As Toronto Star columnist Jim Coyle wrote today, the art of asking a good question during question period at Queen’s Park (and Parliament Hill for that matter) has gone the way of the dodo. Coyle’s advice to the opposition parties: ask simple and direct questions.
Coyle’s logic seems to hold water. During today’s question period, NDP MPP Peter Tabuns had the opportunity to expose a glaring double standard held by the Liberals. Mr. Tabuns could have pointed out that while the Liberals were in opposition, they, led by now-Premier Dalton McGuinty, decried the Mike Harris government’s decision to axe the 50-50 operating funding agreement with transit commissions across the province but haven’t come close to getting back to the 50-50 deal since becoming the governing party. Instead, the MPP for Toronto-Danforth put forward a simple question that caused Minister of Transportation Jim Bradley, a politician for more than three decades, fits: â€œWill the Premier commit to providing 50% provincial operating funds for municipal public transit?â€
Here’s what ensued, courtesy the legislative transcript:
Mr. Peter Tabuns: Will the Premier commit to providing 50% provincial operating funds for municipal public transit?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Transportation.
Hon. James J. Bradley: As the member would well know, we made a commitment before the 2003 election as a government that we would share with the municipalities two cents of the gas tax. You know that the gas tax is 14.7 cents, no matter whether it’s a dollar a litre or 50 cents a litre. Whatever it happens to be is what the provincial government gets. It is not an ad valorem tax. We decided that we would share with the municipalities those funds for transit purposes; that is, to enhance, to expand, to improve upon public transit in those municipalities.
This year, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $314 million of funding was transferred to the municipalities. In addition to that, you will know that our government made additional funding available in March of this year to municipalities because they were facing special challenges in regard to their transit systems. With this money, they’ve utilized that for very good purposes. This has allowed them to spend the money that they need on operations while we assist very significantly with the capital end of things.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: Although I appreciate the technique of the minister for not addressing the question, I have to come back: When will you make that commitment and restore that funding-50%-for operating?
Hon. James J. Bradley: You would be aware, for instance-there’s a note coming in here. It says, “Gas tax at tab 17 and TTC note at tab 39.” [Ed. Note: Minister Bradley could be seen receiving a small piece of paper from a page; the â€œtabâ€ references his binder with his key messages to help him stay on message.]
Hon. James J. Bradley (answering hecklers): Yes, I should know this.
Let me say this-
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Speak to the question, please.
Hon. James J. Bradley: I will definitely speak to the question. The question I’m speaking to is one where you will see the unprecedented investments being made by the provincial government in Move 2020. The area in which you have a specific interest in particular, that of the greater Toronto area, you will know that we have committed a plan that would involve the expenditure of some $17.5 billion, the largest in the history not only of Ontario, but the largest in the history-
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Thank you. New question?
Photograph by Word Freak.