I wonder if there was a moment, even the slightest of one, where the federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty, regretted wading into the Metrolinx/The Big Move/revenue tools/damned taxes debate now going on throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Last week he fired off a letter to his counterpart at Queen’s Park, Charles Sousa, informing him that any idea the province had of raising the HST at a regional level was a no-no according to HST agreement thingie the two levels of government signed to harmonize their respective sales taxes.
“As you are well aware,” Mr. Flaherty writes in his letter, “the Comprehensive Integrated Tax Co-ordination Agreement signed by the Government of Ontario does not allow for the provincial component of the HST to vary between regions of the province.”
Flaherty then issued a Fordian sounding statement to the Globe and Mail.
Well, hello Mr. Federal Finance Minister. Glad to see you showed up for this debate. Can we have a little chat about your contributions to transit in these parts?
Which, more or less, was the provincial finance minister’s response. Mr. Sousa fired a letter back to his counterpart in Ottawa, asking for a meeting. “Let’s sit down and talk about the funding,” Sousa suggests, “and what it is the federal government is going to do to support Ontario.”
Sadly, this request is not anything new. As has been pointed out, ad nauseum, our federal government has never really been that interested in matters to do with public transit. There was that slight uptick during Paul Martin’s brief stint as Prime Minister but, generally speaking, Liberals and Conservatives (both of the progressive and less so kind) in Ottawa have pretty much kept their hands clean of the file.
There is the jurisdictional matter, of course. Not wanting to step on political toes although, Flaherty’s HST intrusion doesn’t seem overly concerned with that. Historically, the feds dealt with air travel, seaports and rail. Modes of transportation than often operated across provincial borders. The rest was left up to the provinces. Roads and public transit basically.
But… but the gas tax! What about the gas tax? Introduced by the federal Liberals, the Conservatives have now made it a permanent transfer. We’re doing our part!
Not to sniff at the gesture or anything but $13 billion in total between 2005-2014? Spread out over the entire country? And to cover a whole host of infrastructure needs, public transit being a very small portion of that?
OK, yeah. I do sniff at it. It’s a pittance. Shameful. A disgrace.
And don’t get me started on what an infinitesimal fraction it is of the money sent up the chain to Ottawa from a region the size and containing the wealth of the GTHA in order that it trickle back down in dribs and drabs in gestures of political magnanimity by our federal politicians. What’s that line from The Sopranos again? They shit on our heads and expect us to thank them for the hat.
But here’s the thing.
After a while, your arm grows tired beating the drum for a national transit strategy, some sort of positive, significant involvement in the area of public transit from the federal government. Like almost every other developed country in the world has. We get it. You don’t want to be involved. Not Your Job.
So just shut the fuck up then when we’re trying to get along in your absence. You can’t have it both ways. Standing on the sidelines, cracking wise and pooh-poohing efforts to deal with the situation you want no part of. We’ve got plenty of armchair quarterbacks already. In fact, Toronto elected one as mayor.
You want to express an opinion, Mr. Finance Minister? Fine. Belly up to the table and put some real skin in the game. Then we might start listening to what you have to say.
— fed-uply submitted by Cityslikr