Toronto council rejects funding tools for transit expansion

Toronto city council has voted against a handful of the revenue tools recommended to it in a city manager's report on how to help pay for transit expansion.

Ford claims victory; Wong-Tam calls vote a 'failure of political leadership'

Council rejected funding tools to help pay for expanded public transit. (CBC)

Toronto city council has voted to reject a handful of the revenue tools recommended to it in a city manager's report on how to help pay for transit expansion.

The two-day marathon council session, that included a long and at times confusing list of motions, ended with councillors voting against any measure that supports a property tax, transit fare increase, personal income tax or congestion levy.

The dedicated sales tax and development charges were left on the table and not endorsed by the city — both funding tools were recommended to council by city manager Joe Pennachetti in a report on the issue last month.

Council did vote to support high occupancy toll lanes, highway tolls or other road pricing, as well as a vehicle registration tax once the first wave of The Big Move projects, or roughly $16 billion, had been completed.

The tools are needed to generate about $2 billion a year to pay for The Big Move — a regional transit expansion plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area — which is expected to cost $50 billion over 25 years.

The province's regional transit authority, Metrolinx, asked municipalities to report back in the next few weeks with a list of preferred tools, but Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee attempted to delay a vote until after the deadline.

Ford was elated council rejected the funding tools and told the Toronto Star that Thursday "is one of the greatest days in Toronto history."

The city's recommendations will now be sent to Metrolinx, which will present them to the Ontario government later this month.

Some councillors were disappointed by Thursday's vote, saying it essentially cedes all future decisions on transit funding over to the province.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam called the result of Thursday's debate a "spectacular failure of political leadership."

"Council has given [the province] little to no clarity on what we would support," Wong-Tam said Friday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "We’ve said nothing to the province, and nothing to Metrolinx."

'We don't have to increase taxes'

The discussion over revenue tools began on Wednesday.

During questioning by councillors, Pennachetti said it was important that Toronto give Metrolinx some direction for transit funding or city residents could end up with higher property taxes.

Ford was questioned by his opponents in council on Thursday over his position on the proposed revenue tools.

"There’s more than enough money, we don’t have to increase taxes," he said. "If we don't have one red cent left then we'd have to look at an alternative way."

A few tense moments arose when TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Ford engaged in a heated exchange.

Ford said Stintz had indicated she would "guarantee" building subways if she was made TTC chair.

"You didn't obviously tell me the truth," Ford said, creating a stir among councillors.

Stintz took to Twitter afterward, pointing out that Ford had backed a 2012 city report recommending road tolls and parking fees to help pay for the Sheppard subway extension:

Ford has said "hell will freeze over" before he supports any proposals cited in the report.

Transit for the next century

Coun. Janet Davis said it was time to have a mature, realistic, discussion about transit.

"I don’t think [Toronto residents] believe the mayor, his brother [Coun. Doug Ford] and the deputy mayor [Coun. Doug Holyday] — that somehow we can build these things with no additional revenues," she said. "The people of Toronto are smart enough to know we don’t get this for free."

Coun. Adam Vaughan said the city was growing and needs a bigger transit system.

 "If we want a transportation system for the next century we’re going to have to figure out a way to build it," he said.

The mayor's brother said on Wednesday that Premier Kathleen Wynne wasn't elected and should consult Ontario residents before imposing new taxes.

"In my opinion she has absolutely no right to go out there and tax the people of this province," Doug Ford said.  

The Toronto Transit Commission's CEO Andy Byford said the city's congestion is a problem that's only going to get worse.

"I think Torontonians are fed up with talk and no action. It's time to get spades in the ground," he said.