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Toronto Cyclists Scapegoats in tax revolt named ‘The War on the Car’

With Toronto taking the prize for longest average commute time of any city on the planet – and “Transit City” – part of Toronto’s “Green Plan” – starting to reach a critical mass in terms of the number of Bike Lanes on our streets – a reactionary view of cycling infrastructure resonated with voters as part of a tax revolt that became known as ‘The War on the Car’.

Well, in this writers opinion, Rob Ford is right again, it is a war on the car. Either we change our transportation model or we die (radical climate change = world war). It’s just that Rob Ford is defending the old model – the death model.)

The roots of the war on the car go back to 2007 when Toronto City Councillors were in trouble: they had a deficit, but they couldn’t legally run a deficit; at the time the Personal Vehicle Tax (PVT) and the Land Transfer Tax (LTT) seemed like progressive taxes (one worked towards the Green Plan’s objective of reducing auto trips, and the second tried slow the housing boom and prevent an economic ‘hard landing’).

Both immediately became symbols of a city management out of touch with every day peoples concerns.


It’s hard to see the political landscape evolving while it’s happening – it’s the forest for the trees thing. I didn’t understand what was going on in the spring and summer of 2010, when the polls were showing Ford with a huge lead – I figured the polls must be wrong, an error, I thought, the next poll would sort it out.

One day in early October I was talking to a Ford supporter and the words, ‘ it’s a tax revolt.’ blurted out of my face. The Fordite said, ‘Yes!’ – like it was obvious. Now it seems obvious, but not then.

Former Budget Chief Shelley Carroll stood up at the December 16 2010 meeting of council and laid out her read on the revolution that just happened at City Hall. She says it wasn’t the tax – it was they way it was implemented.

I don’t think she understands what just happened.

Here’s Carroll’s speech…

Although I agree that explaining how taxes, services and infrastructure are connected is important, I don’t think that’s to be all and end all of what happened here.

Most people are one paycheck away from missing a mortgage payment, or not being able to pay their rent. Over the last 20 years most people have been borrowing to maintain their standing in the middle class. Falling further and further in debt to maintain an illusion of success for themselves and for their children – to continue to believe that the New World Order will continue to afford them The Rights of Man and of the Citizen: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Timing is everything, as they say – and when Council passed these two tax measures in October of 2007 the Financial Melt Down was just hitting in the form of the US subprime mortgage crisis. Since then, a number of factors have combined to increase the cost of living in Toronto considerably:

  1. Although the Federal Governments Consumer Price Index shows no change (the art of deception in economic indicators has reached a point where these statistics are irrelevant to the average citizen), I think the cost of my bag of groceries has risen by about 10%.
  2. The Province’s new Green Energy plan has increased electricity prices by about 10% (Since buffered by the ‘Clean Energy Benefit’ – a 10% rebate on electricity bills for the next five years, announced by the Province in October).
  3. In early 2010 new garbage collection fees are announced, starting in 2011 a family of four (large bin) will pay $369.31/year. (On a $250,000 home that’s about a 10% increase in property tax.)
  4. The Personal Vehicle Tax ($60.00/car) and the Land Transfer Tax (average .75% on a $250,000 home).

This avalanche of new expenses that came after the Financial Catastrophe has pushed people to the brink of their ability to maintain a middle class myth – and they don’t like it. This is where we are, whether people choose to understand it specifically in these terms or not.


City Council Meeting – December 16, 2010 – Rogers TV:

Statistics Canada, The Consumer Price Index – December 2008 (pdf)
See Table 4.1 Food. ( “Ont. electricity rates to rise 46% over 5 years
- But ratepayers get 10% rebate

City of Toronto Public Notice: Proposed 2011 Residential Solid Waste Rates.

New! Toronto City Council On-Demand Video Archive (still in the testing phase, as of this writing some 2005 council meetings are up):


Posted: December 25th, 2010
Filed under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

3 Comments on “Toronto Cyclists Scapegoats in tax revolt named ‘The War on the Car’”

  1. 1 Commonsense1 said at 10:01 pm on December 28th, 2010:

    While it is recognized that cycling is a way of getting around this city and reduces some autos, one should not believe it is the be-all and end -all solution to traffic problems and that it should drive major projects and expenses. It is just one part of an overall strategy and should be used in a common-sense manner – reducing major crosstown roads such Dupont and Davenport to one lane each direction which run parallel to put in bike lanes in some places – just doesn’t make sense and infuriates drivers and creates pollution problems and traffic nightmares. Also why are we repaving roads to accommodate cyclists which are not in bad condition and creating more problems for all users – residents, pedestrians, children etc. because there is some money put aside in a budget which needed to be spent before Ford lowered the boom – cases in point are Poplar Plains Road and Russell Hill Road in South Hill – upgrading these has caused an increase in traffic and speed. These were not on the radar until late 2011 and City officials indicated pressure came from the cyclist lobby without any other parties’ involvement. As a life long cyclist and supporter of this means of transportation, common sense MUST PREVAIL otherwise one will see the backlash which has now taken place. “Ye reap what ye shall sow!!!”

  2. 2 michael holloway said at 12:20 am on December 29th, 2010:

    So I’m saying people are hurting and any new taxes are bad taxes — on the other hand you’re saying that spending on a cycling infrastructure that doesn’t make any sense is what caused the back-lash.

    Hmmm. I like your optimism.

    I’ve always been a bit of an outsider on the bike plan; all my maps in the “Toronto/GTA Bicycle Route Mapping Wiki” are about getting off dangerous main arterial roads and creating efficient, fast, safe Bikeways.

    Some see my approach as a ‘surrender’ to cars; I see it like Rob Ford sees it (ugh): cars and bikes DON’T MIX.

    I agree with your point on Dupont and Davenport, it’s silly. One or the other along the edge of the escarpment.

    But to say that Bikeways cannot move millions of commuters just like subways do, and that they are not something that can significantly reduce commute times for cars – I respectfully disagree.

    A Bikeway vision requires an over arching view of the problem rather that a hodge-podge of ideas ‘democratically’ sourced from letters or phone calls into councilors offices – which is how we got here I think.

    We need a grand plan.

    In the last year of the Mayor Miller’s Transit City this was begun to be recognized; planners and advocates looked and saw we had realized a bunch of unconnected trails going nowhere and *especially*, no way to get from west to east, or north to south.

    No ‘Commute Ways’.

    Last spring these ideas started to hit the news and I began building maps of routes that avoided major roads that could work as Bikeways across the downtown. Since the election I have been mapping ways to move cyclists in and out of the suburbs via efficient, flat, safe, straight routes through existing green spaces that cut the suburban “Squiggly Grid”; the hydro corridors and railway easements.

    You’d be amazed how fast one can get to seemingly distant places on bicycle via efficient, flat, safe, straight Bikeways. In the tour de France the athletes averaged 40 km/hr – that’s over two high mountain ranges – that’s a higher average speed than a car in rush hour on the 401 last year.

    Author’s annotation 01 08 2011:

    The ‘news’ I was referring to above was the release of the 2010 City of Toronto annual Cycling Report entitled “Changing Gears”:

  3. 3 michael holloway said at 12:51 am on September 18th, 2011:

    Me too; just now – and your nice comment made it better. :)

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