EDITORIAL: Transit funding puts rural Ontario at disadvantage

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One thing that hasn’t changed with the switch in government at Queen’s Park is the propensity for congratulatory self-praise. Some of it is deserved. Some of it is not. The problem is the Ford government doesn’t appear to understand the difference.

Case in point is the annual dispersal of provincial assistance for public transit. The money is generated at the pump by most every motorist who purchases fuel in Ontario – two cents per litre. Last year, that gas tax raised approximately $357.5 million. On Jan. 9, the province announced (with political hosannas singing in the background) how those millions would be distributed.

There were no surprises, but to hear some MPPs describe it, the program didn’t even exist until the Progressive Conservatives assumed office last June. Yet the program has been around for some time.

Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls described the routine dispersal as “new transit funding.” In a press release, he called it a “new program.” But it’s not.


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To be fair, the Ford government does deserve credit for making some changes since taking office, the most prominent being the decision last July to end Ontario’s costly clean energy program. But to take credit for a program that’s become a routine function of governing this province is wrong.

Ironically, the gas tax program has inherent problems that the previous Liberal government never addressed, and that the current government has ignored. The gas tax revenue is dispersed to municipalities using a formula that favours urban communities. Rural municipalities – whose citizens also contributed to the gas tax program every time they filled their vehicles with fuel – get a raw deal.

Here’s how it works. The dispersal is based on transit ridership (70 per cent) plus population (30 per cent). But most rural municipalities don’t have public transit programs, so they’re immediately placed at a disadvantage. Municipalities like Chatham-Kent, which Nicholls represents and which is an amalgamation of rural and urban communities, don’t experience that inequity.

But Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey sees the inequity and says he understands the concern from rural residents who pay the same gas tax as their urban neighbours but don’t see the benefit. “We’ve always argued that (they should be included),” the Conservative MPP told Postmedia.

The Ford government should rework the funding formula so rural municipalities receive a greater benefit. Most don’t have public transit, but all of them have roads. Some allowance should be granted so rural councils can leverage the transit funding in an equitable fashion.

If that happened, the annual funding program would be new.

– Peter Epp

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