Toronto needs a sales tax to pay for desperately needed transit infrastructure. And we need it now.
Commuters in this city can’t afford any more delays. There’s no time for requests for drawn-out studies from politicians too timid to push things forward. We can’t waste any more of our collective brain power listening to populists like Mayor Rob Ford promise to grow extensive subway networks using magic beans from the private sector. And we definitely can’t continue to wait for meagre handouts from the provincial and federal governments, which turn up only as part of elaborate election promises and then take years to materialize.
This city needs real money to put real shovels in the ground. And a dedicated sales tax for transit is the best way to achieve that.
Council’s recently approved light-rail plan only makes the need for a sales tax more urgent. Those transit links on Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard will provide much-improved service for suburban residents, but they’ll also push even more ridership onto already over-capacity subway trains.
To address these capacity issues on the TTC, former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson is set to launch a campaign designed to build support for further subway expansion — but not the subways Rob Ford wants. The plan she’s backing calls for a rapid transit line serving a U-shaped corridor, providing a new connection from the suburbs to downtown on both sides of the city.
Though her 2010 campaign platform suggested road tolls, Thomson has since come around to the idea of a sales tax to pay for the new line, which she’s dubbed the “city subway loop.”
“The best, most efficient way to build this is with a one per cent sales tax,” she says, a strategy that would raise an estimated $500 million per year. Thomson points out that the city and province already have the agencies and infrastructure in place to collect such a tax — something that can’t be said for road-toll schemes.
She’s not alone in her view. This past week, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion — the one-time queen of suburban sprawl — came out strongly in favour of a regionwide sales tax dedicated to transit. And the wider public seems to be on board too: An April public opinion poll by Environics and Spacing magazine found that 74 per cent of GTA residents are open to the idea.
Public support for this kind of thing makes sense. Ontarians paid a 15 per cent combined-sales-tax rate for years and it’s not as if the recent two-point clawback has had significant impact on people’s wallets. Most people barely noticed the change.
Besides, the negatives of a small tax on purchases are nothing when stacked up next to a vastly improved transportation grid — one that actually gets Toronto moving again.
Read more from Matt Elliott on Toronto politics at Ford For Toronto.