Mayor Tory at least partly right

May 4, 2017   ·   0 Comments

TORONTO MAYOR JOHN TORY was at least partly right in suggesting Ontario’s Liberal government had turned its back on his city by not committing itself to more transit projects and fixing dilapidated public housing units.

“The provincial government appears to have missed an opportunity to partner in the historic investments made by the federal government in much-needed future transit expansion and repairs to our vital social housing,” Mr. Tory said in a statement e-mailed to media last Thursday.

As we see, the mayor was dead wrong in criticizing the lack of new transit money for Toronto at a time when provincial taxpayers are footing the cost of the Eglinton light rail transit line and the government is committed to paying most of the projected $3.5-billion cost of the one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to the Scarborough Centre.

On the other hand, he’s right in blasting the absence of a commitment to address the city’s social housing crisis, which currently includes plans to close 1,000 housing units that have become uninhabitable with no funding to make the needed repairs.

This was, after all, a pre-election budget that contained some goodies, headed by the promise of free pharmacare for everyone up to 24 years of age.

At a time when unemployment in the province remains above six per cent and both federal and provincial governments are supposedly in the midst of funding major infrastructure improvements, we couldn’t imagine a better pledge for a government seeking re-election than a commitment to fund a lot more social housing in large cities and in the short term to fund needed repairs on the existing stock.

But in the budget Finance Minister Charles Sousa did grant Mayor Tory’s request for the authority to bring in taxes on hotel rooms and Airbnb-type short-term rentals.

And as for Toronto’s transit needs, we don’t see why residents of the rest of the province should be on the hook to finance the proposed “downtown relief” subway line or any other project at a time when their residential property taxes are roughly twice as high as those faced by Torontonians.

And if there’s really a case to be made about the government turning its back, the victims are towns and villages in southern Ontario that have lost both rail passenger and intercity bus service, among them places like Shelburne and Alliston where thousands of residents must commute to jobs in the Greater Toronto Area with no access even to a GO Transit bus, let alone GO train service.

It would be interesting, indeed, to see the current provincial government come up with a new type of Sunshine List than would tell all Ontarians how their current property tax burdens compare with those in Toronto. Our strong suspicion is that detached homes now being sold in Toronto have property tax levies below those of an Orangeville house worth half as much.

As for social housing, the situation in Toronto is likely worse than anywhere else in the province. The city has asked the Province to commit to spending about $86 million a year for its one-third share of a 10-year, $2.6-billion plan to repair Toronto Community Housing’s stock of dilapidated buildings.

The housing authority has warned that if more money from the senior levels of government does not materialize, it will condemn and shutter hundreds more units it cannot afford to repair, even as more than 80,000 households are on waiting lists.

Mr. Sousa noted that Ottawa recently committed $11 billion over 10 years for various affordable housing programs across the country, and said his government would “match the degree of capital funding for the work that’s being done by the federal government.”

But he didn’t explain why that commitment isn’t found in the budget.

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