Transit: The Threat of a Good Example

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 18, 2006

So the Conservative government's new transit tax credit has rolled out.

Transit supporters, hold your cheers for a moment: this is good politics but bad policy.

It's going to create additional administrative overhead for millions of people by forcing transit users to keep their passes and possibly also their receipts, and increasing the cost and complication of filling out tax returns.

The poorest transit users who don't make enough money to qualify won't even be eligible for the tax credit.

I was discussing this with a friend a couple of months ago, and she pointed out that it makes a lot more sense simply to give the money straight to the transit commissions so they can reduce fares.

Unfortunately, doing so might inadvertently demonstrate that government is capable of doing good things under the right circumstances.

A central tenet of right-wing ideology is that government cannot do anything right, aside from justice - retributive justice, that is - and national defence. (By contrast, a central tenet of left-wing ideology is that the market cannot do anything right.)

Since well-funded transit systems work very well, are highly efficient, and are good for the economy, putting the money right into the transit systems themselves might undermine the prevailing ideology of the Conservative government. As a result, we end up with a half-assed program that inconveniences a lot of people and entirely fails to help those who need it the most.

In other words, the Harper administration is trying to affirm its own premise in a self-fulfilling policy.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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