that was part of former PC Leader Patrick Brown's "People's Guarantee" and one Ford says he backs as well.
Tory says the city will only allow that if there are clear benefits, like additional funding for other transit projects, and the decision would need council approval.
Inside the budget lockup, the Liberal transit plans led Ford to call for more subways to be built in Toronto, including a three-stop subway in Scarborough.
"As our city's growing up, we have to go under," Ford said.
Currently, the city's studying a one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line and even that plan is controversial due to its multi-billion dollar price tag.
Tory says he'll meet with Ford before commenting on specific proposals, but he doesn't want to get into "redebating and relitigating and redrawing" transit plans.
"It will lead to the same place it's always led in the past: no transit gets built in a city that desperately needs transit and has needed it for years and years," Tory said.
Horwath reiterated her party's plan to fund 50 per cent of the TTC's operating costs.
The province recently announced its committing some $4 billion to transit projects in the city, matching federal infrastructure funding.
The Wynne government says it's also working on fare integration between the TTC and neighbouring transit agencies. It hopes to settle on a deal that could save some $1.50 per trip for cross-boundary travellers.
Meanwhile, those outside Toronto will also get $3 GO Transit fares, but only on trips that are less than 10 kilometres.
Liberals say free child care could save Toronto parents $20K a year
Toronto parents pay the highest child care fees in the country.
Coun. Janet Davis, the city's child care expert, says the province's pledge to make child care free for some kids is a "good first step" to dealing with that, however she cautions the government will have a lot of work to do to ensure there are enough spaces to meet the demand in the city.
"The challenge remains, can we actually deliver that," said Davis.
The government estimates the move, which would start in September 2020, will save Toronto parents with one child some $20,000 per year.
In 2016, the government announced a plan to open 100,000 new child care spaces. The proposed budget features $534 million more over the next six years to build 10,000 more preschool spaces in schools and community spaces.
The government's goal is to provide subsidies to 60 per cent of the parents using those spaces, something the budget document says is "moving Ontario towards universal accessibility."
Davis says she hopes future governments will achieve that. "All parents need to have their fees reduced significantly, including, or in particular, those who are paying infant and toddler fees of over $2,000 per month," she said.
Both Horwath and Ford criticized the child-care plan.
The NDP leader says her party's platform, to be unveiled soon, will do more to support parents.
Ford blasted the plan, saying "it's amazing how [the Liberals] promise millions of dollars for children that haven't even been born," but didn't say if he would scrap the idea or what he'd prefer to see instead.
Other perks proposed for the city
- The government is also creating a 10-year, $100-million Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area fund, which aims to help small and medium-sized businesses. The Liberals suggest it could create some 19,000 jobs.
- The budget includes new funding to build the Toronto Community Justice Centre in Moss Park. The facility, the budget notes, would focus on helping marginalized people or those with mental health and addictions issues get the care they need.
- Ontario Place, the recently spruced-up waterfront landmark, will get another improvement. The 2018 budget features money for planning and design work on Celebration Common, a proposed green space the size of 14 football fields that will host festivals and community events.