There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Come on now

Let’s all celebrate and have a good time
We gonna celebrate and have a good time

                                                 Kool & The Gang

On May 15, after sitting at Ignite Waterloo waiting anxiously for updates on Twitter this song played exuberantly inside my head. Yes! Yes! Yes! Light rail transit had been passed by Waterloo Regional Council by a 9 – 2 margin.

I had attended both evenings of public delegations to council and I tried to calculate the vote. I was hopeful given the tremendous, widespread, diverse swell of voices in support that light rail would pass but I expected it to be a nail biter.

While I couldn’t celebrate in this space at that time, I wanted to share my excitement with you as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, due to the provincial election, I see dark storm clouds on the horizon that I’m seriously concerned could have a negative impact on the future of the light rail project.

Tim “The Taxman” Hudak could throw a wrench into plans

The headline of the Record article looked like good news, “Tories will honour provincial commitment to light rail transit, local candidates say.”

But read a little further and you become aware of the price to be paid with the election of a Tory government in Ontario:

But regional councillors are also counting on using some of the money they’re saving as the province shoulders a greater portion of social service costs.

The province pays for the bulk of spending on welfare programs. In 2007, the province started taking on a larger portion of those costs.

The uploading of costs is to be phased-in over a number of years. By the time it takes full effect in 2018, it’s estimated that the uploading will save the region about $11.3 million each year — equal to roughly three per cent of the region’s budget.

This past spring, regional councillors counted on using some of those savings to keep down tax hikes needed to pay for the $818-million light rail transit system.

But so far, Hudak hasn’t agreed to continue shouldering future social services costs, Witmer said.

You don’t need to be an expert at reading between the lines. The social service costs that are better paid out of the provincial income tax because it is based upon a person’s ability to pay instead of property taxes will effectively be downloaded a second time to the municipalities by a cabinet with Tim Hudak. Last time that meant that property taxes rose and you can be certain that should Hudak become premier that the rest of the uploading will be cancelled. Waterloo Region, like its counterparts across the province, have plans for the funds scheduled to be uploaded. In Waterloo Region, some of these funds are to be used to pay for LRT. I don’t need a magic wand for this forecast, a Tory government means higher property taxes since just as Mayor Ford promised to end the gravy train without cutting services, Hudak would need to resort to cuts to pay for his promises. Refusing to honour the uploading agreement would help since it wouldn’t look like a cut to your average voter.

Could paying for LRT out of property taxes give some councillors cold feet on proceeding? I hope not. But are you willing to take that chance?

The NDP is upset that the Liberal government has not provided more funding

At the same time, the NDP–also known as the party supporting our car culture with a 1 cent cut in the gas tax–is criticizing the government for not giving 2/3 of LRT funding. I find it an odd criticism because I haven’t seen them promise the funds they are complaining we didn’t get.  My friends on the left seem to prefer criticizing the Liberal record on transportation for partisan gain even if philosophically they agree with what has been done and why. They can quibble with the details or process but not with the results.

Yes, the government promised 2/3 funding in the spring of 2007. But by the budget of March 2008, they qualified this statement by stating they would pay “up to 2/3.” So the Region of Waterloo knew more than three years ago that it might not get 2/3. Given the fact that shortly after the 2008 budget, Ontario encountered the largest recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s and the projected costs of the project increased, no one was surprised when the province announced $300 million (more than 1/3 the project cost). Disappointed maybe but understandable especially considering the demands for provincial funding and the debt incurred as a result of the stimulus that helped Ontario not only survive the recession but lead Canada in job growth.

Support LRT? Vote Liberal

The Liberal government committed $300 million to rapid transit in Waterloo Region. That’s huge! Without that significant contribution, light rail would not be coming to Waterloo Region. We are poised to begin the largest expansion of public transit in our history–and it is thanks to the current Liberal government. If you were a passionate advocate for light rail, vote to re-elect the government that made your dreams a reality. Vote Liberal.

Still unconvinced? The Liberal record includes several other achievements that are philosophically consistent with its support of light rail.

So we have a provincial government that:
  • puts an end to urban sprawl around Waterloo Region and the GTA and pushes to intensify existing urban areas
  • makes a $300 million commitment to light rail to help achieve this objective
  • connects our region to the GTA with GO buses and soon GO trains that both mean fewer cars on the 401

These are NOT promises. These are results.

If you give this approach to sustainable urban development a thumbs up, mark an X beside your Liberal candidate on October 6.

But don’t get me wrong, I also think the election is a good time to push for light rail to be extended to Cambridge as soon as possible. Let’s work together to make that happen.

One thought on “Full steam ahead for light rail? Your vote could make the difference.

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