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Election Analysis: Transit, Housing, Environment

June 6, 2018
Rachael Williams

As voters head to the polls to elect a new provincial government, academics and public policy advocates are weighing in on how the parties stack up on transit, housing and the environment. “

Throughout this election campaign, there has been some acknowledgement of some very profound changes that need to be made,” said Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior researcher Ricardo Tranjan. 

With outgoing premier Kathleen Wynne conceding the Liberal party will lose the election, the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP are in a tight race to determine which party will lead Ontario for the next four years. 

“One of the key things that comes through when you compare the PC and NDP platforms is acknowledgement that some type of fundamental change is required on how public transit is funded,” said Tranjan. 

Ford has committed to taking over Toronto’s extensive subway network, which would require the province to pay an estimated $160-million per year for capital maintenance costs. He has also pledged $5-billion towards new subway construction in the city, but is silent on the on-going operating costs. 

“When you look at how people move in the GTA and how the region is growing you quickly realize investing only in subways in the 416 is not going to be enough to relieve congestion and get people where they want to go,” said Pembina Institute transportation and urban solutions team managing director Lindsay Wiginton. 

The Liberals have promised to set aside $79-billion for public transit projects, including $11-billion for a high-speed rail line from Toronto to Windsor. The NDP has committed to all-day two-way GO rail service between Kitchener, Waterloo and Toronto and year-round GO rail service between Niagara and Toronto. 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath sweetened the deal by promising to cover 50 per cent of all municipal transit operating costs, which is expected to cost $4.2billion over five years according to the party platform. 

“I think we need to know more about the uploading proposal. It’s fairly unspecified right now as to how it’s going to work out and it has potential implications in terms of service integration...who’s responsible for long-term planning and how that integrates with the municipal plans and land use planning,” said University of Toronto geography and planning associate professor Matti Siemiatycki. 

The Green Party has also committed to funding half of the operating costs of municipal transit systems, while increasing public infrastructure funding to $1.5-billion per year. 

Housing is another hotbutton election issue, with the PC party pledging to cut bureaucratic red tape and speed up development approvals through a revision to the environmental assessment process. 

“In the last 10 years the industry has been overwhelmed with red tape,” said Ontario Home Builders’ Association CEO Joe Vaccaro. “We need more housing, we need less politics. Let’s work through the process and get that supply and choice on the market, and that provides the market the opportunity to adjust prices.” 

Vaccaro told NRU he is happy to see the NDP putting some skin in the game, with plans to build 65,000 affordable homes. 

“It speaks to the fact that the market cannot satisfy everyone’s housing needs and will never create enough housing for those under a certain income level,” he added. 

In a recently-published analysis of party platforms, Health Providers Against Poverty gave letter grades to the parties on five issues, including affordable housing. The NDP surpassed all three parties by achieving a B score on the file, with the Liberals and Green Party scoring a D and D+ respectively and the Conservatives receiving a failing grade. 

“They [NDP] made a very, very significant promise to create 65,000 rent-geared-toincome housing units and build 30,000 new supportive housing units over the next decade,” said HPAP co-chair Jonathan Herriot. “I think that’s very progressive and in line with what housing advocates have been promising.” 

Perhaps the most prominent divergence in policy between the PC party and the leftleaning parties is on the environment and climate change, said York University environmental studies professor Mark Winfield. 

“You’ve got the Liberals, NDP and the Greens with variations on themes of carbon pricing...and then you have the [Progressive] Conservatives who want to eliminate cap-andtrade, get rid of the 10-cents off provincial gas tax and a constitutional challenge to the federal carbon pricing regime for good measure,” he said. 

Winfield lauded the Liberals and NDP for reinvesting carbon pricing revenues in building retrofit programs and electricvehicle incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Carbon pricing is a central part of the path forward,” said Canadian Urban Institute executive director Peter Halsall. “Any politician who denies that global reality is clearly not providing the sort of leadership needed by a province that plans to be globally competitive.” 

The provincial election will take place on June 7.