LORINC: Andrea Horwath and NDP miss the bus

During her brief and uninformative performance at the Toronto Region Board of Trade this morning, NDP leader Andrea Horwath did nothing to dispel the growing sense that her party hasn’t got a clue when it comes to the GTA’s transit debate.

In a speech and the scrum that followed, Horwath — who also got a grilling on Metro Morning last week — stuck to a very slightly modified version of her reveal-nothing position on the looming Metrolinx investment strategy, which, in a nutshell, looks like this: She doesn’t like tolls or other revenue tools that would burden working families. She wants to find a “fair and balanced approach” — no details given, except opposition to road tolls — that likely includes more corporate taxes and possibly higher income taxes on higher earners. And she wants to read the report when it comes out in May before revealing her hand.

On the crucial question of whether she would earmark government revenues for transit, Horwarth’s hedge seems to be, a dedicated tax stream if necessary, but not necessarily dedicated regional taxes.

“On big projects like this, if people aren’t behind it, you create such a backlash, an ugly situation, that you can’t move forward,” she told reporters. “This isn’t a hurry up type of process.” [my emphasis added]

Huh? Has she taken the TTC at rush hour recently?

As it happens, Horwath had a highly revealing answer to that question. After becoming leader, she says she spent two whole days riding the TTC and came away from what can only be described as one of the shortest political fact-finding tours I’ve ever encountered with a determination to not repeat the experience. She is, however, prepared to rag the puck. How’s that for empathy for the working folks?

Horwath, of course, refutes any suggestion that the NDP has come late and unprepared to the GTA’s transit debate. “We’re very serious about this, not only for Toronto but all of the province,” she said, citing the NDP’s pledge to cover half of the TTC’s operating shortfall during the last provincial election. “We want to go forward in a way that gains some consensus so people can get behind it.”

Asked to name what she regards as the highest priority project in the city, Horwath seemed to indicate that politics — and not sound transit planning — has been the NDP’s guide: “I think it’s those neighbourhoods in the outskirts of this city that aren’t receiving the transit they need.” When a reporter asked about the Downtown Relief Line, she replied: “I think it’s a mugs game to try to divide this city in terms of who needs transit more. We have to address all of these concerns.”

Sounds to me like the NDP leader thinks the DRL is all about relieving congestion for downtowners. Maybe she needs to turn off the Ford’s radio show and realize the value of the line in Scarborough and North York.

Horwath, of course, is negotiating with Premier Kathleen Wynne about the terms and conditions of her support for a forthcoming provincial budget and the current government, so she’s definitely not in policy mode.

Still, the NDP’s conspicuous lack of engagement on the transit file, outside of supporting the Clean Train Coalition’s goal of electrifying the airport rail link, is nothing less than perplexing, especially given that it’s critical for her to hold on to downtown NDP ridings with high transit ridership — Davenport, Parkdale High Park and Toronto Danforth.

Horwath’s studied vagueness comes on the heels of Olivia Chow’s equally non-committal position on the use of dedicated revenue tools, as reported here last week in the run-up to the federal budget [PDF].

On Thursday, Finance minister Jim Flaherty announced that the budget would include a total infrastructure envelope of $53 billion over ten years – a number that includes new measures such as extending the program to ten years from seven (important for long-term projects) and indexing the $2 billion/year gas tax to inflation.

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which praised the measures, Ottawa’s average annual infrastructure outlay will be $1.4 billion per year, which is slightly more than the $1.25 billion average over the past seven (see Department of Finance chart attached). The budget also renewed $380 million for affordable housing, as well as homelessness programs based on the Housing First strategy pioneered here by David Miller’s administration.

After the Tories tabled the budget, Chow — in her role as transportation critic for the Official Opposition, as opposed to a putative mayoral candidate — released a table claiming the budget slashes over $1 billion a year from infrastructure. But some of the programs she claims have been discontinued had already reached the end of their lifecycle, while others were part of the elevated level of infrastructure funding approved as part of the stimulus meant to counter the 2009 recession.

“From a municipal point of view,” the FCM says, “the budget maintains and slightly increases the annual value of expiring federal infrastructure programs.”

Chow and Horwath, of course, have a parliamentary duty to criticize the regimes in power. But the chorus of Torontonians who are waiting for specific alternatives — proposition, not opposition — is growing with each passing day, and with each rush-hour subway train that’s too full to take on more passengers.

Maybe if Horwath spent more than two cursory days riding the rails with the common folk and reading Ed Levy’s ebook on the politics of transit paralysis, she’d understand the time for difficult political decisions is upon us.

photo by Shabzillaa

23 comments

  1. Dude, she wants to read a report that comes out in May. That’s only a month away. The Board of Trade just tabled their proposal. Chill out already. You could have filed this article away for publication in six weeks. By not doing so you appear to throw yourself in with the axe grinders who have been slowing down this monkey fight for years. Patience and perspective.

  2. Andrea Horwath was incredibly disapointing on Metro Morning and again today. She can wait for all the reports she wants, but we all know the solution to funding public transit – its more money. You’ll have to get it form somewhere, and closing corporate tax loop holes, isn’t goign to cut it.

    This is one of the more disheartening performances by a politician in recent memory and panders to the worst kind of populism. The Liberals are very beatable, but unfortuntately they (and the green party) are the only ones really talking about transit funding in a way that makes sense. Hudak, doesn’t even enter into this discussion.

    So, here we are again and I may have to vote for a party I have grown to loathe, because they are the only ones I think are taking public transit and mobility seriously – and are electable.

  3. In reading this article I’m disappointed that the question of increased taxes on corporations is not given a more serious consideration. Given how much ink is spilled on all the other revenue generating options shouldn’t we be considering it at the very least? A combination could work miracles at building transit not just for Toronto but the entire GTHA. It’s unfortunate that we aren’t given figures to at least assess what ballpark we’re talking about in looking at an increase.

    Corporations pay taxes because they make profit in a society that is well run, efficient, and has a competent workforce. What’s wrong with asking those companies to pay a little extra if it means their employees can show up to work earlier and travel across the city quicker? Surely we’ve not all sipped the Kool-Aid on Reaganomics and the Laffer curve in Ontario, have we?

  4. The Funding Plan and the Transit Plan cannot be looked at in isolation. Without a Funding Plan, the Transit Plan can’t be implemented. Withough a good Transit Plan, people will not agree to the Funding Plan.
    When will we realize that the people do not accept the Transit Plan and that is why nobody will commit to the Funding Plan.
    If we would cancel Transit City and built all subway components first (DRL, Yonge, Sheppard to Downsview), then perhaps there would be more agreement on funding.

  5. “Fair and balanced” now where have I heard that one before?

    As I said in the Chow story, Horwath is every bit of a fraud no substance populist as Ford and Hudak.

    Little substantive policy, much pushing of populist hot buttons. What’s next? End the corporate gravy train? Dollar buck beers?

  6. Last time i checked NDP is not the government. For 8 years Liberals had a majority, their record on the transit file speaks for itself– flip flopped on Transit City funds, closed Northlander, failed to return funding to pre-Harris levels, failed to stand up Mayor Ford, dithered on bike infrustucre.

    Liberals had their chance to fix gridlock in Ontario–they had choices: they chose to reduce corporate taxes, wasted billions on scandal, protecting their political interests.
    Now after 10 years they suddenly woke up to the fact that gridlock is costing everyone.

    Why is John Lorinc and Liberal media calling out the NDP? Andrea has not said no explicitly to new revenue tools, what she has said is she wants to wait another month for the full report to be tabled. She has said clearly that she wants a fair and balanced approach to new revenues. Once again Andrea has shown why she is the most trusted leader in Ontario.

  7. Sorry Brett but which corporate taxes? The ONDP have promised to close some loopholes & not cut corp. taxes, but they have already promised this money to helping with balancing the budget.

    How many times can they promise the same money?

    Sorry but this is not a plan by the ONDP.

  8. I want transit infrastructure built. I want operating costs and capital costs to be leveraged by governments across the region, because I understand that transit infrastructure moving into and out of Toronto as well as transit infrastructure *in* Toronto gets used by riders from all over the region.

    I believe the province has a responsibility to pay for a substantial portion of operating costs, because transit is a public good and is designed to make our lives better, longer, etc. The province takes this view when it comes to funding our healthcare through OHIP, or when it sets the tax cost of cigarettes or liquor.

    The Federal government also has a responsibility to pay for a substantial portion of the capital costs of these projects. They stand to benefit greatly from improved traffic efficiency and increased productivity in the GTHA. Their participation should be a foregone conclusion. In lieu of their participation, I suspect the region would be satisfied with an increased share of federal tax revenue held back at the provincial level for distribution to transit infrastructure.

    The NDP could choose to try and lead the discussion about the transit needs of the GTHA outside the region where opposition to provincial spending is most sternly opposed. The NDP could propose any number of progressive methods for developing the revenue necessary to implement these crucial pieces of the network. Instead, it isn’t saying or doing anything of the sort.

    The OLP doesn’t get a pass, either. We’re in this mess because McGuinty kicked the implementation of Transit City down the track for purely political reasons in 2008. Additionally, the OLP isn’t willing to take it on the chin and try to change the discussion about transit in the rest of the province.

    And so the likely outcome of any commitment on behalf of either the ONDP or the OLP to substantial, long-term transit building is the election of Tim Hudak. Good for Tim. Bad for the rest of us.

  9. This morning Andrea Howarth confirmed that the NDP is committed to a comprehensive regional transit plan, and that we will need to pay for it with new revenue tools that are fair and have public support. The NDP is looking forward to the Metrolinx investment strategy in June, but Andrea also specifically said that corporations should expect to pay more for these much-needed investments.

    So for those keeping score, here is the running count of specific revenue tools endorsed so far by Ontario’s parties to help pay for The Big Move:

    NDP: 1
    Liberals: 0
    PC: 0

    Just curious: who decided that corporate taxes are now out of bounds? Five years ago the Liberals handed out corporate tax cuts worth $2.5B a year, an amount that by itself would have funded The Big Move. So there is significant money available. We certainly won’t ask corporations to pay for all of the The Big Move, but we think it is fair that they should pay for some of it. And so this is where our eyes are pointed right now.

    Another curiosity: why does John Lorinc dismiss concerns about a Big Move backlash, given this City’s recent experience with Transit City, which Andrea cited during her speech as cautionary tale? That plan was poorly-understood by the public, wrongly described even by the TTC as a streetcar plan, not a rapid transit plan. This confusion allowed an opening for mischief-makers like Rob Ford to launch one of the most destructive, anti-transit campaigns in Toronto’s history, aided and abetted by the Liberal government. The Sheppard LRT would be opening for business THIS YEAR if it had not been for Ford and the Liberal government. Do we want this to happen to The Big Move? I sure don’t.

    Many Spacing readers may assume that there already exists overwhelming support for The Big Move and a funding strategy across the GTHA. But one visit to places like Oshawa or Halton or even Scarborough shows this is not yet true. Despite the outreach work of Metrolinx, Feeling Congested, CivicAction and the TRBOT, the tragic fact is this: so far only one-fifth of Ontarians even know what The Big Move is. And of those that do, many assume that only Toronto will benefit from it.

    And so they are suspicious, and they have questions.

    For example, the people of Milton and Oakville want to know why Metrolinx has delayed all-day Go Train service, or why stations have disappeared from the plans, while Toronto is getting a new subway to Vaughan. Others ask whether the Liberals will waste these billions on private consultants when contracting the construction work, just like they did with the Presto fiasco (not to mention ORNGE, eHealth, etc…). People living in Rexdale want to know if the City of Toronto is going to use provincial funding as an excuse to cut taxes instead of improving services. This is no small concern in a City where the Chair of the TTC votes to freeze taxes and cut bus routes almost as often as she lectures to others about their commitment to transit.

    These are good questions. And so far the Liberals have been so busy praising themselves for their willingness to “have a conversation” that they have not noticed that some people are actually speaking to them, trying to have a conversation, and their questions have not yet been answered.

    That is not an excuse for inaction. That is a challenge. It is a challenge for the government, and also a challenge for the NDP, for Spacing readers, and for anyone else who is committed to a comprehensive transit plan for the GTHA. And it is a challenge I am confident this province can meet.

  10. A few weeks ago the majority of the NDP voted in favor of a Tory bill, Bill 3, to dilute the share of the gas tax received by cities to pay for transit. This bill would hit Toronto the hardest. And while the majority of the NDP were voting alongside the Tories to support it, their city members were hiding in the hallway. Andrea Horwath and Roasario Marchese and Jonah Schein all hid in the hallway while their party voted with the Tories to dilute transit funding for cities. Instead of standing up to their party or standing up to their constituents, they hid.

    This is fact. You can see it in the Hansard online.

  11. Rosario, nobody are suggesting that corporate or personal income taxes shouldn’t be part of the funding package, and you are right to criticize the Liberals for having Metrolinx exclude them from their discussions. You are also right to point out that this Liberal government has anything but a shining record on transit policy.

    The problem is, your party’s policy already has the majority of money that’s reclaimed from corporate tax cuts committed to other things, leaving $100 million per year for transit capital projects for the whole province. The GTHA alone needs 20x that much money. For Andrea to speak of corporate tax cuts as an unending fountain of free money to fund anything is just as dishonest as when right wingers treat “efficiencies” in the same way.

    The “wait and see what’s in the Metrolinx report” talking point is no good any more. We both know that there will be nothing about corporate or personal income taxes in that report. The time for “wait and see” is over. Why doesn’t the NDP just tell us how you would raise $2 billion a year, and stop dodging the question?

    You party is losing an enormous amount of credibility on this issue. It’s time to sort this out and come clean with a proposal ASAP, or you will be a major contributor to the political gridlock everybody complains about when talking about transit.

  12. The politics of blandness is not going to work for Horwath or the NDP … nor is it going to create better transit when Metrolinx still has to not only identify the revenue tools but make its plans (and especially the plan of action) clear to the public.

    Sure we have The Big Move but there is no clear implementation plan and a whole host of misguided priorities. To top that all off, it’s clear that Metrolinx is going to continue allowing Ford and others to use transit as a political football…even though they fumble that football most of the time.

  13. Horwath has been a staggering disappointment unfortunately. Pick a position already and stick with it!

  14. Mobility politics can be quite volatile – though also carrupt, as all three major parties are likely to try to align themselves with the votorists and their perceived interests, and thus, we can also short future generations by catering to the present. Past examples of the curious splits are the vote to kill off the Front St. Extension (aka the Pantalone Parkway) – though nobody managed to advocate trying to look at a transitway instead of a road. Also, the killing off of the Vehicle Registration Tax was very lopsided, and a move to get to a study of road tolls led by Cnclr Matlow was defeated, including from some NDPers.

    We are missing just how much cars are subsidized already: too bad the BofT won’t get into those details, which Vancouver found amounted to $2700 per car each year only 15 years or so ago. (Other estimates go higher). And why no mention of re-instating the VRT – which would at least be a good faith gesture to tackling transit issues maybe?

    And meanwhile, a cheap and easy way of expanding the capacity of the Bloor/Danforth transit spine languishes – simply repainting the street, (Bloor St. W. first please) would let riders choose safer biking, and load-shedding could occur. Repainting a street is only $25,000 a km which compared to all the tens of millions for this and that is almost free, and with the attendant health benefits from biking does make it sensible. But – we seem poised to ignore this option in the repaving of Bloor just beginning because we need to have an EA study to repaint the lines on the road, but routine rebuildings that shove along many tons of road and once-Escarpment are so “normal” that such energy intensive works escape scrutiny.

    Remember that in Curitiba, which didn’t have money, they got to big busways to give them the capacity of a subway for about 1% of the cost. The ingredient was the political will to boot cars off of streets for public transit. We should start with Bloor, but Queen and King would also be helpful – why not have a transit mall and improve core transit? We might not need a DRL for however many millions if we had political will.

  15. Rosario makes some good points, but fails to explain Mrs. Horwath’s public veto of certain taxes.

    If the NDP is really intending to return corporate tax rates to the levels they were at 10 years ago, then come out and say it. They’re not going to, they’re just using it as a talking point.

  16. One might argue that it is Vaughan that is getting a subway to Vaughan, not Toronto.

  17. Rosario, what’s the score for parties which have *ruled out* taxes? Let’s all thank your party for showing Respect for Taxpayers(TM)!

  18. It’s not Horwath and the NDP who have missed the bus on the transit debate. It is the so-called “Progressive” media, including the scribe who penned this item. I’m all for improving funding for transit BUT the recent report by the Board of Trade is the very definition of self-serving. The Board of Trade rightly points out that congestion in the GTA has implications for economic growth and prosperity, not only for the GTA, but also for the province and the country, and yet the bulk of their prescription seems to be more taxes on the average joe and jane within the GTA, while minimizing the costs for their own members (ie the corporate sector). That’s chutzpah.

    If congestion in the GTA is so vital to the economic wellbeing of the province and the country, then it is less than fair that it be funded on the backs of average citizens in the GTA, many of who (as Horwath rightly points out, are STRUGGLING). The Board of Trade’s recommendations are little more than the corporate sector’s ongoing effort to reduce their taxation levels and shift the costs of public challenges onto members of the ordinary public.

    I think few people will deny that congestion is a problem and that more funding needs to be made available for transit. But there are different ways of arriving at that funding, such as having the corporate sector pony up a bigger share and also enlarging the share funding from federal and provincial income taxes (thereby broadening the pool of the general public that money is raised from).

    I’d also like to point out that there is a fundamental feature of this discussion that never seems to get addressed — and that is whether the GROWTH projections for the GTA that have been put forth by govt. and business (a key factor in the worsening congestion) are valid and/or even desireable. The public is constantly told (by the Board of Trade types and the corporate sector in general, Developers, Banks, even by most politicians at all levels and across the spectrum) that WE all benefit from growth. I would suggest that SOME are benefitting from growth — but not all. Report after report shows growing income inequality, stagnant wages, high unemployment/underemployment and increasingly unstable workplace conditions. In fact, a recent report found that HALF of the jobs in the GTA/Hamilton area are “precarious employment”. The fact is that you have these conditions means that there is a tremendous OVERSUPPLY of labour across the GTA. Yes, someone is benefitting from the growth taking place in the GTA — the cheap labour employers, developers, banks, etc. But certainly not everyone…. or even most.

  19. Gotta love some of the contradictory statements from Horwath and some of her defenders commenting here.

    Example one: road pricing will hurt those struggling
    This is a bit rich considering the most economically vulnerable are in places that are least served by transit. So their logic goes something like this: generating money to build/improve new transit to help the disadvantaged is bad because it hurts the disadvantaged.

    Horwath seems to think its okay to keep those that are economically struggling stuck in congestion because she needs time to fight road pricing. Brilliant.

    Her whole talk about closing corporate loopholes and taxing corporations is fine & dandy, but its only a smidgen of the revenue needed to fund the GTHA’s transit needs.

    I’m not giving a pass to the Liberals, but there will be time to critique their respective rev tools. Until then, I can only lament the horrible job Horwath is doing for those she claims to be fighting for. I want her to propose solutions, not just oppose.

  20. @samg I’d point out that the Board of Trade called for a $1.2 billion parking levy. This money must be collected from large commercial property owners — shopping centres, commercial complexes, industrial malls and so on — that will be faced with the problem of collecting said amount. I’m guessing that Yorkdale won’t be putting toll gantries on its parking lots, so the fee will likely be a pass-through on leases to tenants. To me, that begins to look like corporations paying their fair share of the GTA’s gridlock burden. Or am I, uh, missing the bus?

  21. @JohnLorinc, I would say that given WHO will be the key beneficiaries from improved transit (as well as the increased growth that the corporate sector and their political apologists continuously tells us we need), the Board of Trade’s call for a $1.2Billion parking levy falls far short of a fair share from the corporate sector…so, yes, it still looks to me that some writing on this matter are missing the bus. Also, one point that I didn’t which I will add now is that to the best of my knowledge, the BOT’s proposal leaves out any suggestion of increasing development fees, which in Toronto (and most of the GTA) fall far far short of the increased cost pressures on infrastructure (including transit infrastructure) that is resulting from the increased growth that has been allowed to take place. Again, I will reiterate the point that some have benefited from this growth — but not all… or even most. I will also reiterate that I am all for increased monies for transit… but the proposal put forth by the Board of Trade and its defenders seems extremely unfair. And I feel the NDP is right to be critical of it. By all means, people have a right to defend the BOT’s plan. But that doesn’t give them the right to describe it as “progressive”.

  22. @Brent, @Rosario, @samg, I agree that your combined call for some of the tax burden in this funding plan to fall on corporations, but instead of scoring political points, why not propose some?

    How about this example: New York City has a payroll tax on corporations that goes directly towards funding transit construction projects under the direction of the MTA. Why not try the same here in the GTA? A payroll tax on medium to large sized businesses could be levied, and the proposed increase to a GTA wide sales tax shrunk in proportion. This way, everyone still invests in better transit for the city, but the burden on lower income families is eased, with businesses picking up the slack.

    It’s a start, no? And a much more positive one than slinging mud around. No one is suggesting that the Board of Trade’s report constitutes a set-in-stone funding plan, so I don’t think it makes sense to criticise it as such. I see it as a much needed prodding of the politicians at both municipal and provincial levels to *start debating this now* so we can both spread the message of what the Big Move is, why it’s necessary, and begin discussing how we’re going to pay for it.

    Rosario is right: if we cannot get Ontarians to invest some of their time and attention into learning about the Big Move, they will surely never want to pay for it. That will precipitate a political race to the bottom in the next provincial election, effectively killing it.

    Please, don’t slag either political parties, leaders or the Board of Trade; instead, cherry pick the best ideas, add some of your own, and synthesise a better, more equitable funding plan.

  23. @LeeZamparo… I don’t understand your comment that no alternate proposals have been put forth. If you read the posts, I think you will see that a number of proposals have been put forth to redistribute the tax burden… so that corporations are carrying a more appropriate share AND so that the burden is spread beyond your average Joe/Jane who lives in the GTA. I won’t speak for other individuals, but I don’t see my comments as mudslinging or slagging. As for your comment that one not criticize the BOT’s proposal as a “set-in-stone funding plan”, I would stress that BOT has put forward this plan as a fair, viable plan. And on that basis, people are certainly entitled to criticize it as to whether it actually is a fair and viable plan.

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