Politicians often try to bribe voters with their own money. As election season rolls around, you can count on them tossing around with targeted puppets of public funds in an attempt to win key rides and ballot papers. Usually, though, the bribe is a little less obvious than the check that arrived at my home in Toronto this week from Premier Doug Ford.
I knew it would come. A few weeks ago, an email landed in my inbox. It said it was from Mr Ford himself. At least that was his name in the headline. The actual email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. The OPC stands for the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, Mr. Ford’s gang, which hopes to win another term on June 2.
“Marcus,” it began in a rather familiar tone. (I know Mr. Ford from his days as the right hand man for his brother Rob at City Hall, but I do not want to say we are friends.) “Every year you throw away $ 120 to renew your license plate sticker. Let’s see in “eyes, it’s just another tax. I’ll scrap it. And I’ll introduce bureaucracy legislation to give you reimbursement for the last two years.”
True to his word, Mr. Ford’s government sent my household of two a $ 440 check. It came in a white envelope from the Ministry of Transport, which mentioned nothing about the upcoming election. An attached notice said that “to save you money, the Ontario government has renewed your license plate for free and reimbursed the cost of doing so for the past two years.”
How very generous. And how perfectly timed, with the election only seven weeks away. Mr. Ford is trying to convince voters that he is a leading “For the People,” as his balls proclaim. Which is good to know, because I would certainly not vote for anyone who’s against the people. A new campaign jingle says he and his government “always fight for you.”
Especially if you happen to drive a car and live in the cities. The sprawling suburbs that surround Toronto are a goldmine for votes. Many drivers are annoyed by higher prices at the petrol pump. To ensure their fidelity, the Ford government not only kills the license renewal fee and sends them refund checks, but reduces a few cents from the gas tax and eliminates tolls on two suburban highways: 412 and 418.
Let’s hope voters are not so cheap. The check-stunt is both cheesy politics and bad politics. Ontario is struggling with a huge budget deficit caused by all the pandemic spending. It has ambitious plans to build mass transport and expand the highway system. The license fee could have helped cover the huge costs. Instead, the government will lose $ 1 billion in reliable revenue.
Reducing tolls and gas charges as Canada strives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions is hard to justify. The federal carbon tax makes it more expensive to consume energy; Mr. Ford makes it cheaper. It’s a push-me, pull-you approach to environmental planning. No one ends up ahead in the long run.
Tolls are good policy. They place more of the burden of building and maintaining highways on those who actually use them, rather than the general public. They make drivers think more about when and how often they use their vehicles. Conservatives like Mr Ford should positively love tolls because they depend on market prices and the principle of user fees. With rights, he should impose more, not try to infiltrate the electorate by getting rid of them.
So I’m afraid there was no hallelujah with me when Mr Ford’s check came in, even though there may have been other exclamations. I’m tempted to send it back to him. “Doug,” I might begin, “please spend this money on something more useful than trying to buy my vote. I like tolls and think gas charges should be higher, not lower.” But I somehow doubt he would answer even if we’re on first name terms.
Instead, I think I will redirect it to a useful cause, such as humanitarian relief for Ukraine or rainforest conservation. If Mr Ford can not spend my money, I’m sure they could.
Keep your opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.