Category Archives for "Northern Ontario"

Nov 21

Ontario’s 2018 Fall Economic Statement – Mixed Signals on Transportation

By TAO-admin | Highways and Bridges , Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Urban Transit

On November 15, Ontario released its 2018 Fall Economic Statement (FES). It is a large document covering all aspects of the Province’s operations. It is likely the most significant statement on the government’s intentions until the provincial budget comes out in Spring, 2019.

To date, the government has implemented various tax and fee cuts, including cancelling cap and trade, putting in a hiring freeze, changing labour laws, and cancelling some projects and programs, including 4 new universities, 758 renewable energy contracts, and the Environmental Commissioner office. There is a lot of public worry about additional future cuts as the government struggles to balance its books.

The statements on transportation in the FES are a mixed bag as summarized below:

• In contrast to their election platform promise to reinstate the Northlander train, the FES emphasizes northern highway improvements, and only promises to “review other initiatives to meet Northerners’ transportation needs, including passenger rail and bus services”.

• Similarly, in contrast to their promise to deliver all transit and transportation projects currently funded, the FES simply indicates that “the government looks forward to completing its review of all capital projects and intends to share details in the coming months”.

• The campaign plan to upload responsibility for existing and new subway lines from Toronto is maintained in the FES. See previous posting on this topic on the TAO website for more details. We have now heard that the advisory report on this uploading will be coming to the government by the end of this month.

• The campaign promise to actively explore High Speed Rail in Southwestern Ontario has been replaced with a plan to analyze a range of “options to either upgrade existing rail corridors, create new ones or utilize other forms of transportation.” This appears to be a welcome step-back from the previous government’s single-minded pursuit of High Speed Rail only. TAO has long advocated for a review of rail alternatives such as High Performance Rail involving incremental improvements to train speed and frequency on all existing corridors. But of course, the “other forms of transportation” statement bears watching.

• As expected, the province is reviving the Environmental Assessment for the GTA-W highway corridor. TAO participated in the previous EA process, emphasizing that existing infrastructure (rail, provincial highways, regional roads) need expansion to full capacity prior to a new expressway being built.

• A new item in the FES is a planned review of the enabling legislation for Metrolinx to “enhance the agency’s focus on regional transit delivery and service excellence”. Whether this leads to some sort of broader scope for Metrolinx, such as one regional transit agency like “Superlinx”, remains to be seen.

• The province is continuing work on the Greater Golden Horseshoe transportation plan, to which TAO and other non-government organizations have previously inputted.

• The FES is silent on the campaign promise to add $5B in new subway funding to build various lines in the GTHA. It is also silent on other topics that TAO has urged action on, including living up to the previous government promises of higher gas tax revenue to municipalities and provincial contributions to transit fare integration in Greater Toronto, as well as assistance to municipalities to implement low-income fares/passes.

 

In summary, with this new government, there are many planned or potential major changes to Ontario’s transportation landscape. TAO intends to closely monitor all of these and provide input to ensure that sustainability gets its fair due.

Oct 15

NEORN Continues to Advocate for Return of Passenger Rail Service

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario

Our colleagues at the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) continue to advocate strongly that the Ontario PC government fulfill its promise to restore full passenger rail service to Northern Ontario.   NEORN has written an open letter to key Queens Park elected officials requesting a status update.  They have also updated all of the 90+ municipalities, First Nations and other stakeholder organizations that provided resolutions of support for the return of passenger rail.

 

The NEORN open letter to Queens Park elected officials can be viewed here: NEORN letter to Premier Ford-10.10.18

 

The NEORN letter to stakeholders can be viewed here:  NEORN letter to municipalities re Premier Ford final 10.10.18

Sep 15

New Commentary explores how passenger rail service in Northern Ontario could enhance intercommunity connectivity and quality of life

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario

A new commentary on the benefits of passenger rail in Northern Ontario has been published by the Northern Policy Institute.  It is authored by three close colleagues of Transport Action Ontario – Lucille Frith ( current board member), Linda Savory-Gordon (past board member) and Howie Wilcox (current board member of Transport Action Canada).

 

It can be viewed here:  http://www.northernpolicy.ca/passengerrail

Aug 14

Changeover in Carbon Pricing in Ontario – Complex and Vitally Important

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Urban Transit

Two of Premier Ford`s signature campaign promises were to end the Ontario cap & trade system and to reduce gasoline taxes by 10 cents per liter (cpl). The gas tax cut has now been clarified to involve a 4.3 cpl reduction from ending cap & trade, and 5.7cpl from an outright gas tax reduction. Interestingly, the party also has promised to retain gas tax transfers to municipalities for public transit – currently at 2 cpl ramping up to 4 cpl by 2021.

Several Transport Action Ontario (TAO) members attended a Gas Tax Forum on July 25, 2018 http://www.transportfutures.ca/gastax, put on by our friend Martin Collier of Transport Futures. The forum discussed the economic, social and environmental aspects of gasoline pricing and the gas tax. The most interesting topic concerned the challenge Ontario will face in cancelling cap & trade, and the likely federal backstop that will come into place in 2019.

The Ontario cap & trade program started in early 2017, in conjunction with existing programs in Quebec and California. Each quarter, emission allowances were provided by government – either free or sold at government auctions. Allowances could also be bought and sold between emitters (the “trade”). Cap refers to the limited total number of allowances the government releases into the market annually. The regulated industries were large industrial emitters, large institutions as well as fuel distributors.

Over the past year, the system has worked well with stable prices and good industry acceptance. Apparently 272 Ontario companies have purchased $2.9B of allowances at an average price of about $18 per tonne CO2 or 4.3 cpl (fuel distributors)

Many of these allowances will have been for current operations, with companies presumably passing costs of allowances onto customers where possible. Future allowances have also been purchased in some cases, but now cannot be sold, as trading for Ontario companies was cut off by regulation in early July. Speakers at the Forum speculated that the sunk costs of future allowances could be as high as $2B. Presumably these owners will request compensation from the government.

On July 23, the Ontario government introduced Bill 4 – an Act winding up/repealing the cap and trade program. In interviews, the Minister of the Environment has stated that compensation costs will not exceed $5 Million, as the new legislation is designed to inoculate the government against litigation. Time will tell if Ontario has another major contracting scandal on its hands!

There is also litigation concerning the government`s process to end cap & trade. On July 18, the Canadian Environmental Law Association applied under the Environmental Bill of Rights for a review of the government process to dismantle cap & trade without consulting the people, as required by the Bill of Rights.

The Forum also discussed the Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop. This kicks into effect in January, 2019 for any province that does not have a suitable carbon pricing regime in place by September, 2018. (Ontario Bill 4 requires the government to prepare a climate change plan, but no details or timing is given.) The backstop consists of a carbon levy for fossil fuels and an output-based emission intensity price system for large industrial facilities (with up to 90% free allocation for competitively challenged industries, as announced in late July). The 2019 rate will be $20/tonne, rising annually by $10/tonne. Funds collected in each province are returned to the provincial government or directly to “persons”(individuals or companies).

TAO is a strong supporter of carbon pricing. Data shows that higher gasoline prices do reduce gasoline demand, especially in cities with good public transit. This is good for traffic congestion, air quality and climate change mitigation. Furthermore, the revenue from Ontario cap & trade was partially earmarked for new public transit projects. How can the province keep its promise relating to support of public transit, especially in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) where costly rapid transit extensions have been needed for many years? Economic and physical growth shows little sign of slowing across the GTHA, and for this we should be thankful. However, the intensification is only making the need for medium-to-high capacity public transit even more urgent. If considerable amounts of tax revenue are to be essentially relinquished, how are such costly facilities to be funded within a reasonable period of time?

We can only hope that, after the dust settles, Ontario will have an effective carbon pricing regime. TAO will continue to track this important item closely.

Peter Miasek
President, Transport Action Ontario

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