Candidates on rail service and electric vehicle subsidies


As election day draws near, here is what the candidates had to say about transportation and subsidies for electric cars at the all-candidates debate at the Algonquin Theatre last month.

Independent Jeff Mole – He said if he were elected he would bring forward a motion to fund the conversion to, and expansion of, vehicles that run on propane. “I think that will go a long way to making travel affordable for those who still want to drive their own vehicle, but at the same time want to protect the environment,” said Mole, adding that propane is a fuel that has been left behind. “The government seems to be purely focused on electric and I’m not sure that that is the right solution for our region.” In terms of public transportation, Mole said he would propose an Uber-type model of ride-sharing for the area. He said taxi and limo service is a business he is in and has some knowledge of. He said expanding ride-sharing province-wide would benefit this area.

In terms of subsidizing electric vehicles, Mole said he agrees with the subsidy but not on luxury vehicles. “Subsidies for the rich, not exactly my favourite way to go.” He also said he does not think electric vehicles are the be-all and end-all for people in this riding, preferring instead to see the conversion of vehicles to propane. He said he’s also concerned with the safety of producing “so many batteries,” required for electric cars.

PC Norm Miller – Miller said he liked Mole’s propane suggestion. He said about half the vehicles sold in Parry Sound-Muskoka are pick-up trucks. “Propane conversion does make a lot of sense. I know I’ve got a 1989 Ford truck and at that point converted it to dual fuel and there was an incentive, we received the sales tax back so it was a modest incentive but just enough to encourage [it]… and it is better, better for the environment than a regular gas vehicle. Eventually I’m sure we’re all going to be driving electric vehicles but a $14,000 subsidy for a Tesla is a very inefficient use of money.” He also said he’d like to see more paved shoulders on roads to facilitate active transportation and said his party is in favour of bringing back Ontario Northland train service to the area. “We’ve committed capital money to bring it back and a subsidy to bring it back, so we’d have the Northlander running from Toronto to Cochrane,” he said, adding that Conservative MPP for Nipissing, Vic Fedeli, has been a huge supporter of bringing back the train as well. “It was the Liberal government in 2012 that cancelled the Northlander and I should add that the NDP government sat on their hands and didn’t vote against the budget that cancelled it. The PC party was the only party that voted against that budget, so had the NDP wanted to, they could have voted with the PC and defeated the proposal to end the Northlander.”

On the issue of road maintenance, he said: “We used to have a great system, until it was changed by the current government. We used to have what is called managed outsourcing, where MTO had controllers and controlled the road, directed the private company, which in most instances was Fowler Construction, to do the maintenance and the company didn’t have to actually pay for the cost of sand and salt so there was no incentive to use more or less, and we had great road conditions. The last numbers of years have been a disaster with these new area management contracts.”

As for electric vehicles, Miller said he believes subsidizing electric vehicles is a very inefficient way to go. “Someone buying a $140,000 Tesla and receiving a $14,000 subsidy… I don’t think it’s fair.” He said people in places like Novar and Sprucedale depend on their vehicle and they’re definitely not driving a Tesla, but they’re paying for that subsidy. “I just don’t think that’s fair and I think it’s a very inefficient use of the money…”

Liberal Brenda Rhodes – She said personally she’d like to see rail service return to the area. “I think it helps not only connect us to Toronto but also to the North and that helps out businesses, obviously. But it also helps out people that are travelling for health care. Right now they’re using the bus system and it becomes a difficulty for them so personally I believe that and I know that the party is going to look at a business plan. If there’s a relevant business plan for this, they’re willing to look at it.” She also said provincial funding was brought forward for the bus system in the area. “I think it’s important in our communities. We need to build that culture that uses that bus system and that helps people get to and from their jobs, specially people that are struggling—lower-income people—to get to their job and I think it’s a fantastic initiative that was brought forward, partly through provincial funding.”

On road maintenance, Rhodes said the Premier has indicated that road maintenance would be uploaded back to the Province.

As for subsidies for electric cars, Rhodes said the subsidy has resulted in the sale of electric cars increasing by 120 per cent. She said the subsidy incentive for electric cars comes from revenue from the cap-and-trade model the Liberals put in place.  While subsidies should generally go to people who need them, she said: “If we’re talking about changing habits, I honestly don’t believe that it should be on a scale of price, especially when we’re talking about our environment. I’m actually very surprised about your reaction to that,” she told Miller. “Because we all suffer if we are putting out these emissions, so if we are making those changes when it comes to something like this, I think those subsidies should be there for anybody that wants to make that change.”

NDP Erin Horvath – “I just point out that the Liberal government is in charge right now and they’re not running the Northlander, unfortunately. I do personally think, and as well as the NDP think, that the Northlander line, not in its old capacity, but it does need to be up and running and are committed to do so, as well as to support the Algoma and the Huron lines – so that’s in the amount of $35 million each year.” She said running the train once again would be beneficial not just for environmental reasons but to enable businesses to move here and still have access to the city. “I think that’s a game changer in terms of re-visioning Parry Sound-Muskoka as a place to live and do work.” She said the NDP has also committed to working with municipalities to enable active transportation plans “so that there’s multiple ways of getting around that are non-motorized.” Horvath also said proper co-ordination and planning are also important to ensure transportation systems not only run, but that they run “at times that make sense for human beings to get on them and not freight, for example.” She also said it’s important to ensure buses connect between places. “I remember several times being stranded in places because I couldn’t get to the next place and had to take a taxi. So working on that is very much a priority for the NDP and then also putting 50 per cent down of funding to help with municipal funding.”

She also spoke of ending the privatization of road maintenance.

Subsidies for electric cars?  Horvath said she is in support of anything that leads to a greener and cleaner economy. “I love when there’s incentives for me to do something great or make a wiser choice, so yes I would be in favour of any incentives that would help us to move and transition more easily into a green economy.” She also spoke of making things more affordable. “For a long time I’ve wanted to make certain choices, but they’ve been cost prohibitive. So as a society how do we move to that place where we can all afford to make the choices that we would really like to make in our heart and our soul… getting together people who are innovators in this area to figure these things out, that’s something that the NDP has committed to do.”

Green Matt Richter – He said it is crucial to get rail service right. He said he heard from young people in South River who said getting the service back would enable them to get to Union Station in Toronto and to their university. He said he also heard from an elderly group who said it would help them to get to hospital appointments in Toronto. Richter noted that the cost of the Northern Ontario Travel Grant went much higher a year after the train was cancelled. He referred to rail service as efficient and good value for money. “It’s efficient for our tourism economy, it’s efficient for getting people to appointments… it’s very, very efficient,” said Richter, adding that passenger rail is less susceptible to weather, which can cause highway closures. In terms of financing it, he said economists have said $2 billion could be raised per year “by raising road tolls, congestion charges or parking levies.”

Richter said his party would also look at subsidizing electric vehicles, “however not just carte blanche. That’s my fear of what I just heard. The program has been in place for a while but if you wanted to buy a Porsche Spyder, I believe, at $98,000, the electric vehicle type, you are getting a subsidy.” He said maybe that’s what was needed to get the program going but it should be monitored now. “Now that we got to this point, we can have that honest conversation and say ‘alright, maybe we can give the subsidies no longer to the luxury vehicles but to the more affordable electric vehicles,'” said Richter, adding that he looks forward to leading the charge forward to Queen’s Park as to how to do that. “When we can have low-priced cars that can be charged at home with a built-in solar battery unit, which is doable, which is happening right now in Muskoka, that’s how we make life more affordable.”

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1 Comment

  1. EVs are impractical for all of our transportation needs (our aging electric grid in N. America couldn’t even support it anyway) but they could be part of the mix. However, I am against using taxpayer dollars to subsidize anyone who can afford a car that sells for $100,000 or more. I would limit the subsidy to cars selling for $50K or less. Propane-powered trucks is a great alternative fuel compared to gasoline or diesel. Propane has been used for vehicles like trucks and buses, in a limited way, for many years.

    However, propane would not be cost-effective for home heating (as many have discovered to their chagrin), unless the price of natural gas (methane) exceeded the current price by an order of magnitude. If we even got halfway close to that, there would be a mass march on the Ontario Energy Board’s offices. Natural gas is technically “a greenhouse gas” but, the amount that escapes to the atmosphere is tightly controlled by the natural gas companies and is negligible compared to the massive amounts being released from melting permafrost, so not to worry. Natural gas (methane) is very clean-burning and does not contribute to any build up of particulates or any other form of pollution. In terms of CO2 emissions, burning it only gives off about a third of the CO2 of a coal or oil-burning power plant. Since N. America is the “Saudi Arabia” of natural gas, it makes sense to utilize it to fuel our power plants until we can get more nuclear power plants online (a VERY long process and very costly). We should probably go to the much safer thorium reactors. Here is an article from New Scientist that explains the difference between current nuclear power plants and then explains the new interest in thorium reactors.

    One cause of many of our current stalemates in the political sphere is that it is peopled with so many lawyers who do not understand much of the technical problems we face. They hire technical consultants and then ignore them in favor of what is politically expedient. We need more business people who are used to making practical decisions. Business people understand that you will never have any perfect solutions (or sometimes even close to ideal) but you must go with compromises until something better comes along. Local politicians seem to understand that compromises must be made but the lawyers in charge of the bureaucracies that rule from Toronto and Ottawa think only in terms of their ideologies, unfortunately. All the more reason to move in the direction of as much local control as possible. Strong central governments are much more prone to corruption and mismanagement because the people can’t really watch over what the central governments are doing. As individuals, we have all had experiences with the cold, implacable face of government bureaucracy.

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