How the Provincial Budget Does and Doesn't Screw Toronto
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How the Provincial Budget Does and Doesn’t Screw Toronto

Good: youth will have their drugs covered. Very bad: there is little or no new funding for transit or social housing

Queen's Park. Photo by generalpictures in the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Queen’s Park. Photo by generalpictures in the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

On April 27, the Ontario government tabled its budget for fiscal year 2017/2018, setting the stage for the governing Liberals bid for re-election in June of next year.

The big highlights include a balanced budget for 2017/2018 and a new pharmacare plan, but only for Ontario residents under the age of 25 (called OHIP+). There’s also additional funding for health services and new hospitals in Niagara Region and Windsor, hydro bill subsidies, expansion of rent controls and taxes on foreign property buyers, new child care spaces, and a pilot project testing basic income payments in selected communities.

Some of these, such as extending rent control regulations to all rental properties, will have a big impact Torontonians. The province also green-lighted a municipal hotel and AirBnB tax, after rejecting the City’s plans for implementing tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

But there is little or no new funding for transit or social housing. This has angered municipal officials including Mayor John Tory, who has recently been pushing for an LRT line in Scarborough, the relief line subway, and funds to repair or replace dilapidated Toronto Community Housing units. The only nod towards Toronto’s housing concerns was a pilot that would cede surplus provincial lands for affordable housing projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, land worth $70 to 100 million. This could allow for construction of “up to” 2,000 units, yet no money for their construction has been allocated.

Meanwhile, the TCHC will have to close 1,000 units in 2017 due to building deterioration, so this modest initiative will not be of any help in the short to medium term.

The provincial government likes to claim that it has invested more in public transportation than any other since it took office in 2003; to be fair, this is factually true. GO Transit has expanded; new light rail lines are under construction in Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Toronto, for the Eglinton-Crosstown line; more LRT lines are pledged in Peel Region and Hamilton. The Line 1 subway extension to York University and Vaughan will finally open at the end of the year; funds pledged to build the Scarborough LRT line will be used to help fund the $3.35 billion one-stop Scarborough subway at the City’s urging. Construction will start soon on the Finch West LRT. Combined with bus rapid transit in Mississauga and York Region, and GO Transit’s regional express rail (RER), there is a lot of new transit coming to the Toronto area.

Notable by its absence and curiously not mentioned in the 2017 budget is the Sheppard East LRT. It was proposed as part of David Miller’s Transit City and rejected by Mayor Ford and it has been in limbo ever since. Scarborough politicians at all levels of government have instead pushed for the one-stop subway extension. Some councillors, such as Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), continue to push for a Sheppard subway extension. Without funding or political support, the Sheppard East LRT is all but dead.

Mayor Tory is upset that there is no funding for other projects prioritized by the City of Toronto, such as the relief line subway, the Eglinton East LRT, or waterfront transit. Construction on that project, the first of what would have been a network of light rail corridors across suburban Toronto, began in 2009. But in the past, the province has bowed to municipal demands, switching its support from the LRT to the subway in Scarborough and accommodating Tory’s SmartTrack platform in its GO Transit plans.

Had Tory shown more commitment for repairing TCHC units and building new social housing—by allocating funding, for example—it’s quite likely the province would have pitched in. Instead, Tory’s priorities have been to build the subway, push for SmartTrack, rebuild rather than remove, the under-used eastern Gardiner Expressway, and keep property taxes low, despite the urging of doctors, housing experts, and the city’s frontline staff working with low-income communities, who all say Toronto’s property taxes should be increased.

Tory might accuse the provincial Liberals of “turning their backs” on transit and housing, but it’s hypocritical of him to complain. Yes, the province is complicit in neglecting Toronto’s housing crisis, and the recent measures to protect tenants come very late in the electoral cycle. But on transit, the province has been willing to not only build new rapid transit, but also bend to the wishes of the City of Toronto.

So, it’s a bit rich for Tory to be complaining now.