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politics

Executive Committee Defers Debate on New Revenue Tools for Transit

Committee rejects opportunity to give Metrolinx their advice about how the region should raise new money for transit.

Metrolinx is unveiling their strategy for raising $34 billion for new transit on May 27, 2013. They’ve asked for the City’s input. But today at City Hall, council’s executive committee, composed of Rob Ford and many of his closest allies, voted to hold off on deciding what advice to give Metrolinx…until May 28.

For several months momentum has been building towards one specific date: June 1, 2013. That’s the deadline for Metrolinx, the regional agency responsible for transit planning in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, to unveil the strategy it wants to pursue in raising the $34 billion we need to build a major round of transit projects, called The Big Move. (Among the projects on that list: a new major subway line for Toronto.) A few weeks ago Metrolinx announced that they would be making their strategy public a few days earlier, on May 27. They have asked all the municipalities in the GTHA to offer advice: their best thinking on what new revenue tools, what particular mix of taxes and levies, would work best and be fairest for their residents. Today’s vote at City Hall, in effect, was the executive committee declining to participate in that process at all, choosing to give no advice rather than pass this issue along to city council for a full debate, and then passing the results of that debate along to Metrolinx as the City’s official position on the subject.

On the executive committee’s planned agenda for today: a major report on the future of transit funding, written by the City’s top civil servant [PDF]. That report endorses the idea that the region should introduce new revenue tools, to create a dedicated source of money to build major transit projects, and includes a set of recommendations about which of those tools would work best for Toronto. The executive committee could have passed that report along to city council without recommendation, or they could have passed along other recommendations to council; if they’d done either, then council would have debated this issue at their meeting on May 7-8.


Related:

Our Conversation with Kathleen Wynne About Her Plans for Transit


This matter isn’t settled, however: council could still find another way of holding their debate. A councillor could introduce a motion at that May 7-8 council to re-add this issue to their agenda; that is tricky, since it would require a two-third majority. Potentially simpler: if a 50 per cent majority of councillors signs a petition, they can convene a special meeting dedicated to this issue specifically. Even before executive voted, it became clear that there is momentum building in one of these directions, with many councillors convinced we need new revenue tools, and several more who have reservations, but are convinced the City cannot pass up the opportunity to share its thoughts with Metrolinx.

If some councillors do make that move to re-add this to their agenda, they can safely expect Rob Ford will be their staunchest opponent. The full text of his speech at executive today:

I’m moving this deferral for a number of reasons. As we know there’s a provincial budget coming down on May 2, and we don’t even know if we’re going to have the same government in place in a month’s time. If the province wants to move ahead and be heroes and implement new taxes, go right ahead. Guaranteed, hell will freeze over before I support any of these new taxes.

You look, every single day almost, there’s something going on. $275-million scandal at the gas plant; millions—and we still don’t know the number—on Ornge helicopters; the eHealth billions of dollars; in our own backyard here just a few days ago thousands in hand sanitizer. And you’re going to turn around to the working person in the city and say “You know what, we don’t have enough money to spend on transit. We’re going to take the easy way out and implement new taxes.”

Talk about legacies—that’s a complete disaster. That’s not a legacy, folks. Let’s get every level of government in line and efficient and running like a well-oiled machine, and then you can go to the taxpayers and say “You know what, we’ve tightened up every single screw on this car. There’s no more tightening.” Folks, we’re far from that. We’re far from that.

If someone wants to hold a special meeting to implement new taxes, go right ahead. Have a special meeting. But folks, this is not the way you do business. The smart thing to do is see what happens with the budget. And like the Premier said, she’s going to go ahead and implement them no matter what, so I have no idea why we’re trying to be the heroes and say “I want to be the first one in line to implement new taxes on the backs of hardworking people in this great city.”

A study just came out today from the Fraser Institute, says the average family spends more on taxes each year than it does on necessities of life. That’s problematic, folks. People cannot afford the taxes, that’s what it comes down to. You might want the best transit system in the world, but the average person can’t afford it, and I’m sorry, we can’t move ahead. We have to find alternative ways to do this. Implementing new taxes is not that way. We don’t even have a say in all this—that’s a separate issue in itself.

This is completely ass backwards, how we’re doing things.


Votes on the motion:

In favour of deferral: Rob Ford, Norm Kelly, Frank Di Giorgio, Cesar Palacio, Gary Crawford, David Shiner

Opposed to the deferral: Paul Ainslie, Peter Milczyn, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Jaye Robinson

Absent: Michael Thompson, Vincent Cristanti, Doug Holyday


What is a “special meeting” of council?

Council meetings are planned and scheduled on an annual basis; the rules state that council must meet at least 10 times each year, and that the schedule must respect religious holidays. Special meetings are ones that are called outside of this regular schedule.

There are three circumstances under which a special meeting can be called:

  • At the request of the mayor, who can call for a special meeting at any time and for any reason; he or she must give 24 hours notice.
  • In case of emergency, in which case the mayor can call a meeting without 24 hours notice, so long as all members of council are individually informed about the meeting and a majority of those councillors agree to it.
  • At the direct request of councillors, by way of a petition signed by a majority of councillors. The petition must include “a clear statement of the meeting’s purpose” and the meeting must be held within 48 hours of filing the petition with the city clerk.

If council were to hold a special meeting about this issue, it would be of this last type. If this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because we’ve seen it before: it’s what happened in February, 2012, when councillors led by TTC Chair Karen Stintz called a special meeting to debate the future of several planned new LRT lines in Toronto.

The alternative: if a two-thirds majority of councillors agree, they could re-add this item back to the agenda of their next regularly scheduled meeting, on May 7-8.

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