LORINC: Premier Kathleen Wynne Q&A with Spacing on public transit

In January, 2012, I asked in this space who was going to emerge as Toronto’s equivalent of Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A.’s gamechanging civic leader. During a dramatic 2008 referendum, the populist Democratic mayor of the City of Los Angeles fought to win support for Measure R, a 30-year/$40 billion sales tax hike across the entire L.A. County region, with funds earmarked for transit and road improvements.

With a month to go before Metrolinx releases its recommendations to cabinet for financing the $50 billion Big Move, it increasingly seems as if Premier Kathleen Wynne has taken up the challenge. A Toronto politician with deep roots in the city’s civic institutions, she appears to be much more emotionally attuned to the GTA’s ferocious congestion crisis than either her predecessor or the other party leaders.

Wynne has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the province needs to approve new fees, levies and perhaps even tolls to underwrite new subways, LRTs, BRTs and GO services. Yet despite support from business groups and 905 municipal leaders, recent polls show that many residents oppose new taxes. What’s more, she’s taking a huge risk in spending so much political capital on Toronto’s woes.

The Premier sat down with Spacing last week to discuss the issues:

Spacing: What do you say to people who live outside the 416, who probably don’t take transit, and likely won’t be seeing the benefits of The Big Move for years to come and will be asked to pay more for the revenue tools being proposed by Metrolinx.

Premier Wynne: There’s an artificial divide between the 905 and the 416. People travel in and out of different parts of the region for work, for recreation, to visit family. So we’re all affected by the congestion of the region. I actually don’t meet people who live in the 416 or the 905 who don’t believe this is an issue. The issue comes when we talk about how we’re going to pay for it.

Spacing: They will be expected, like all of us, to pay more. But they may not realize the benefits of transit for some time.

Wynne: Except the benefits of transit can be seen when they come into the city or travel across the region. It’s not that if I live in one part of the 905, I’m not going to see the benefits because there’s no transit project being done in that part of the 905. I move around the 905. I move around the 416. I may work downtown. There’s so much fluidity and movement that I really think people get that we all need this transit.

Spacing: What do you say to people who see how difficult it is to commute downtown by subway? Even if the Downtown Relief Line were begun tomorrow, it’s a decade and a half from fruition.

Wynne: You’re right — we are at capacity. Some people have said to me it’s reached crisis proportions. To me, that’s even more reason why we have to get going. We can’t wait any longer. I say all the time, the best time to plant a tree is forty years ago. The second best time is today

We have to understand that the projects being built right now can’t be the end of it. The Downtown Relief Line is a perfect example, because without the Downtown Relief Line, we can’t build a subway up Yonge Street because we can’t have more funneling into that Yonge line.

Spacing: In this debate about revenue tools, some politicians have said, ‘What’s wrong with using the income tax?’ Forty years ago, Bill Davis said, ‘We’re going to fund 75% of the capital cost of transit and 50% of the operating shortfall, and do it through a progressive tax base’? Why is that formula not relevant today?

Wynne: Over the years, the will to do that has dropped away. What I am sensing right now is that people want to see the connection between whatever money they’re paying to get transit built and the transit being built.

Spacing: The federal government recently introduced a new infrastructure plan that will last ten years. We have this ballpark figure of $50 billion [for The Big Move]. Can you explain how the federal contribution fits into this funding picture?

Wynne: I don’t even know what the federal contribution will be. When I look at the federal numbers and our need, they just don’t match up. When I was minister of transportation, I called for a dedicated stream of revenue for transit from the federal government. There hasn’t been uptake on that. You look at jurisdictions around the world. National governments take part in these very large infrastructure builds.

Spacing: Under Premier McGuinty, the Liberal government put in place elaborate policies to contain sprawl in the GTA. Are those mechanisms adequate? Do the assumptions of the Places to Grow Act need to be revisited?

Wynne: There are [legislative] reviews on the books for 2015. When we review those planning tools, we may have to look at how do we do this better.

Spacing: Premier McGuinty initially promised a significant tranche of funding for Transit City. That was pulled back….

Wynne: It was slowed down. The same amount is there. There was $8 billion-ish on the table. We slowed down the flow of that, but it’s still an $8.4 billion build and the vast majority of that plan is being built or will be built.

Spacing: Should GTA residents be dubious about whether you’re going to fulfill your promises? You slowed it down before. Will you slow it down again?

Wynne: Well, our commitment has been clear. We’ve invested over $16 billion in transit. As long as I’m the premier, this is going to be a priority.

Spacing: What is the learning about how L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sold his region on $40 billion in additional sales taxes for new transit?

Wynne: The take-away is that there is the possibility of municipal leaders seizing the moment and tapping into people’s desire to make the situation better. I think it’s an inspirational example. It’s important that we look for those examples around the world because I think sometimes we get blinkered about our own situation.

Spacing: You have expressions of support from municipal leaders in the 905 but the mayor of Toronto is quite expressly against revenue tools. Is that an impediment?

Wynne: Any individual mayor is one member of a local government. Council will ultimately decide on what their partnership is going to be with the provincial government on these issues. I will continue to have a good working relationship with the mayor, but council will make these decisions.

Spacing: We’ve seen problems with Ornge and ehealth Ontario. Metrolinx has developed a very expensive fare card. Why should GTA residents have confidence that Metrolinx is able to manage this enormous amount of money under the current governance structure? Should there not be politicians [on the Metrolinx board]?

Wynne: It’s a question I asked some of the civic leaders [at last week’s CivicAction forum]. We have to ask whether we have the right governance structure in place. I don’t believe this should be a partisan issue. It should be the same type of issue as repairing and rebuilding our roads. Infrastructure is necessary to make the economy thrive. In 2013, we should no more be having a debate about whether we should be building transit than in 1916 we should be having a debate about whether we should be building roads. There isn’t a specific plan to make a [governance] change at this point. But I do think we have to ask ourselves whether we have the right mix of political and apolitical [board members].

Spacing: Are you opening the door to politicians on the Metrolinx board?

Wynne: I’m not opening the door to anything in particular. I just think it’s a question that needs to be asked. At [the CivicAction event], someone said, `there needs to be some kind of political input into this decision.’ We need to continue to have that discussion.

Spacing: You’re creating a large stream of revenue for new capital construction. But how do GTA municipalities or Metrolinx deal with the operating deficit [associated with new services]? Where is that money going to come from?

Wynne: It’s a good question. Part of the answer is the gas tax, which is $320 million a year, of which Toronto gets around half. Again, there’s an ongoing and continuing discussion about operating. I don’t have an answer at this moment. But what I do know is that if we don’t land on a plan to build transit, we’ll never resolve the operating problem because we won’t have the transit that’s needed.

Spacing: Last question. In Toronto, we are having this strange debate about what to call the Downtown Relief Line. Do you want to throw in a nomination or two?

Wynne: No, I’m staying out of that [laughs].


  1. The last thing we need is Rob Ford on the Metrolinx Board. (Of course he would probably never show up anyway.)

  2. A little context SVP. What exactly are the 905 & 416? I assume they are geographical distinctions around Toronto. But beyond that I have no clue.

    One of the 99.99% of the world’s population who does not live in the GTA – but still has an interest in mass transit issues.

  3. “Part of the answer is the gas tax, which is $320 million a year, of which Toronto gets around half.”

    The Gross revenue collect from the Gasoline tax is $2.380 Billion plus another $710 Million from the Fuel Tax (diesel fuel) http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/paccts/2012/12_cfs.html#sch1

    The Government does not spend anywhere near that on roads and transit. The revenue is there, it’s just money is being funnelled to other pet projects.

  4. Here are some questions that I would like answered…….

    Metrolinx continues to use the Places to Grow and Flashforward employment projections to plan where to put transit. Seeing that both set of projections do not reconciling with reality (Toronto is ~300,000 jobs behind the 2013 projections), why would we build transit based on those?

    WRT to the DRL, Toronto has the downtown core has approximately the same number of people working in it as it had in 1989. The Cordon Count has shown that traffic into the core has declined in the AM peak. Going back to the point I raised earlier, without an substantial increase in employment downtown should we not investigate BRT service to alleviate pressure on the Yonge line?

    WRT progressive taxation, what evidence does Premier Wynne have to support her claim that the will to utilize progressive taxation has dissipated? I could envision wealthy political supporters not wanting to support such measures, but I find it difficult to believe that the average person would prefer to pay more so they could more easily understand the balance sheet.

  5. @Tim Whelan, 416 is considered “Toronto Proper” while 905 is the “Greater Toronto Area”, also known as the suburbs. There’s a pointless and futile ongoing fight between people (mostly the 416ers) in these regions who get upset when residents from one region use the other’s transit system, claiming that they paid taxes for it to be built and somehow that means the others are not welcome to use it despite paying full fares.

    @scottd, You kidding? He’d be there for every meeting just to bring “Ford Nation” and have them yell loudly so that nothing productive gets done. Just look at any one of the recent public meetings about LRT vs subways.

  6. In answer to you Glen, BRT IS NOT even a reasonable option. Where are you going to put it? Because I’m assuming that you mean something on the scale of the Ottawa transitway to meet demand. In 1989 before the recession of the early 90’s we were in the exact same position with regards to overcrowding of the Yonge line and a crunch at Bloor-Yonge. It was at that point they expanded the station platforms. Now that jobs have returned and show no signs of disappearing this time, we are stuck, again, with a serious capacity issue with effects that ripple out into the broader system.

  7. Kathleen Wynne says the will to use progressive revenue tools has “dropped away.” But whose will? The public’s will, or the government’s will? Since 1995, the Ontario government has systematically transferred the burden for funding infrastructure away from corporations and the 1% towards everyone else. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, these tax giveaways now cost the public $17 billion a year in foregone revenue. THIS is why we cannot seem to afford to fund transit, not the lack of road tolls.

    And the process continues. Starting in 2015, the government plans to give away even more money to corporations, opening up a new tax loophole that will cost the public $1.3 billion a year in foregone revenue by 2018. If the Liberals truly share the NDP’s belief that transit is a critical priority, then surely transit funding must take priority over yet another corporate tax handout.

    But instead of cancelling these giveaways, the government has doubled down, with the Minister of Transportation accusing anyone who does not support the government’s short list of regressive taxes of not supporting transit.

    The fact is, the public has ALWAYS insisted on a “connection between whatever money they’re paying to get transit built and the transit being built.” The current demand for DEDICATED transit funding (which the NDP supports) is not simply about ensuring that a giant bag of money is delivered to Metrolinx’s door with the words “for transit only” stenciled across it. It’s about public confidence in a government that too often has squandered it, with people left wondering where all their money is going. The public does not want their money wasted on consultants and badly-written contracts that send public funds into private pockets, as with ORNGE, eHealth and the gas plant scandal.

    Consider Presto: when this payment system was being developed via a public-private partnership, then-TTC Chair Adam Giambrone warned Metrolinx that its closed, proprietary system would be inflexible, costly, and soon would be obsolete. Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne told the TTC to shut up and sign on, or else she would cut its funding (she had already cut $4 billion from GTA transit in 2010, inspiring those “Save Transit City” buttons, long before she helped Rob Ford cancel Transit City altogether in 2011). Now we know that Wynne was wrong, and Giambrone was right: poison-pill clauses in the private Presto contract made changes hugely expensive, and so Presto’s costs have nearly tripled, and are likely to rise even more as we begin the huge task of TTC integration.

    Presto was originally budgeted at a quarter of a billion dollars. The estimated cost of The Big Move will be about ten times that … every year … for a generation.

    The NDP supports The Big Move. We want to get it done. We know how much it will cost. But we want it done the right way, not with Liberal private sector misadventures that give us a brand new spending scandal every few months. And we don’t think it is fair to give away corporate tax loopholes worth over a billion dollars a year, while placing a disproportionate burden on Ontarians who are already struggling.

  8. Rosario, the Big Move will be $2B+ a year. You’ve suggested you have around a billion of that in loopholes. Where will the rest come from?

  9. A recent article in the Star (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/04/13/
    and_the_politics_of_conviction.html) suggested that Wynne was helping to overturn the ant-tax agenda of Margaret Thatcher. I beg to differ. Wynne’s championing of user-fees and revenue tools that affect the average citizen shows that she is actually very much in keeping with Thatcher’s REGRESSIVE move to transfer the tax burden from the corporate sector to the average citizenry. (Recall the Poll Tax protests of a few decades ago). Building more transit is a progressive step, but there is NOTHING PROGRESSIVE in the way Wynne and her cheerleaders at the Star are it be done. Rather than being a repudiation of Thatcher, Wynne is a continuation of Thatcher’s agenda to reduce corporate taxes and create policies that serves the market rather than the public interest. The province’s population growth policy is a good example of a policy that serves corporate rather than the public interest. Why exactly does the GTA HAVE to grow by so many million over the next few decades as we are constantly told by politicians and planners at all levels, when real job growth IS STILL STAGNANT as shown by the chronic unemployment/underemployment across the region. The fact that half the jobs in GTA/Hamilton are what are categorized as “precarious” means their is already a HUGE GLUT of labour. I can see why the CivicAlliances and the Board of Trade want the region to grow since it expands their markets, increases the value of land holdings and allows them greater access to ever cheaper labour. But I don’t see how it will improve things for people who actually work for a living and are already feeling the impact of a huge glut of labour.

  10. Jamie,

    I confused BRT with express buses. What I meant to suggest was express bus service, non stop, from every station on the Bloor line between Bathurst and Sherborne that would go directly to the core. Yonge, Spadina, University etc. are not busy.


    Well said, as always!

    Mr. Marchese,

    Kudos to the NDP for being the only party in province that seems more interested in helping people than building monuments. As a party I would suggest that you look at taxing capital gains and inheritances as a means to fund transit (and other programs). Companies and wealthy individuals are sitting on tremendous amounts of cash, with little place to put it to good use. As such, as a society, we should not encourage the creation of more idle wealth. Tax capital gains at the full, not the current half, level of earned income. Treat both sources the same. We need to do this, not only for the betterment of society but also to save the rich from themselves.

    Marriner Eccles (a Keynesian before Keynes) in his testimony to a US Senate Committee used the following to illustrate what must happen…….

    “It is utterly impossible, as this country has demonstrated again and again, for the rich to save as much as they have been trying to save, and save anything that is worth saving. They can save idle factories and useless railroad coaches; they can save empty office buildings and closed banks; they can save paper evidences of foreign loans; but as a class they can not save anything that is worth saving, above and beyond the amount that is made profitable by the increase of consumer buying. It is for the interests of the well to do – to protect them from the results of their own folly – that we should take from them a sufficient amount of their surplus to enable consumers to consume and business to operate at a profit. This is not “soaking the rich”; it is saving the rich. Incidentally, it is the only way to assure them the serenity and security which they do not have at the present moment.

  11. Rosario Marchese, if you’re asking Torontonians to choose between the Liberals’ plan and the NDP’s rhetoric, I know which one I will choose. Please tell your leader that the NDP’s lack of a serious transit plan is embarrassing.

  12. Glen, do you seriously think that express buses from the Bloor line can substitute for a DRL?

    Have you ridden the Yonge line in rush hour? It’s not possible to get on trains at Queen northbound in the afternoon. And the trains are packed north of Bloor, all the way to Sheppard at least. A few express buses to the Bloor line won’t help whatsoever.

    And have you actually tried to drive downtown? There’s no such thing as a “not busy” road. The “express” buses will take ages.

    An Orion VII will carry maybe 70 people if they all cram on real tight. A subway train carries over 1,000 people. Subway trains arrive every two minutes, more or less, during rush hour. How many buses would it take, per minute, to relieve the subway?

  13. Ed,

    72 buses averaging 2 trips per hour each with 50 passengers would give a capacity of 7200 per hour. At a cost of ~50 million per year (guesstimate) it seems a reasonable alternative.

  14. Glen, “72 buses” is a lot of buses. It’s as many buses as are in morning rush-hour service on 29 Dufferin (31), 7 Bathurst (19), and 6 Bay (21), put together, with an extra bus to spare. The TTC puts out 1532 buses in the morning rush hour, and 1426 in the evening. 72 buses would be almost 5% of the total. It’s going to cost a good penny to add 72 buses to the fleet.

    And who is going to maybe wait for a bus which might come once per half hour? There is actually a bus on Yonge that travels to/from Front, which runs every half an hour. I’ve taken a few just because I hate being packed in like a sardine on the Yonge line, and none of the ones I’ve been on have carried anything close to 50 people anywhere south of Eglinton. Even north of Eglinton, where the bus provides local service, it’s not that crowded. In this case, people do want subways, subways, subways, and won’t settle for half-hearted shuttle buses.

  15. Ed what people want is subways, subways, subways when others are paying, paying, paying for it.

  16. Mr. Marchese, it’s good to know that you’re actively keeping an eye on the proper execution of this project. I count on you to provide the proper control that the PCs are opting out of by blindly opposing anything and everything that comes from the Liberal government.

    However, I also count on you not to screw this up. I fully agree with Ms. Wynne when she says that the important thing is to get it done today (if not years ago) and if your party causes another multi year delay by risking a redistribution of power at this time, I know who I won’t be supporting from then on. With all the contractual fuck-ups that the Liberals have produced over the last decade or so, it’s also clear that this is a very important project for the area and Ms. Wynne is dedicated to take it on whatever it takes. I expect you guys to help with constructive support (and constructive criticism where required), and that you don’t throw partisanal wrenches in the project. For the good of the GTHA, please just make it happen faster and better. (With emphasis on faster.)

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