I don't often reference journalists, as individuals, in my home town Toronto, but Edward Keenan has written a very good article on the transit
situation in The Toronto Star
, that should be read and pondered by all interested parties.
Here is a telling quote:
It shows the per-rider subsidy of major North American and Canadian transit systems — that is, the amount of money per passenger that the
government chips in to fund the system over and above what those passengers pay in fares. Chicago’s is $2.04, Boston’s $2.12, Los Angeles’
$3.00, New York’s $1.52 — and those numbers are in U.S. dollars, so you can bump them up about a third to figure Canadian equivalents. Closer to
home, Vancouver’s subsidy is $1.86 per rider, Calgary’s $1.69, York Region’s $4.56. And then there’s Toronto: 90 cents per rider.
Chicago Bus Fare $2.00 + $2.04 (Subs.) + $1.33 (Exchange) = $5.37 (Real cost in Canadian $)
Toronto Bus Fare: $2.90 + $ .90 = $3.80 (Real Cost)
In Chicago a transit rider pays $2.66 (Can.) for a ride versus $2.90 paid by a transit rider in Toronto.
During the last mayoralty election in Toronto, I started a number of threads focusing on the so-called "Smart Track" financing plan put forward by
the subsequently elected candidate, John Tory.
This plan, in my stated opinion, would greatly increase the debt load of the city because the Tax Increment Financing
aspect of Mr. Tory's
plan would not have provided enough tax revenue to enable the city to clear the cost of transit expansion, except over a disproportionately long
period of time, as compared to the time it would take the federal and provincial levels of government to clear the cost of their contributions to the
I also indicated that the plan fitted in nicely with a trend in government, noted by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, of downloading costs
to tax payers in an overall effort to reduce budget deficits. The Ontario government, quite egregiously, in my view, went so far as to congratulate
itself on doing this sort of thing.
Objections to this trend were the cornerstone of the political program of the much maligned incumbent Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford. Naturally, I was
firmly in the Ford camp on this issue, to the point of complete indifference to his roundly criticized and often lampooned personal behavior.
When one looks at transit issues in Toronto, one becomes aware of the impact that positions taken by the province of Ontario and by the federal
government of Canada, have on our local situation.
Mr. Keenan's article has the merit of isolating a very telling metric that bears on the transit picture, that is, the amount of subsidy received by
the Toronto Transit Commission, to cover operating expenses.
The question becomes, "What are our politicians to do about this situation?" To frame it even more sharply, "What are we citizens to instruct our
politicians to do about this situation?"
The tendency nowadays in government, which can be seen in publications of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, is to increase taxation, increase
user fees, invent new taxes, anything but insist that the higher levels of government put more into the municipalities.
By the end of his article, Mr. Keenan seems to suggest, or leaves the implication dangling, that it is time for our local politicians to confront the
other levels of government and to demand more money from them.
Of course this needs to be done, but it begs another question, "Where is this money going to come from?"
The vast majority of funds available to any government comes from taxation. Other levels of government will have to increase tax levels through
increases in rates or by taxing the hitherto untaxed.
Here we get into issues of tax evasion, tax avoidance, sequestered offshore money and the whole litany of corrupt practices associated with what I
This is what our politics should be about.
If Toronto's transit problems cannot be solved by addressing those issues, then a much larger question looms, and that is, "Can Canadians afford to
Is this country, because of its immense size, and the immense cost of building and maintaining a national infrastructure, simply too expensive for a
nation of thirty three million people to run?
Should we be demanding a subsidy from the Americans in exchange for maintaining their national superstructure?
It can get comical.
During the last mayoral campaign, it became obvious to me that the real Mayor of Toronto is the Premier of the Province of Ontario and that the
elected mayor, no matter who that might be, is simply a functionary in the most important questions related to the city and money.
Not to be too conspiratorial, but I believe that this fact is what led to the tremendous animus in the media, directed against the former mayor, Rob
Ford, who, faced with the financial problems discussed here, began to kick over the traces and to forget just who was running the show in Toronto.
I think John Tory is a decent enough human being to realize that what were issues for Rob Ford, are issues for him too.
What to do?
It seems to me that it is time for the City of Toronto to remove the insulating layer that isolates the provincial and federal governments from the
democratic wrath of the citizens of our great city, whose numbers make up approximately one tenth of the population of the entire country.
My modest proposal is that the City of Toronto refuse, any longer, to participate in the management of the Toronto Transit Commission, and to turn its
operation over to either the provincial or the federal government.
This is a notion that comes out of the Mel Lastman school of hardball politics. Mel wanted to take the city out of the province entirely to get
greater control over taxes raised in the city.
One way or the other, the province and the federal government must be made to face their responsibilities in Toronto, which, in case you didn't know,
is one of the major economic engines of the entire country.