TORONTO - One of the most influential municipal leaders in Canada urged the Ontario government Thursday to introduce a new tax to pay for improvements to roads and highways in the Greater Toronto Area.
"Look, if we’re going to get any ease, any impact on the congestion there’s got to be some tax to take care of it," Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion said after meeting Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"The present property tax can’t do it and it’s up to the province to determine whether their taxes can do it. I don’t think they can with a $50-billion capital project."
The $50 billion figure comes from Metrolinx, the province's transit agency, in estimating what's needed to upgrade transportation infrastructure in the Golden Horseshoe, from Toronto to Niagara, over 25 years.
Metrolinx has been told to come up with an "investment strategy" by June 2013 to recommend ways of paying the huge bill.
McGuinty was not available to comment on the prospect of a new tax, something he has repeatedly promised not to implement after famously breaking earlier pledges not to hike taxes.
The Liberal government was reluctant to agree to a new tax for road improvements, but agreed it was time people started having a serious debate over McCallion's proposal.
"There’s no prejudging at this time on what the solution s going to be," said Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli.
"We have an open mind in the process and we’re giving a lot of thought, and we are pleased it is getting more public attention."
McCallion, who got stuck in traffic on her way into downtown Toronto for her meeting with McGuinty, rejected the idea of tolls on existing roads and highways but said taxes must be considered.
"All options: income tax, sales tax, (vehicle) registration tax, at this point I have no preference," she said.
"To implement tolls on already establish roads: major problem."
However, Ontario's opposition parties shot down the idea of any new tax to pay for road improvements.
The Liberal government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, insisted Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
"Families are having trouble making ends meet," said Hudak.
"I think throwing a new tax on them or making them pay more to drive on roads is no solution. it’s the wrong way to go."
The New Democrats agreed a new tax would put too much of a burden on most people.
"Everyday families are the ones who continue to take the burden of the costs of running this province, and it’s something they’re not able to keep doing," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"You can’t continue to cut corporate taxes and then expect to have the money available to build the infrastructure we need to create a vibrant economy."
McCallion also tore a strip off the federal government for failing to provide adequate infrastructure funding, and said it would make it more difficult to attract foreign investment to Canada.
"What major infrastructure project has been built in this country in the last 25 years? Name it," McCallion challenged reporters before answering her own question.
"The bridge to Prince Edward Island, serving 25,000 people. Great."
McCallion wants GTA mayors to work with the province to convince people they have to pay in some way to deal with road congestion.
"We’ve got to get together to decide if we assist the province in selling the idea that there’s got to be additional revenue from some source in order to fund the $50 billion capital (spending)," she said.
McCallion, 91, scolded reporters for repeatedly asking her about a possible casino in Mississauga when she wanted to talk about the congestion on local highways.
"You know, quite honestly, gentlemen of the press, let’s not concentrate on a casino," she said.
"What I am concerned about is the situation the transportation situation in the GTA."
The mayor said there is virtually no undeveloped land in Mississauga, public or private, large enough to hold a casino-entertainment complex.