Some ideas on gridlock-solving

July 2, 2014   ·   0 Comments

ONLY TIME WILL TELL whether Premier Kathleen Wynne and her colleagues in Ontario’s new majority government will be able to accomplish what most observers see as impossible: balance the provincial budget before the election now set for October 2018.

Normally, budget-balancing can be a relatively easy exercise for any government that has a majority of seats in the legislature. That’s what is happening federally, by a right-wing government that is accomplishing the feat by reducing services to the public and fiscal transfers to the provinces. Today, there’s precious little doubt that the federal budget to be brought down next spring will include a small surplus in the 2015-16 fiscal year, well-timed for the federal election likely to come in October 2015.

The only problem facing Prime Minister Stephen Harper is that his government is unusually unpopular, with opinion polls showing the Tories well behind the Liberals and leader Justin Trudeau.

But for Ms. Wynne, the budgetary challenges her government faces are truly enormous, in part because the federal government has been short-changing Ontario by up to $1 billion annually and has stopped assuring the provinces that it will maintain its share of the growing cost of health care.

As matters stand, the current deficit is about $12.5 billion, and the Liberal government stands committed to maintaining services while launching a provincial pension plan to supplement Canada Pension Plan payments and spending billions of dollars annually on dealing with the worsening gridlock in parts of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Clearly, accomplishing such feats while  moving toward a balanced budget will be utterly impossible unless some way can be found to reduce planned spending and raise more revenue.

On the expenditures side of the budget equation, it would seem the best the government can hope for is to hold the line on public servants’ incomes, likely by a combination of a hiring freeze (allowing normal attrition to reduce the number on payrolls) and wage hikes limited to inflation.

As we see it, the hope for achieving a balanced budget will involve economic recovery both here and in the United States, as Canada’s major trading partner. Jobs growth south of the border tend to be reflected by similar growth here.

However, we think the government should look to the transportation sector as one area where there is a potential for both significant savings and increased revenue.

In terms of savings, the best idea we’ve heard recently is John Tory’s concept of what might be seen as grade-level mass transit – using under-used rail corridors between outlying areas and downtown Toronto for vehicles similar to those planned for the Eglinton LRT (light rail transit) line or the new service between Union Station and Pearson Airport.

Good as his idea is, it could be improved.

The fact is that most of the rail lines in question are on fairly wide rights-of-way that could carry buses as well as trains.

As one small example, such a “transitway” in Brampton could occupy the former CP Rail right-of-way between Snelgrove and the Brampton GO train station, trimming at least 15 minutes from the rush-hour schedules of GO buses that now compete with Brampton Transit on Hurontario/ Main Street.

With such a facility, GO buses that now take an hour to go between Brampton and Orangeville in rush hours could likely make the trip in 40 minutes, allowing passengers to go to and from downtown Toronto in under the 90 minutes it usually takes a car in peak periods.

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