Toronto City Council made one of the biggest decisions of 2016 earlier this month by endorsing Mayor John Tory’s push to toll the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway – an issue Tory acknowledges will define his administration.
“I hope it will define it as being one that’s about honesty in terms of saying to people, ‘If you want the transit which we so desperately need to fix traffic and you want the transit plan that I put forward, we have to pay for it,’” Tory told Global News anchor Alan Carter during a year-end interview at city hall.
“I think for decades around here plans have been put forward, they’ve been changed about 11 times, but the one question that was never answered (was) ‘How are we going to pay for it?’”
Toronto City Council voted 32-9 on Dec. 13 to ask the province of Ontario for the authority to toll municipally-owned roads.
Tory first put forward his tolling plan during a Toronto Board of Trade luncheon in November. He said a $2 road toll would raise $200 million annually, money he said he wants put into a separate fund to pay for transit and infrastructure. The announcement marked a shift in stance for the mayor, who previously campaigned against tolls.
Carter asked Tory why he didn’t put forward a tolling proposal during his mayoral campaign in 2014.
“I said it wasn’t my preferred means of raising the money to pay for transit, but I got here and I had a choice to make – the choice was as between a massive increase in property taxes, like we’re talking 10 per cent, which goes on to everybody. We’re talking about the sale of assets, including Toronto Hydro and I just felt that wasn’t the right way to go,” Tory said.
“I came to the conclusion that road tolls were the best available means of raising this money and I just stepped forward and said so.”
When pressed by Carter about where Tory planned to get the money to fund transit, Tory referenced decisions made during the last term of council to reject several proposed taxes and fees. He said money needed to be found and that he’s willing to argue this and other issues during the 2018 municipal election.
“I will be accountable in 2018 for all of the decisions that we’ve made here together, and that includes the decision to move forward with road tolls,” Tory said.
“I’ll also be accountable for the fact we’re actually moving ahead to build some transit and fix traffic, and those will be the good news parts of the equation.”
Tory added he doesn’t think tolls will be the deciding factor for the upcoming election, saying that the economy is most often one of the issues people consider.
“I think it will be a referendum on leadership and I’m quite prepared to put my overall leadership record in front of people at that time and say, ‘Did I address traffic and transit, housing, keep taxes low and attract jobs to Toronto,’” he said.
“I confident the answer will be yes that I’ve made solid progress on that and that the voters will give me another term.”