Highway 407 is capitalism gone wrong

(Graphic by Taylor Gayowsky)
(Graphic by Taylor Gayowsky)

Although I consider myself non-partisan, I do generally identify more with rightward than leftward politics, not only in policy and philosophy but also in attitude.

However, if one wants to look at the problems of the modern right encapsulated in one specific debacle, nothing is a more perfect image of the right’s deficiencies, both moral and practical, than the highway 407 Express Toll Route (ETR).

The story behind this freeway is that the Ontario government, largely under Bob Rae’s NDP regime, had paid for the vast majority of its construction.

The Mike Harris provincial conservatives, however, sold it off to a Spanish private company, Cintra, in 1999 for $3.1 billion. Ever since, this company has charged exorbitant fees for drivers to use the road.

Roads are not like liquor stores, with the latter being an unessential service that should have been privatized in Ontario a long time ago.

On the contrary, roads are the most basic level of infrastructure there is. They are literally how we get from point A to B on a daily basis.

While privatization makes sense for many things, and there is still a great deal of unnecessary government bureaucracy, any sane conservative would see a privatized highway as an affront to the very idea of society.

The 407 is a road for the rich. And on account of its prices, it is the road less travelled. It is an extreme example of privatization where one of the most basic levels of infrastructure is priced prohibitively so only the wealthy members of society can use it.

It is an example of opposition to government-financed services to the point where even something as basic as a road cannot be free to use, or at the very least, lightly tolled with affordable government tolls as is done frequently in the United States.

If people tried to cover up their license plates on highway 407, I would not blame them.

The 407 would feel more at home in a country where gross economic inequality abounds and where the government-owned free highways are so lined with bandits and potholes that the wealthy use their own alternative toll highways to avoid these problems.

Privatizing highways is a radical, far right capitalist notion that neither the NDP nor Liberals support.While there are radical leftist views on opposing the construction of all highways, it was the Bob Rae government that helped facilitate the 407’s construction.

Although the highway was sold for a mere $3.1 billion, the government’s construction costs prior to the handover had been $1.6 billion, but moreover, the government had paid around $100 billion to acquire the right-of-way to build the highway.  In 2010, the Canada Pension Plan purchased a 10 per cent stake for $894 million, implying a value of around $9 billion for the entire highway.

Not only was selling the 407 socially irresponsible, but the government was shortchanged on the sale too. Now, the Ontario government has plans to build a $1 billion eastward extension, completing the 407 bypass around Toronto.

The government will spend this billion to build and control a relatively small portion of a highway that is otherwise entirely out of their control.

Highway 401 through Toronto is one of the busiest freeways in North America, and yet the ownership of a sorely needed bypass highway to alleviate congestion was deferred to a private company charging exorbitant fees.

The 407 could be an essential part of the GTA’s freeway network, giving Ontarians a bypass around the GTA if its eastward alignment, meeting back with the 401 east of Oshawa, was completed. It would also be essential for commuter traffic.

While some of the communities served by the 407 are wealthy suburban communities inhabited by people with money, there are a great number of people who would benefit from the use of this highway but are simply unable to afford it.

The government needs to buy back this highway to make up for one of Canada’s worst examples of capitalism gone awry and privatization taken to its utmost extreme.

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