Political Posturing Won’t Build Transit

April 21, 2013

I abhor faux-populism as much as the next Timmy’s loving, hard working, respect demanding little guy. timhortonsMy bullshit detector is acutely tuned to even the slightest judder of pandering. Common sense? Got it in spades. “Common Sense”? I see right through that, Mr. PR Marketing Man.

I’m a straight shooter and that’s what I expect from my elected officials. Give it to me right between the eyes, I say. I can take it. Brain me. Spare me the gut shot.

After decades of it, faux-populists from the right side of the political spectrum are pretty easy to spot. They refer to voters are ‘folks’. They roll up their sleeves. They don’t put the money they’ve saved folks back into the folks’s wallets but into the pockets of the folks’s jeans. Conservative faux-populists are always on the look out for the little guy but phrase it as ‘looking out for the little guy’. A subtle but very important distinction.

Left wing faux-populists are a little more difficult to spot because they’re supposed to be looking out for the little guy not just pretending to, like their counterparts on the right. bobrobertsYou don’t expect any sort of disingenuousness or duplicity on that subject from the left. Fairness, equality and fighting for those who find neither of those things on a daily basis is basically what those on the left are supposed to be doing.

Yet, I’m beginning to smell the stank of faux-ness from them when it comes to the question of transit at the provincial level.

Over at Raise the Hammer on Friday, the NDP Transport Critic (and my local MPP) Rosario Marchese responded to an earlier criticism of his party’s approach to transit funding.  “… the NDP has identified $1.3 billion worth of corporate tax cuts that the Liberals plan on giving away starting in 2015,” Mr. Marchese writes. “That’s $1.3 billion a year that will no longer be available for priorities such as transit.”

I’m all for finally sitting down and having the debate about the efficacy of corporate tax cuts in stimulating our economy. After years of pursuing such a policy, I think there’s lots of evidence pointing to the fact it does nothing of the sort. eattherichDoing more of the same in the hopes of getting a different outcome is the very definition of insanity and all that.

But we need to start hearing more specifics as to the application of new tax revenues coming in due to the cancellation of the proposed corporate tax cuts. “$1.3 billion a year…available for priorities such as transit.” How much exactly of that would go to transit? In his article Marchese admits that even the full amount wouldn’t pay for the Big Move as it is currently structured. And arguably, there are other provincial priorities that are in as desperate a need for an injection of new cash as the GTHA’s transit plans. More details, please.

Adam Giambrone puts some meat on the bones over at NOW this week, pushing the idea of restructuring personal income taxes as part of the transit funding solution. Wealth taxes and surcharges on those earning $350,000 a year and on the sale of properties worth over $3 million. Actual progressive rates of taxation reflective of an individual’s ability to pay.

Even the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson seems in the mood to talk about the need for new taxes. The table is set. There’s really no need to be coy about it as the provincial NDP seems to insist on being.

Besides, while I’m all for talking about a fairer approach to taxation, when it comes to finding funds for expanding transit in the GTHA, there are limits to relying solely on corporate and personal income taxes. emptytalkIt’s hard to imagine how either could be administered at just a regional level. If they can’t, then you’re asking the entire province to pitch in and finance transit in the GTHA and we all know what a political minefield that is. There would probably have to be more of a province wide transportation plan which would obviously slice the pie into smaller pieces.

And before we go getting all redistributive here, let’s keep in mind that there should be some sort of incentive/disincentive type of taxation when it comes to transit funding too. Tolls, congestion fees and parking levies to force drivers to begin paying a more equal share of their road usage, funnelling that money into public transit.

The devil’s in the details as people like to say now with Metrolinx and Toronto’s city staff putting forth proposals for revenue tools. We need to start getting specifics, and stop hiding behind what are essentially cheap slogans. To my ears, the reliance on a ‘No More Corporate Tax Cuts’ mantra sounds as flimsy and faux-populist as finding efficiencies and cutting waste does in terms of this transit funding conversation. Vague, politically palatable pap that suggests your heart really isn’t in it. tenfootpoleTransit as topic you’d really rather avoid, thank you very much.

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park has moved slowly enough on the transit file, glacially slow most of the time, to have allowed the opposition parties plenty of time to claim it for themselves. Instead, both have shied away and handed the hot potato off, making the government appear like the only adults having a grown up conversation with the public. Empty rhetoric and catchphrase platitudes may a faux-populist make but it’s not going to get us any new transit built.

warily submitted by Cityslikr