Walk With Joy: An Open Letter

ULI Toronto’s Executive Director writes an open letter to the future Ontario provincial government.

ULI Toronto Executive Director Richard Joy
An open letter for ULI Toronto Executive Director Richard Joy

I write this letter days ahead of the Ontario provincial election. I don’t know who will receive this letter, other than it is likely a new premier with either a majority or minority government.

First off, congratulations! They say the people are always right. I hope you prove them so. Four years ago, in the wake of the provincial and municipal elections, I noted in a blog that the province was entering the longest election-free period ever for the two orders of government that most directly impact our region. The political stability offered was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for leadership boldness on key issues to propel our region forward.

Four years ago, it was clear that we needed to dramatically increase transit operating funding. Huge gaps in service levels were beginning to be filled by alternative means, including private shuttles and the ride-sharing industry. Today, the province has still not heeded cries from municipalities to restore support for transit operations since they were removed 20 years ago. Inexplicably, transit service levels have stalled in this most recent provincial term. We must now join with all other global jurisdictions and institute state-level transit operating funding.

In 2014, the drum beats demanding road pricing were booming across almost every academic institute, think tank, and transit advocacy group, from right to left. Not surprisingly, in 2016 Toronto Mayor John Tory did do something bold: he advanced a proposal to toll the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. But all three provincial parties blocked this proposal then. A new government has an opportunity to revisit this mistake now.

Road tolls not only spoke to a need to better manage our limited road infrastructure, they pointed to another languishing public policy challenge: the lack of dedicated funding for transit infrastructure expansion. Provincial finances are stretched to historic levels with demands on health and education rising every year. In 2014 the accumulated advice from two provincially appointed studies and myriad third-party reports all demanded dedicated taxation for regional transit.

It’s time to follow this advice.

Ahead of two major regional plan reviews (the Growth Plan and Metrolinx) the word of the day at the start of the last parliament was: alignment. The mismatch between transit planning and actual commercial and residential urban densities (realized or envisioned) was a growing crisis. And yet these two reviews proceeded largely independent of each other, while new GO Transit stations and subway lines advanced in a near vacuum of land use planning.

Now is the time to introduce needed policy rigor to ensure new infrastructure supports adequate densities, and that properties that increase in value because of these public investments also help pay for them.

Housing affordability was a raging issue four year ago, and it is boiling over all-the-more today. But whereas the focus on affordability was mostly concentrated on the low income and the dearth of available units or subsidies resulting in then 16 (now 20) years of housing downloads to municipalities, today the issue is also on middle income or market affordability.

Notwithstanding the supply-supply-supply mantra of many industry voices, we need a holistic review of the forces that are driving housing costs up, including inclusionary zoning, “missing middle” incentives to make mid-rise density more affordable, and even gentler density opportunities associated with opening up the “yellow belt” within low-density neighbourhoods with such opportunities as laneway housing and strata severances to allow for separate ownership of traditional homes as seen in Montréal and Vancouver.

With your election, we once again find ourselves at the beginning of a new opportunity for bold actions on these key regional transportation, housing and development challenges that have languished for far too long. These are not new challenges, but they have all become more acute.

As you know, boldness is something best acted on early in a term of office. So now is the time to seize the moment and act on the leadership opportunities that the last government allowed to slip by.

I look forward to your reply.

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