Ontario’s opposition parties warn the Liberal government will pay a political price if it approves tolls on two major highways leading into downtown Toronto.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown wants the Liberals to reject tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, and said he’d rescind any such provincial approval if the Tories win the 2018 election.
Brown said last week’s auditor’s report showing Ontario spent hundreds of millions of dollars extra because of poor oversight of road and transit projects shows tolls wouldn’t be needed if the Liberals were better managers.
“If (Premier) Kathleen Wynne wasn’t building bridges upside down, repaving roads every two years when it should be 15 years, we wouldn’t be having this debate,” he said Tuesday. “By allowing these tolls to go ahead, she’s asking 905 commuters and 416 drivers to pay for her mistakes.”
In the legislature, Brown pointed out that Wynne opposed road tolls five years ago when she was transportation minister, and asked if she would block tolls from being imposed on the two Toronto highways.
Instead of a direct answer, Wynne attacked the Conservatives for disrespecting municipalities when they were last in government, and suggested the Liberals would not block any official request from Toronto for road tolls.
“It’s not surprising that the leader of the Opposition – who has no plan for building transit or for building transportation infrastructure, and no plan for where the funding would come from – would be calling on to us take unilateral action against the city of Toronto,” said Wynne. “We’re not going to do that.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory’s office put out a release accusing Brown of trying to “score cheap political points” by opposing tolls as a revenue tool for the city.
“It’s a smart, prudent, fiscally conservative plan, something the Ontario PCs used to get behind,” said Tory’s spokeswoman, Amanda Galbraith.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said the province “will carefully review” any proposal that has Toronto city council support, and dismissed the Tories’ attacks.
“The last time they were in power, their transportation policy for the GTHA was to sell Highway 407 and to kill the Eglinton subway,” said Del Duca.
The New Democrats oppose road tolls that they warn will make life even more unaffordable, and said both the federal and provincial governments must provide a lot more funding for municipal transit systems.
“We’ve seen an abandonment by the other orders of government when it comes to helping municipalities with transit funding,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “The last thing we want in a province where people are struggling to pay the bills is having to pay more to use the roads and the buses.”
Del Duca said the Liberals aren’t worried about a voter backlash in the next election if they end up approving road tolls in Toronto.
“I believe the people of this region will judge us in 2018 according to how we’ve delivered on the mandate they’ve given us,” he said. “If you look across the region today you see literally dozens if not hundreds of projects that are under construction, delivering on that mandate.”
Brown introduced a motion opposing tolls on existing roads or highways that will come up for a vote Thursday.
“This motion will force Wynne Liberals to think about how tolls will hurt their constituents, particularly Liberal MPPs in the 905 and the city of Toronto,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing for the province to very clearly say this is not on the table.”
Tory said a $2 toll would raise about $200 million a year to help transit funding and split the cost between Toronto taxpayers and the 40 per cent of commuters from outside the city who use the DVP and Gardiner daily.