With most pandemic restrictions lifted and workers back in their office spaces in downtown Toronto, things are very much back to where they were in the core — especially the traffic.
As Torontonians deal with the hustle and bustle of the return to normal, their municipal leaders are in the midst of an election campaign, where all topics are on the table, including the potential cancellation of the Gardiner East rebuild.
Asked by 640 Toronto’s Greg Brady on Toronto Today if he would be willing to revisit the idea, Tory told listeners: “I would, because I believed in it before. … I think that would be something that would be very fair. It would help us to manage traffic and it would be considerate of the environment.”
He proposed and won council approval to implement such measures while serving as mayor in 2016, but the plan to charge a $2 toll on vehicles heading into the downtown core was cancelled by the provincial government in early 2017.
Then-premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters she was worried about the cost of living at the time. With hydro rates on the rise and a provincial election on the horizon, she told a press conference on Jan. 27, 2017, that “whatever we do has to be more affordable, not less affordable for people.”
Instead, she promised to increase the city’s portion of the gas tax, doubling it by 2022. At the time, Wynne insisted that would give the city just as much money as the toll would, though Tory begged to differ.
Despite the change in power at Queen’s Park since then, Tory is not exactly confident the result of trying again would be any different.
“I’d just have to decide, as the leader of the council, whether I’d want to bring that forward again and have them reject it again,” he told 640 Toronto.
“Because that, to me, would be a waste of time.”
In an email response to Global News, the Ontario government said it won’t be imposing the tolls.
“Our government will not be imposing any new tolls on any roads in Ontario,” the ministry of transportation wrote.
In 2017, some Toronto city councillors told Global News they believed Queen’s Park felt political pressure from citizens who live in the 905 regions and drive into Toronto every day, cancelling the city’s toll plan in response.
Despite there being a different government in charge today, similar political implications would likely be considered if the idea came up again.
Meanwhile, Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto professor with the department of Geography & Planning, said the idea of tolls is an “important step” because “how we move around is very car-based.”
“The City is struggling with how to pay for all of the infrastructure and services it provides,” Siemiatycki said. “It’s an important conversation to have both because of the revenue that it can potentially raise and because of its ability to fight congestion and the impact on climate change.”
When it comes to why the tolls are not likely to pass through government, Siemiatycki said “road tolls are deeply controversial.”
“They have an unequal impact on people who use those roads, people who often say they don’t have other options. We’re in the midst of an affordability crisis so any new charges are highly visible.”