Toronto Mayor John Tory says he feels like he’s being treated like a “little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants” after the Ontario government slammed the brakes on road tolls that city council approved last December for the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway.
A visibly frustrated Tory told reporters during a press conference at city hall on Friday that the province is “paternalistic” and “short-sighted” when it comes to municipal autonomy.
VIDEO: Province denies Toronto bid for tolls, gives cities greater share of gas tax dollars. Mark Carcasole reports.
“It is time we stop being treated and I stop being treated as a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants to say, ‘Please, could you help me out with something I thought was in the City of Toronto Act that I can do,’ and to be told, ‘No. I’m terribly sorry. Go away and come back some other day,'” Tory said.
“The conditions are not in place, the options are not there for tolling,” Wynne told reporters at the Richmond Hill Transit Facility Friday morning.
The premier said the province will instead double gas tax funding for municipalities from two cents to four cents a litre by 2021 to help cover transit and infrastructure projects.
“While the share of the gas tax that goes to your local transit agencies will increase, the price you pay for gasoline itself will not increase with this investment,” Wynne said.
Toronto city council voted 32-9 in favour of asking the Ontario government for permission to toll the municipally-owned highways at a council meeting in December.
The mayor, who had previously shunned the idea of road tolls, surprised many in November when he came out in favour of implementing the user fee to help pay for transit and infrastructure costs.
Tory said a $2 road toll would raise over $200 million annually.
About 228,000 vehicles travel on the Gardiner east of Highway 427 on a daily basis while about 100,000 drive on the DVP north of the Bayview-Bloor exit.
VIDEO: In order for Ontario to succeed, Toronto has to succeed: Mayor Tory
The mayor said Friday he had no indication Wynne would nix the plan when he first presented it to Queen’s Park last fall.
VIDEO: Tory says province has ‘severely impacted’ city by denying road tolls
With Wynne and the Ontario Liberals facing record low poll numbers, city councillor John Campbell believes the province’s move to broadside tolling was politically motivated.
“They do not want to face the heat from voters in Vaughan, Durham and Peel,” Campbell said. “I’m sure they had complaints from all of their constituents who drive into Toronto every day to the tune of over 100,000 to 150,000 cars.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who applauded the decision in a statement released late Thursday evening when the announcement was leaked, previously said he wanted the Liberals to reject tolls, adding he would rescind any such provincial approval if the Tories win the 2018 election.
“Today was a big victory for commuters, but I remain concerned about the mismanagement of infrastructure dollars and the fact that life continues to get harder and more unaffordable under Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Government,” he said.
The New Democrats, who said they were opposed to road tolls and that both the federal and provincial governments must provide a lot more funding for municipal transit systems, scorned Wynne for “playing games” with the City of Toronto.
“The timing of this announcement and the fact that the money she is promising won’t begin to flow until after the 2018 provincial election is politics at its worst,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.
“If the Premier were truly committed to meeting the needs of Toronto and Ontario’s municipalities then she would immediately restore 50 per cent operating funding for municipal transit services, which amounts to more than $300 million dollars as opposed to the inadequate $170 million dollars the Liberals are offering Toronto.”
Federal Conservative party leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary weighed in and said he’s not against user-pay services such as tolls, but he called for a tax cut.
“But the government has to find a way to get more revenue, this is just another tax. I’d argue to say that if you’re going to tax that user base to drive on that road, find an area where you can cut so the overall tax paid by the people is the same at least,” he said.
VIDEO: Kevin O’Leary lauds John Tory for his emotional fight for tolls against Kathleen Wynne
Toronto currently receives around $170 million annually from the provincial gas tax and that number is expected to double by 2021.
Toronto Transit Commission Chair Josh Colle said in a statement that the doubling of the gas tax will make a significant difference to transit users in the city, but is nonetheless disappointed the province chose not to accept council’s request to move forward on tolls.
“I welcome this new funding, and congratulate the Mayor and my council colleagues for securing a better deal for the TTC and transit systems across Ontario,” Colle said.
“It is unfortunate that our partners at the province denied City Council’s request for a regulatory change to allow the City of Toronto to manage its own assets.”
VIDEO: Wynne denies transit announcement a ‘desperate political move’
Councillor Ana Bailão, chair of the city’s Affordable Housing Committee, also expressed her dismay in how the province sidestepped council’s vote in favour of tolling.
“While doubling the gas tax contribution to Toronto is welcome, the Provincial government’s disregard for local decision making is a troubling sign,” she said in a statement. “The City could have raised up to $300 million a year by asking the people who use the Gardiner and DVP to pay their fair share with modest road tolls.”
Adam Miller and Nick Westoll contributed to this report.