Here's what the future might hold for our city if Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives form the next provincial government.
Ontarians will cast their election ballots on June 12. Recent polls suggest that this time around, the Progressive Conservatives have a decent shot at winning at least a plurality of seats. If they were to emerge victorious, what consequences would there be for Toronto?
Before predicting how Toronto would fare under a PC regime, consider the Tories’ own ripped-from-tomorrow’s-headlines prognostication for what Ontario would look like 10 years into their government, taken directly from their platform document, “The Million Jobs Plan.”
“It’s almost impossible to visit a news website these days without seeing some kind of story about how well Ontario is doing. For the sixth straight year (and the eighth out of the last ten), Ontario led Canada in economic growth, job creation and foreign direct investment. Premiers, governors, mayors and foreign leaders are beating a path to Ontario to forge new trade partnerships and business relationships with a rapidly growing and innovative Ontario corporate sector or to promote their products and services to an expanding middle class.”
The PC platform that will guide us into this Ayn Rand-meets-The Jetsons future has been widely and justifiably lambasted in the media as implausible. Even at the highest level, the plan is counterintuitive—insisting, for example, that the Tory job engine will be primed by the elimination of 100,000 civil service positions and that government revenues will be raised by lowering corporate and personal taxes.
Indeed, the name of the platform itself is instructive, as it reflects the priorities of the party and leader Tim Hudak. Face it: many of us don’t really want a job so much as the paycheque that comes with it. Yet for the PCs, the job itself is goal number one—not happiness or opportunity or self-actualization or even the warm and fuzzy that comes from contributing to society, but some grey drudgery that we endure to keep the family in PopTarts until we greet the Reaper with a warm embrace and a cry of “Thank God, I thought you’d never get here.”
But we digress. While we can infer that our multiculturalopolis will benefit from the tsunami of prosperity the PCs promise will overwhelm the province, the MJP is short on Toronto-related specifics.
Fortunately, in December of 2013, the Tories issued “Building Great Cities,” the last in their series of 15 “Paths to Prosperity” white papers. While it’s not an official platform document, the paper gives insight into what a Tory government might mean for Toronto.
According to Team Hudak, great cities mean more suburbs:
“Cities can only grow two ways, up or out. Either is acceptable, but the numbers show that the majority of people are choosing suburbs. It is not government’s job to stand in the way of that choice. Owning a house or condo is the foundation of middle-class life, and developing unused farmland is a major wealth creator for landowners, home builders and home buyers.”
No, but it is the government’s job to ensure that cheap housing and short-term gain for developers don’t take precedence over the long-term interests of the province and its people—interests that might not best be served by paving over every arable acre and building McTownhomes (“Starting From the Low 300’s!”) and Walmart Supercentres.
Anyway, once we’ve finished operationalizing the Burbs-to-the-Horizon solution, we’ll want to make sure that all those people can get to their new, awesome jobs, which likely aren’t anywhere near where they live.
The Tories recognize that improving transportation infrastructure is key to keeping the city and the province liveable. In Toronto, they support the building of a Downtown Relief Line (here referred to using the more politically neutral “East-West Express Line” moniker) and a “full, effective subway system for Scarborough” with other lines to follow. (While not Fordishly dismissive of LRTs, they make it clear that underground transit is really the only kind that counts.) They would also install Wi-Fi on GO Trains to encourage more riders. Authority over subways and LRT operations would be transferred to GO Transit.
They do not ignore the needs of the automobile: a host of local highways, including the 427, 404, Allen, and Gardiner, would be widened and expanded.
The cost of all this largesse would not be borne by the taxpayer—the white paper specifically rejects any new taxes, fees, or tolls. Instead, an Ontario Transportation Trust would provide $2 billion annually from
- re-prioritizing the existing long-term capital budget;
- a dedicated portion of new revenues from a growing economy;
- selling surplus lands and excess buildings;
- investment from Ontario and Canadian pension funds;
- the use of public-private partnerships;
- and greater commercialization above subway stations.
So in summary, their suggested sources of transit funding—apart from the government yard sale of assets deemed unnecessary—are at best optimistic and at worst imaginary.
On the Island Airport
The Tories support the expansion of Billy Bishop Airport, because jets are awesome [paraphrased].
A PC government would address the affordable housing shortage by “(encouraging) the private sector to build and manage more housing.” Under this plan, civic-minded developers would finance, build, and manage affordable housing projects, while Queen’s Park would guarantee rents. Apparently, this guaranteeing of rents is all that would be needed to prod builders into switching from highly lucrative condo development to a focus on projects that sacrifice return on investment for the social good. You just let us know how those conversations go, Tim.
On Public Safety
“As the violent G20 protests demonstrated, free speech must never be confused with the right to vandalize property and tarnish the reputation of our biggest city and province.” Yeah, that was the problem—the police beatings and random arrests got everybody all mixed up about what free speech means.
The Tories are saying many of the right things about working to fix poverty and homelessness. They advocate increasing employment and training opportunities for at-risk youth, a focus on treatment for the homeless suffering from mental illness and addiction issues, and enhanced training for frontline police in dealing with people suffering from mental illness. That said, this kind of language comes easy during a campaign, but the rubber doesn’t really hit the road until programs have to be funded.
On Arts and Culture
“To make our cities great, we need to enable the entrepreneurial spirit of filmmakers, musicians and artists of all types. Sadly, red tape and bureaucratic hassles have bedevilled the cultural scene in our cities for decades. The province must set the ambitious target of reducing the regulatory burden by one-third in three years, with a particular focus on the red tape and slow bureaucratic approvals that plague our cultural industries.”
I.e., we’re not actually going to spend any money on arts and culture, but we promise to reduce the regulatory hassle involved in posting your ukelele cover of Bad Romance on Youtube.
In a nutshell, a Tory Toronto would feature more suburbia, more cars, and a strong reliance on the private sector when it comes to city building. Were you expecting something different?
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