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Don’t be fooled by high-speed rail


6 minute read

From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Randal O’Toole

Rail advocates admit that trains can’t compete with airliners over long distances or with cars over short distances but claim there is a middle distance – supposedly around 150 to 800 kilometers – in which rail has an advantage over its competitors. That would be true only if the trains were almost 100 percent subsidized.

The Canadian government is considering spending $6 billion to $12 billion to introduce what it calls “high-frequency trains” between Toronto and Quebec City. Though some media reports have described these as high-speed trains (which generally means trains capable of going 250 kilometers per hour), they won’t be. Building such a rail line would easily cost $60 billion and probably much more.

Passenger-train advocates argue that Canada needs to join the international race to have the fastest trains in the world. But this is a race Canada can afford to lose because the country has something that is faster and far less costly: jet airliners.

High-speed trains were already obsolete in 1964, when Japan started operating its first bullet trains. Six years before that, Boeing had introduced the 707 and Douglas the DC-8, both of which cruised four times faster than the early bullet trains and twice as fast as the fastest trains in the world today.

Aside from speed, airliners also have a huge cost advantage because they don’t require a lot of expensive infrastructure between cities. While airports are infrastructure, the only infrastructure airliners really need are paved runways and perhaps a Quonset hut for ticket agents, baggage handling, and a waiting room—which is all that some of Canada’s more remote airports have.

Today’s big-city airports with huge concourses, shops, and jetways were built up over time and mostly paid for out of ticket fees. In contrast, rail advocates want taxpayers to put up tens of billions of dollars before a single wheel turns in the hope that trains that are slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and more expensive than both will somehow attract a significant number of travelers.

Rail advocates admit that trains can’t compete with airliners over long distances or with cars over short distances but claim there is a middle distance – supposedly around 150 to 800 kilometers – in which rail has an advantage over its competitors. That would be true only if the trains were almost 100 percent subsidized.

Air Canada and its competitors currently offer more than three dozen flights a day between Toronto and Montreal with fares starting at $118, less than 25 cents per passenger-kilometer. Fares on VIA Rail Canada averaged 68 cents per passenger-kilometer in 2022, and more than half of its costs are subsidized. People are simply not going to ride high-speed trains in large numbers if those trains cost far more than airlines, buses, or driving.

Amtrak’s only high-speed train, the Acela, collected fares of CN$1.80 per passenger-kilometer in 2022, and while Amtrak claims it covers its operating costs, all of its infrastructure costs are paid for by taxpayers. Amtrak brags that it carries more passengers in the Washington-New York corridor than the airlines, but cars and buses in this corridor carry well over 10 times as many intercity passengers as Amtrak.

The other argument rail advocates make is that high-speed trains will offer shorter downtown-to-downtown times than airlines in some markets. But most people neither work nor live downtown. Toronto and Montreal each have three commercial airports and residents are more likely to be near one of those airports than downtown.

Finally, rail proponents claim that high-speed trains will emit fewer greenhouse gases than cars or planes. But as usual they ignore the construction costs—that is, the billions of kilograms of greenhouse gases that would be emitted to build a high-speed rail line. It is likely that operational savings would never recover this cost, especially since it would be far less expensive to power jets and automobiles with biofuels.

One thing is certain: building high-speed or even high-frequency rail will require lots of workers. Far from being a benefit, Canada is currently suffering a labour shortage that is not expected to end soon. If the government decides to spend billions on a rail line, it will only make the costs of housing, cars, and just about everything else rise even faster.

China, Japan, and Spain have practically wrecked their economies by spending too much on high-speed trains. Just because other countries are foolishly building high-speed rail lines doesn’t mean Canada should do so any more than the country should spend billions on other obsolete technologies such as telegraphs, electric typewriters, or slide rules. Taxpayers should tell the government not to waste money on such boondoggles.

Randal O’Toole is a transportation policy analyst and author of Building 21st Century Transit Systems for Canadian Cities. (20 pages) March 12,2024.

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Trudeau’s bureaucrat hiring spree is out of control

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From the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Author: Franco Terrazzano

Bureaucrats love to think of themselves as “public servants,” but who is really serving who around here?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added another 10,525 bureaucrats to the taxpayer payroll last year. Since becoming prime minister, Trudeau has added more than 108,000 new federal bureaucrats.

That’s a 42 per cent increase in the federal bureaucracy in less than a decade.

Ask yourself, are you getting 42 per cent better services from the federal government? Unless your paycheque comes from taxpayers, the answer is a big fat NO.

While Trudeau’s bureaucracy grew by 42 per cent, Canada’s population grew by 14 per cent.

That means there would be 72,491 fewer federal paper pushers had Trudeau kept growth in the bureaucracy in line with population growth.

It’s not just the size of the bureaucracy that’s ballooning – the cost is too.

The total cost of the federal payroll hit $67 billion last year, a record high. That’s a 68 per cent increase over 2016.

Trudeau gave federal bureaucrats more than one million pay raises in the last four years alone.

Since taking office, Trudeau also rubberstamped about $1.4 billion in taxpayer-funded bonuses to bureaucrats working in federal departments.

The bonuses were paid out despite the Parliamentary Budget Officer finding “less than 50 per cent of [performance] targets are consistently met.”

Then there’s the bonuses at failing Crown corporations.

CBC dished out $15 million in bonuses last year, while their President and CEO Catherine Tait whined about “chronic underfunding” and begged the government for more taxpayer cash. The CBC takes more than $1 billion from taxpayers every year.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation dished out $102 million in bonuses over the last four years, while Canadians couldn’t afford to buy a home. The bonuses rained down, despite the CMHC repeatedly claiming it’s “driven by one goal: housing affordability for all.”

The Bank of Canada dished out more than $60 million in bonuses over the last three years, even though it failed to do its one and only job: keep inflation low and around two per cent.

The average annual compensation for a full-time federal bureaucrat is $125,300, when pay, pension and perks are accounted for, according to the PBO.

There are now more than 110,000 federal bureaucrats taking home a six-figure base salary – an increase of 154 per cent since Trudeau took power.

Meanwhile, data from Statistics Canada suggests the average annual salary among all full-time workers in Canada was less than $70,000 in 2023.

Here’s why all this matters:

First, it’s an issue of fairness. The last few years have spelled hardship for Canadians who don’t work for the government, but do pay the bills.

Countless Canadians were sent to the ranks of the unemployed, lost their business and struggled to afford rising rents and costly grocery trips.

They’re paying higher taxes so more highly-paid bureaucrats can take bigger paycheques.

Second, more than half of the federal government’s day-to-day spending is consumed by the bureaucracy. That means any government that wants to fix the budget dumpster fire must shrink the bureaucracy.

Let’s recap:

Taxpayers paid for 108,000 new federal bureaucrats. Taxpayers paid for more than one million pay raises over the last four years. Taxpayers paid for more than $1 billion in bonuses.

And bureaucrats barely meet even half of their performance targets – targets they set for themselves.

It’s clear Trudeau’s bureaucratic bloat isn’t serving taxpayers. It’s time to find a pin and pop Ottawa’s ballooning bureaucracy.

This column was first published in the Western Standard on July 202, 2024.

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Trudeau must prove he won’t tax our homes

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From the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Author: Franco Terrazzano 

Actions speak louder the words. That’s especially true when those words come from a politician with a track record of breaking promises and hiking taxes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won’t send the taxman after Canadians’ homes. But if Trudeau wants Canadians to believe he won’t impose a home equity tax, there’s one thing he must do: end the CRA’s home reporting requirement.

In 2016, the Trudeau government made it mandatory for Canadians to report the sale of their primary residence even though it’s tax-exempt. If you sell your home, the CRA wants to know how much money you received from that sale. But if the taxman isn’t taxing it, why is the taxman asking that question? Is the CRA just curious?

Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre confirmed to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation he would remove this reporting requirement if he forms government.

Trudeau must do the same. Otherwise, Canadians should worry a home equity tax is right around the corner. As Toronto Sun Columnist Brian Lilley recently wrote, “For Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party, taxing your primary residence is a bad idea they just can’t quit.”

On June 25, Trudeau attended “a private town hall about generational fairness,” hosted by Generation Squeeze, a group advocating for home taxes.

What do you notice about the theme of that town hall? The government recently used the cloak of generational fairness to impose its capital gains tax hike.

The Trudeau government also spent hundreds of thousands funding and promoting a report from Generation Squeeze that complained of the “housing wealth windfalls gained by many home owners while they sleep and watch TV.”

The report recommended charging a tax on the value of homes above $1 million. The tax would cost Canadians up to $5.8 billion every year, and it would hit many normal Canadians. In British Columbia and Toronto, the typical home price is above $1 million.

Trying to improve affordability with tax hikes is like trying to boil water with your freezer. Higher taxes won’t make homes affordable. Consider this insight 50 pages into the report.

“Owners of homes valued over $1 million that include informal rental suites may try to recover the surtax by passing some of its cost on to renters,” reads the report.

It turns out higher taxes can make things cost more.

The head of Generation Squeeze was invited to a cabinet ministers’ retreat in Charlottetown last summer.

Documents uncovered by the CTF show staff in the prime minister’s office met twice with the head of Generation Squeeze, which included “a briefing about the tax policy recommendation.”

Trudeau has an appetite for taxing people’s homes. His recent capital gains tax hike will impact Canadians who sell secondary residences and cottages. He imposed a so-called anti-flipping home tax. And Trudeau taxes homes the government deems “underused.”

With Trudeau scrounging through the couch cushions looking for more money to paper over his deficits, Canadians should worry a home equity tax is next.

A home equity tax would come with a big bill for a young couple looking to upgrade to a family home or for grandparents who rely on the equity in their home to fund their golden years.

As an example, Canadians that bought their Toronto home for $250,000 in 1980 and sold it for $1.2 million today would pay between $50,000 and $190,000, depending on the type of home equity tax.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly flirted with home equity taxes. The only way for Trudeau to put Canadians’ minds at ease is to act and remove the requirement for taxpayers to report the sale of their home to the CRA.

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