TORONTO – The city's resources and its ability to raise the necessary funds to develop infrastructures are highly questionable. After all, the city has a cash shortfall of 7 billion dollars.
The mayor talks a good talk. It would be awesome if a mere press conference at Bloor and Yonge would suffice to solve Toronto's traffic conundrum. Unfortunately, infrastructures are built with funds.
Last Tuesday, the mayor discovered a great secret. He stated that without the Province's contribution, the city of Toronto cannot afford new projects. That’s big news?
John Tory knocks at the Province's, door asking it to contribute 40% of the total cost of all projects. Implicitly, he is threatening that Toronto may never fulfill the hope of a subway line extending into Richmond Hill. It remains a dream in the making … maybe … or as the ancient Greeks used to say: it’s "in the mind of Zeus.”
Finance Minister Charles Souza's upcoming new budget may include some spare change for the city of Toronto but, as of recently, the Province is not disposed in the affirmative.
Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, has categorically accused John Tory of playing politics.
No other provincial government has invested more in Toronto's transportation needs as this government has done, claims Del Duca.
His list of projects carries a price tag of 12 million dollars and include the Eglinton LRT (under construction), the UP express from the Pearson Airport to Union Station, funding of the Scarborough Subway and of Tory's Smart Track, along with the purchase of new streetcars.
In the current economic climate, the City will not be able find $7 billion - it would be absurd to raise taxes on properties. Just the very idea of it makes one shiver. 2018 is around the corner. How many voters will rush to the ballot box to support the mayor for having increased their tax load?
Other countries, finance infrastructure programs employing formulae that do not rely as heavily on the Municipality’s input. Rome, for example, is building a new subway line (La Linea C). The national government contributes 70% of the cost, the Lazio Region 5% and the City of Rome 18%.
For the Madrid subway, the central government obtained a long-term loan from Germany that guaranteed to pay their obligations (bonds) in full. Elsewhere, Central governments take on the total cost of construction.
In Canada, the formula tends to split the load equally among the three levels of municipal, provincial and federal government. It puts excessive strain on municipalities because they have restricted revenue streams.
Hard negotiations, with often accentuated political overtones, become the norm.
The Scarborough LRT had been fully funded by the provincial government. It was cast aside by Rob Ford because he wanted the subway instead. John Tory insists with the same crazy idea. If the projected costs of the subway will reach the $5 billion mark, as expected, it may never be built, because for many the cost is not justifiable.
And, under the circumstances, that would be a reasonable outcome.
But reason sometimes takes strange short cuts. In The Betrothed, Alessandro Manzoni famous literary masterpiece, the author recounts the tale of the poor Don Abbondio. Alas, Abbondio, on the way home one day, ran into “I Bravi” (the bullies of the time) who blocked his way. “It is our Right!” the thugs yelled. Don Abbondio thought to himself: "Great locus for Rights to end up”.
John Tory was accused by Minister Del Duca of playing politics. Even if one wishes to absolve him of this sin, something is sure: traffic is getting worse. The Scarborough subway is preventing the realization of other viable projects. The Scarborough LRT, with seven stops, would have been completed in 2019.
Now, as it happens, we don’t have the LRT and the Scarborough subway is turning out to be more and more like a fable, a mere obsession of the mind.
Toronto deserves better.