In what might be a sign that people are realizing that the Provincial Election is now a year-and-a-half away, the Guelph riding association of the Ontario New Democrats sent a press release to the media that didn’t attack the current Provincial government, but attacked the current MPP of Guelph instead. The president of the Guelph NDP is calling out Mike Schreiner for being the odd man out and not supporting an NDP private members bill.
Jennifer French, a member of the NDP caucus and the MPP for Oshawa, introduced a private members bill designated Bill 43, or the “Freeing Highways 412 and 418 Act” in October 2018. The bill asks the government to scrap toll roads on provincial highways 412 and 418, and prevent new connector roads to Highway 407 from also being tolled.
Many in Durham Region, including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, have said that the toll roads have had a major economic impact on the area, and are a barrier to business, which is why it was a campaign issue for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2018 campaign.
“Premier Doug Ford and his Durham MPPs promised they would take off these tolls, not decades down the road, but right after they were elected,” said French in a statement on Wednesday. “Two years later and drivers in Durham haven’t seen the tolls removed. They are still stuck in traffic avoiding those tolls they can’t afford.”
French’s private members bill passed second reading this week, and was referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in a vote of 54 to 2. And this is where Mike Schreiner comes in because he was one of the two.
“This isn’t the first time Schreiner has expressed support for road tolls in Ontario,” the press release said referring to a 2018 post from CTV Kitchener where Schreiner said he would implement tolls on the 400-series highways as one way to raise $3.5 billion to pay for expanded GO Transit service.
“The right way to do this is to invest in public transportation – greatly improved rail and bus connections – providing commuters with an attractive alternative to being stuck in their cars in a traffic jam on the 401,” said Jordan Lemcke, the President of the Guelph NDP.
The NDP media release added that they reject the “false equation” of Schreiner’s idea to raise funds for transit by tolling roles because it puts an unfair burden on commuters. “Let’s pay for transit the same way we pay for highways: through general tax revenues, with the wealthy paying their fair share,” Lemcke added. “Imposing tolls to shift the burden of transit costs onto Ontario’s commuters is just plain wrong.”
Schreiner respectfully disagrees.
“If we are serious about tackling the climate crisis and reducing gridlock, then we need a plan to build more public transit and we need a plan to pay for it,” the Guelph MPP said in a statement to Guelph Politico. “The NDP can support more pollution and highway expansion if they want, but I’ll focus on reducing pollution and expanding public transit.”
In August, Premier Doug Ford said that he would “love to get rid of the tolls,” but instead froze fees with an option to eliminate them later “once we pay for the infrastructure and the highways.”
Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who is also the MPP for Ajax, added that he and other PC MPPs from Durham Region were “working tirelessly” on the file, and that they were waiting for a report from Ministry of Transportation that will outline the options. “That report is going to be coming out soon and they will be reporting back to the community as soon as they get that,” Phillips said according to DurhamRegion.com.