Province of Ontario holding back Toronto’s potential

“Transit City is over, ladies and gentlemen.” With these words Rob Ford, the recently elected mayor of Toronto, set off a media firestorm. Facebook petitions were launched, left-wing councilors cringed and former mayor David Miller went on the offensive defending all the people in Scarborough he never bothered to serve as mayor.

The reality is that people who argue in favour of Transit City are missing the big picture. Toronto needs a real transit plan that deals with the concerns of drivers, pedestrians, transit users and cyclists. Transit city clearly goes against the needs of drivers in the city, who are harassed enough as is.

Efforts to manage traffic in the region have been pitiful. Metrolinx, the Ontario agency tasked with creating and implementing a regional transportation plan, has failed to address this. As our cities grow outward the number of cars in Ontario will grow. We should be basing our traffic management off of major shipping countries like the Netherlands, which has arguably the best traffic management system in the western world. The G.T.A needs an adaptive system that better informs drivers across the G.T.A on route delays and construction, so that they can make their own decisions on what route to take.

The current Metrolinx transportation plan is so terrible it supports the usage of tolls to clear roadways up for public transit. Compounding the problem in Toronto is the use of two isolated computer systems to inform drivers of traffic problems: the COMPASS and RESCU systems. Synchronization of present systems and a new political climate are desperately needed if the G.T.A is going to successfully manage traffic on its major roadways and build the public transit it desperately needs in the future.

Despite all the problems, the issue however of whether or not to build Transit City in Toronto has been vastly overshadowing a much more substantive and important debate over what responsibilities cities should have in governing themselves, including areas such as public transit.

Toronto gives billions more than it ever receives back from the province and federal government, only to be left outside of Queen’s Park and Parliament hill each year with its hat out begging for change in the dead of winter. The funding problems that Toronto has experienced in its efforts to build subways in the past is directly related to the redistribution of wealth between the major cities of this country and less productive cities and rural areas. This is not an unfair statement. Between 1986 and 2002 Toronto residents paid an average of $1,717 more to the provincial and federal government in taxes than they got back in services compared to other residents of Canada.

This issue comes from our archaic 140-year-old constitution, which divvied up provincial and federal responsibilities at a time when Montreal had twice the population of Toronto.

As a result of this ridiculous piece of parchment, provincial and federal politicians see the wealth created by the major cities of this country as an all you can eat buffet. If you are a federal politician who wants to put a gazebo in Orrville, Ontario, don’t worry; put it on Toronto’s tab.

Despite a tax base of more than two million people, Toronto has very little ability to fund a transportation plan on its own. While the Stronger City of Toronto for a Stronger Ontario Act gives a number of additional avenues for Toronto to raise taxes, raising taxes is not the answer to pay for public transit in the city. Torontonians pay enough taxes already. If we want to move forward as a country and build our cities with properly managed transportation systems, we need to reconsider how we address our cities politically first.

Thanks to Quebec opening up the constitution for amendments is out of the question, as Brian Mulroney learned with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. The only realistic avenue for Toronto to gain the powers it needs to permanently address its long term challenges is to make the Greater Toronto Area its own province. By this I mean Toronto and the municipalities immediately surrounding Toronto.

Toronto is bound by too much to provincial legislation to simply expand the Toronto Act. The G.T.A needs the ability to plan for the future itself, without being hindered by politicians living outside of the G.T.A The region can no longer afford to subsidize the hinterlands of Ontario, particularly Northern Ontario or to be tied down by lengthy environmental assessments. The Constitution Act of 1871 is all that is needed to create this new province, provided the consent of the Ontario legislature and Parliament to redraw the boundaries of Ontario. Although it is certainly not an easy goal, it is not as difficult a task as changing the constitution outright.

The reality is Canada’s financial capital Toronto is changing. In the last 10 years the G.T.A has seen high levels of job growth in the periphery regions of Toronto, meaning that more and more people each day are commuting into the suburbs for work. This change is ongoing, and will radically change how the G.T.A is going to have to manage traffic and transit concerns in the future. Until our politicians deal with the root issues at hand, like how we deal as a country with the powers vested to our cities, Toronto’s congestion will continue to get worse. Queen’s Park and Parliament need to stop bleeding our cities dry, and start helping them succeed for a change.