If former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman was still at the helm of city council, he’s confident the plan to toll the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway would have been defeated.
“Shocking and surprising,” was how he reacted to city council’s decision to approve the tolling plan with a 75% mandate. “I would not have done that.”
Lastman did not comment publicly and only responded to me asking for his thoughts while we were talking about the death of actor Alan Thicke.
The 83-year-old political legend was hesitant but I persisted. I was pleased to learn he’s one of the few who seems to realize the whole notion of choking off the city and shaking down commuters is ludicrous.
Lastman told me if they had called him for advice, he would have told the mayor and council to tighten their belts and cut spending instead of targeting drivers.
“I would have told them, you don’t hurt the taxpayers before you hurt yourself,” added Lastman. “You have to bleed before the taxpayers bleed.”
But “no one called” him.
“There’s lots of money around and millions more from property tax,” he said. “Why do they have to do that? Where is all the money going? I don’t get it.”
Lastman said there are many areas that could be trimmed.
“When you are forced to raise taxes, you get everybody together and you look for ways to trim first,” he said. “They are not fighting to keep spending under control like (former mayor) Rob Ford did.”
Mayor John Tory’s office said there have been cost-cutting measures implemented at City Hall.
A spokesman for Tory cited the mayor's push to contract out garbage collection — potential savings of $11 million — and efficiencies that have been found in many municipal departments and agencies as examples of cost cutting.
Lastman, meanwhile, said money for council’s “wish fund” should not be collected before office expenses and “car allowances and unnecessary travel” are cut.
Taxpayers, he said, are going to be the ones forced to trim their family budgets to pay these new fees of which he is also skeptical.
“The $2 is not what is going to be,” said Lastman. “It’s going to be $4, $6, $8 and go up. Everybody knows that.”
Whatever the toll fee, it’s too much already for over-taxed residents of the GTA.
“Even at $4 a day it’s too much. That’s $1,000 a year for the working person and it is not going to help with gridlock,” said Lastman. “I don’t know what the hell it’s going to accomplish.”
But even if it did, Lastman said using these highways to raise money for any reason is not appropriate.
“We paid for the road already ... and now they are told they have to pay to go on it? It’s sad,” said Lastman. “You don’t ask people to pay for the same road twice.”
At least they wouldn’t if he was still mayor.