Every political figure relishes a defining issue. One that affords them an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in creating and implementing a transformative policy or impression that ripples across a populace or generation.
For Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, transit might be that policy. Anyone that drives anywhere within the GTA-Hamilton corridor is familiar with the crawl. Business claims congestion costs local industries $6 billion annually. Yet all politicians of every stripe at every level for years chose to turn a deaf ear, playing their political capital elsewhere.
Not Premier Wynne. No, she’s contemplating taking the transit issue all the way to an election. Without any support from either opposing party, nor the federal government. And to date, the majority of the voters.
And how will this revenue-challenged province pay for all these transit projects. Earlier this week, Metrolinx released its recommendations as to which revenue tools it suggests Premier Wynne incorporate:
- a 1 point sales tax increase to the H.S.T., netting $1.4 billion
- a 5 cent/litre fuel tax increase, providing $330 million
- non-residential parking levy, $350 million
- development charges, $100 million
While Premier Wynne waits to hear from a panel that represents municipal leaders and Ontarians’ feedback on these options, someone might want to whisper in her ear, “Are we sure we want to do this now?”
When we still haven’t recovered from the effects of the 2008 recession. The United Way and McMaster University recently released a report on employment in the GT/Hamilton region that found:
- 50.3% have permanent, full-time jobs with benefits & security
- 22.5% are full-time employed, without benefits, nor real job security
- 8.8% are in permanent, part-time work
- 20% are in precarious employment earning 46% less than others with no benefits
When Ontarians already pay the highest electricity rates in the country thanks to a flawed Green Energy Plan poorly constructed and executed. In fact the entire Energy portfolio needs a complete rethink, with cutting shears taken to the bloated, misconstrued structure.
When the ORNGE fiasco, OLG executive bonuses, E-Health scandal and the politically-motivated gas plant cancellations that cost taxpayers $585 million and counting is still fresh in voters’ minds.
Surely the business leaders, local newspapers, municipal leaders and Ontario Liberals realize that voters’ trust must be recaptured and financial situation improved, before they are asked to dig deep to fund the $2 billion needed annually for the next few decades.
Why not spend the first year continuing to right this ship. Rethink and reimagine the Energy portfolio, opting for a leaner structure able to nimbly react to changing dynamics in clean technology, energy consumption, and industry. Invest in further energy conservation rather than rushing into more expenditures.
Split the Ministry of Health: Long-Term Care, Hospitals and other institutional areas can form one Ministry. Home Care, Community Health, Primary Care, E-Health and Preventative Health have threads that naturally bind. Force both sides to work collaboratively in delivering open, transparent, measurable, accountable and improved healthcare.
Open the entire MUSH sectors to Ombudsman oversight. Create that PBO-like role in Ontario that NDP leader Andrea Horwath suggested. Create open access to the budget and operating expenses. Introduce referendums on diverse and meaningful subject matters that inform future policies.
Why not review small business and corporate tax and subsidy rates. Are they effectively using subsidies and grants to truly drive productivity, research and development, training and development of Ontarians, and innovation? Or can you close some loopholes of yesteryears without damaging growth?
Why not build national support and pressure on PM Harper for federal transit funding? Yes, Flaherty fired the first shot by suggesting that a 1% hike to the H.S.T. contravenes the previous agreement. And yes, the federal Conservatives refuse to come to the table to discuss transit needs. But if you were able to build a bridge to the teachers, surely you can do so with the Harper government when you present a united front with the other Premiers.
Why not exhaust that avenue, or wait to see which federal party wins in 2015 before implementing provincial streams of transit revenue that voters don’t support, if the polling is to be believed.
Premier Wynne, Ontarians need reassurance that taxpayer dollars are being spent with rigorous planning and oversight. That strict reviews of every government department are done, with savings in place. That voters’ priorities are attended to. That their current household employment and spending realities are considered before asking for another $477 per household for transit expansion.
Yes, Ontario desperately needs better access to smarter transit. But equitable contributions from the federal government and business need to be part of the transit equation.
A balanced approach just might tip voter support on to your side.