Time To Get Serious. Seriously.

July 7, 2010

If anyone wants to see just how out of touch Toronto’s 5 front running candidates for mayor are on one of the more pressing matters the city faces, they should take a glance through Toronto City Summit Alliance’s recently issued Time To Get Serious: Reliable Funding For GTHA Transit/Transportation Infrastructure report. Seriously. It’s not nearly as dense as the title suggests. Even just a quick read through the 7 page executive summary would do the trick. Wouldn’t hurt the 5 candidates in question to familiarize themselves with the document either.

The first thing that jumps out from the pages is what the report refers to as our glaring lack of a National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy. We are the only OECD country that doesn’t have one. The only country. Let me repeat that because it bears repeated repeating. Canada is the only member country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that has no overarching national strategy for public transit.

That means the Slovak Republic has one and we don’t. Turkey has one and we don’t. The most free market oriented country around, the United States has one and Canada doesn’t.

Without a National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy, there is little hope of securing stable, long term funding for big ticket transit initiatives. What that leaves us with is the present ad hoc, most politically expedient mish mash of projects that get money (or don’t) depending on whim, the weather or some other inconsequential intangible. That’s not a strategy and leads inexorably to the traffic and transit chaos we now have making our lives miserable.

Now wait, wait, I hear you saying. A National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy? So what’s that got to do with our mayoral race? Mayor means municipal, right?

Yes it does. What a National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy means in terms of the ongoing mayoral race is that candidates running for the office must stop talking about the city going “hat in hand” or “begging” the province for the proper transit funding. “Getting our fiscal house in order” has nothing to do with the province (or Ottawa ultimately) doing its part — no, duty — when it comes to transit. Conflating those two ideas is disingenuous and entirely beside the point.

Demanding that the provincial and federal levels of government participate fully and equally in the development of a city and region wide transit plan and financing is neither begging nor going hat in hand. As the TCSA report shows again and again, this city and greater region cannot address issues of congestion, traffic induced pollution and transit coordination without the province and feds sitting down at the table not on their wallets. Pretending otherwise is simply pandering and short-sighted.

So what’s a would-be mayor to do about recalcitrant senior levels of government?

First, speak truth to power. Stop enabling our Prime Ministers, Premiers, M.P.s, M.P.P.s to walk away from the issue of transit. They are the laggards on this not us, and have been for decades now. We have not dropped the ball, so shouldn’t be apologizing and acting all Oliver Twist-y, asking for please sir, more. It is not begging to demand every level of government own up to its responsibilities. Mr. Rossi? There was a deal in place with Transit City. All the ducks were in order, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Guess who reneged and pulled a cool 4 bil from the table? The province. Guess why. Their fiscal house wasn’t in order.

Secondly, stop coming up with magical, unrealistic ways that you’re going to build all those subways we apparently want. Selling Toronto Hydro? A fraction of what is needed. And if it were so easy to get the private sector on board to build and/or operate our transit, don’t you think they’d already be at it? We’ll just sell the air rights over new subway statio—zzzzzzzzz.

Try this one on instead, Rob Ford:

As mentioned in Section 2.4, the reliable, long-term revenue streams from such funding sources will make it possible to issue bonds for the up-front investment capital needed…using the revenue streams to make interest payments and repay the borrowed capital over the lifetime of the new rapid transit facilities. Such debt financing not only expedites the construction schedule but also enables the private sector [bolding ours] to participate – along with the public sector – in raising capital. This, in turn, makes it possible to spread the financing risk between the public and private sectors [again, us] and harness more fully the productive capability of the latter public/private partnerships (PPP) [and again] and alternative funding and procurement (AFP) arrangements.

There is no single, silver bullet solution to restoring our transit system back to a working state. According to the TCSA report, “… it seems clear that more than one of the potential [funding] sources will be required – no single source would be sufficient.” In other words, it’s going to be complicated. Not only that, but the TCSA suggested funding sources consist of either tolls, taxes and/or levies. Ouch! That’s going to be hard to gibe with your slashing, burning, union busting and general all-round anti-tax platforms now, isn’t it. Finding efficiencies will not build this city a better transit system.

Near the conclusion of its report the TCSA states that, The local governments in the GTHA have not always been up to the task of engaging residents in a constructive and open dialogue. Take heed, all those vying to be the next mayor of Toronto. If you can’t engage the voters “in a constructive and open dialogue” about transit on the campaign trail, it will inevitably lead to future disappointment and disillusionment once you assume office. Be honest and forthright about your goals and intentions. Start by reading this document and coming to terms with the reality of our transit situation. There are no easy solutions. Stop pretending there are.

badgeringly submitted by Cityslikr