On Monday afternoon, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke to a very large crowd at the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Her topic was transit funding.
"Now I was thinking, that this room was so big because you thought maybe I was gonna say which tools I favoured over the others. Am I right?"
"But I'm not gonna preempt, as the premier, I'm not gonna preempt Metrolinx's strategy, by talking about what tools they might or might not choose to put forward to the government. But I am gonna tell you what I think generally needs to happen when it comes to transit investment in the GTHA."
Like Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath two weeks prior, Wynne laid out some broad principles for transit investment and declined to get into any specifics. But while Horwath at least sketched out a rough idea of what sort of taxes or fees her party might or might not support, Wynne was reluctant to do even that; she didn't want to interfere with the process being carried out by Metrolinx, the provincial agency that's supposed to deliver its definitive report later this spring.
"We have to talk about what we do want, not what we don't want," she said. But she didn't.
The closest Wynne came to identifying preferred options were her reverential citations of L.A.'s sales tax and Stockholm's congestion charges. But they were held up more as examples of successful efforts to achieve public buy-in than of solutions that may be appropriate for the GTHA.
The Ottawa Citizen has posted the prepared notes for Wynne's speech (which deviated somewhat, but not significantly, from what was written down). An earlier draft can be found on the Liberals' website.
And, in fairness to Horwath - whose post-speech grilling we published in its entirety - we have similarly transcribed Wynne's responses to direct questions from the press about what revenue tools she does or doesn't see herself getting behind:
Wynne: Hi, everybody. So I just made a big speech, do I need to make another speech to you guys?
Reporter: Premier, why not just say what you favour? I mean, tolls, congestion fees, parking charges, these are coming, presumably, we all know that, everyone knows that, you spelled it out. Why not just tell us what you favour?
Wynne: Well, because I think it's really important right now that the public have an opportunity to weigh in. We've got people at Metrolinx who are putting together recommendations. They're the, you know, they're the folks who are in touch with the experts, and I'm looking forward to their recommendations. I don't want to preempt that process, and I don't want to preempt the process of people in the region having the opportunity to weigh in on their vision of what transit should look like and how we should pay for it. So I think this is momentum-building, and I think it's a very important part of the process.
Reporter: What about maybe ruling something out, especially property taxes, right, which is already a heavy burden on people. Can you say whether or not you support laying the burden on to property-tax holders, is there anything you can take off the table?
Wynne: I just think that, once we start, you know, ruling things out or ruling things in, the range narrows, and my belief is that it's important for people to have a chance to consider the full range of options and to, as I say, weigh in on those and be able to build some consensus within the region. This is a contentious issue. And it needs some time for people to consider it. I've been very clear that we need a dedicated revenue stream, I'm very clear that if we're going to build transit, we need that funding in place. But I think the range of options needs to be looked at, and that's what the Toronto Board of Trade, CivicAction, Metrolinx is engaged in right now.
The scrum then goes on to other subjects (casinos, election spending rules, the passing of Margaret Thatcher, etc.), before returning to transit.
Reporter: Premier, the Minister of Transportation has said that implementation of the Metrolinx investment tools would be in the 2014-2015 budget. However, he also said that you may want to implement it sooner, so can you talk a little bit about that timeline?
Wynne: Well, we're going to write a budget, and stay tuned. You know, I'm committed to putting in place a plan that's gonna allow us to pay for transit infrastructure going forward. I'm also committed to working with municipalities outside of the region, because if you, you know, if we travel outside of the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, into some of our rural and Northern communities, the issue there isn't always transit, it's road and bridges, and so we need to make sure that our budget and our provision of infrastructure dollars takes into account all of those concerns. On this particular file, we're getting ready to bring the budget out and look forward to reactions at that time.
Reporter: Premier, you said you weren't prepared to do it alone. What did you you mean: did you mean if you couldn't get a significant number of people on board with the idea, what was your, what did you mean there?
Wynne: Well, that was more me saying, you know, I'm a p-, I'm in a leadership position as the premier and the leader of a party. But the reality is, that this kind of culture shift to actually make a commitment to putting in place a revenue stream that's going to build transit into the future - that takes community, that takes society, it takes a much broader consensus than the consensus in my caucus room or my cabinet, you know. It even, it takes broader consensus than just in the Legislature. Unfortunately, sometimes, there needs to be a real push on political leaders to take a stand when we're dealing with a contentious issue like this. I feel very strongly about this issue, I'm committed to it, and I'm gonna need all the people in the room today, at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, but far beyond that, to take a stand on this, and that's what I meant by not doing it alone.
Reporter: Premier, you seem to have made a sort of a veiled shot at the Toronto mayor when you said "there's no war on the car, as some people would suggest." Are you upset with how they've handled this, at his reaction to the prospect of tolls or some kind of levy to pay for public transit?
Wynne: No, you know I think there have been lots of conversations about whether the car is welcome in downtown Toronto, and you know I don't, that wasn't a particular comment on an individual, but, you know, my hope is that we will see a critical mass of people in the city and in elected positions who will agree that this is an important juncture for us. I believe that there is a confluence of need and opinion and public policy, and I hope that we're going to be able to find a way to go forward with a large amount of positive public sentiment on side.