WATERLOO, Ont. - It's too early to talk about a possible tax to pay for transit improvements in the Greater Toronto Area, but it's time people started realizing there will be a cost to dealing with gridlock, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday.
Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion met with McGuinty Thursday and called on the province to consider a new tax to pay for $50 billion in transit upgrades over 25 years in the GTA and Golden Horseshoe through to Niagara.
The 91-year-old political dynamo called some roads in the GTA "parking lots," and said she wants other mayors to work with the province to sell the idea of a tax to pay for infrastructure upgrades.
McGuinty welcomed McCallion's "enthusiasm" for tackling the issue of road congestion, but said he wants to wait for the provincial agency, Metrolinx, to report next June on various options to foot the bill.
"At the present time, we don’t have the capacity to fund that kind of growth, I’m talking both capital and operating dollars," McGuinty said after talking with students at Waterloo Collegiate Institute.
"I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of work that’s being done by Metrolinx, but it is important for us to begin to put on the table that we have both a challenge and a real opportunity before us and the issue is how are we going to come to terms with this."
It's important that people to engage in the debate about gridlock and what will happen if nothing is done to address the problem, added McGuinty.
"What’s going to happen over the course of the next 10 or 20 years if we do nothing, and I gather for some folks doing nothing may be an option," he said.
"But I think as more and more people give some careful thought to what is going to happen, there will be a growing demand that we find a way to do something. So I think before we even get to the funding issue we’ve got to make sure people understand that there is going to be a need for us to do something."
The premier told the high school students they "must" go on to college, university or a skilled trade if they hope to succeed and boasted about the government's 30 per cent tuition rebates.
McGuinty reminded reporters he has until October to call a byelection in Waterloo to replace veteran Conservative Elizabeth Witmer, who quit after the premier appointed her to chair the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
"We have not made any decision at this point in time," he said.
"I do want to make sure all the parties have the time they need to hold a race if that is what they choose to do for the election of their candidate, I want to make sure the people in the community have time to understand the issues and what we’ll all be talking about, so I guess what I’m saying is that we’re not going to rush into this."
However, McGuinty refused to rule out a summer byelection when asked if the vote would not come until after Labour Day.
"I'm not going to say when obviously. I'm not hear to talk about the specifics of a date, but I can say that we want to be measured and thoughtful and give people some time to."
There is some real interest among people who want to be the Liberal candidate in the byelection, said McGuinty, but no date has been set yet for the nomination meeting.
The Liberals would move from a minority to a majority government if they take Waterloo from the Tories.