Liberals Lack Lustre

The Ontario Liberal Party has recently unveiled its election platform. It’s to be commended for getting its policies out early, and I will admit that it takes courage to open up ones’ policies for critique. This, however, should not spare them from criticism.

Going to the horse’s mouth and reading the Liberal’s election platform, I would have to say that the Liberals’ proposals sound good, but mean less. My main interest in the upcoming provincial election is public transit. Ontario needs it, and we’re not getting it. Will any party come forward with the $400 million per year spending increase needed to ensure that the Greater Toronto Area (and the rest of the province) doesn’t choke on congestion and pollution. Both the Liberals and the NDP hammer the Progressive Conservatives for their atrocious record on transit, but do they offer anything better?

The Liberal Party’s commitment to public transportation in Ontario is a little hard to find. It’s tucked away in under their Environmental policies. Here is what they have to say:

  • Public Transit Renewal: For every litre of gasoline purchased, two cents of the existing provincial gasoline tax will be dedicated to public transit, generating an additional $312 million a year in funding for public transit infrastructure.
  • Dramatic increase: Public transit trips will increase dramatically, by 25 per cent or 175 million trips per year.
  • Historic transfer: The fact is that the Tories eliminated funding for public transit in 1998, and only started to reverse this in 2002. In contrast, we will double what the Tories are providing, amounting to one of the largest transfers of revenue to our cities and municipalities in Ontario history, leading to an historic expansion in public transit.
  • Cost/Benefit: Gridlock not only costs our economy billions of dollars in lost productivity, but a car stuck in traffic pollutes almost three times as much as a regular car trip. Expanding public transit will ease gridlock and clean our air. Under this plan, $312 million in tax revenue will be transferred to municipalities, but the net increase in taxes for taxpayers will be zero.

And that’s basically it.

You notice how they try to make it sound more impressive than it really is? It looks as though they have a four step plan, but it all comes down to one thing: If elected, the Liberal Party will raise $312 million per year, by diverting funds from the current provincial gas tax, and give that money to public transit agencies across the province. By this, they promise that they will increase public transportation trips by 175 million trips per year, although they’ve laid out no concrete plans on how to do this.

It doesn’t seem like so much when you lay it down like that, and it’s not. We’re still a long way off from the capital and operating commitments the provincial government granted the TTC before 1996. The Conservatives have promised to hand over roughly $100 million per year to the TTC’s capital budget for the next ten years, covering a third of the TTC’s expected capital costs, and although the Liberals have said that they will double that amount, they don’t say whether or not that will be enough.

Remember, GO Transit requires $100 million per year over the next ten years to push through the improvements it needs just to KEEP UP with current growth patterns. The TTC needs an additional $100 million per year to what the Conservatives have already promised in order to meet its ten year capital budget — a budget which seeks only to maintain CURRENT SERVICE LEVELS. And what about the TTC’s operating deficit? The TTC needs an additional $78 million in 2003 in order to prevent fare increases and service cuts. Already we are well into the Liberals’ $312 million, and we haven’t even considered the needs of the rest of the province, much less talk about expanding the subway network.

As plans go, it’s a good start. Transferring a portion of the province’s gas tax has been something municipalities have been begging for. And I applaud this party’s other environmental measures. But all the Liberals have done is waved their hands around and spoken vague platitudes on subjects we like to hear. It has always been my sense that the Ontario Liberals are expecting to coast into power, demonizing the mess that Mike Harris created, but making few commitments to clean it up. This vague election platform does nothing to change that impression.

The Liberal platform makes no specific mention of the TTC or its capital budget problems. It makes no mention of the need to expand the TTC and GO Transit’s heavy rail network. It offers money, but no blueprint on how it will be spent, and it does so while promising not to raise taxes significantly. With this portion of their environmental plan this vague, how committed are the Ontario Liberals, really, to fixing Ontario’s environmental and transportation problems?

Unless the Liberals improve their election platform with concrete proposals on how to raise the money needed and what projects the money should be spent on, I’ve not been given sufficient reason to vote for them. Remember, the Conservatives are returning to the public transit funding table as well, and given a choice between McGuinty’s vague and airy promises and Eves vascillating record, many may decide to go with the devil they know.

I recommend that anybody who wants to see the Liberals take a tougher stand on behalf of the TTC write to express your dissatisfaction at the vague nature of the Liberals’ proposals.

E-mail Dalton McGuinty himself, and why not carbon copy the Liberal Party while you’re at it?

And why not send letters to the NDP and to the Minister of Transport, showing them how to critique the Liberal plan or, better yet, challenging them to better the Liberal promises with promises of their own?

Tell every politician what you think. A provincial election is around the corner, and politicians are starting to show some interest in what we think. The decisions made in the next year will have a great impact on the future of public transit in Ontario, and the quality of life in this province.

The Liberal Party can do a lot better with their proposals. Let’s hold their feet to the fire.

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