An Ontario court has ruled the owners of the privatized Highway 407 can hike tolls for the sixth time since buying the highway in 1999. With 93 years left on the Highway 407 lease, the deal is a license to print money for the multinational consortium that owns the road.
The McGuinty Liberal government went to court to try and stop a toll increase, but in January the court ruled the highway owners can raise tolls without government approval. Thats a far cry from McGuintys election promise to roll back tolls on the 407. It turns out theres a sweetheart clause in the contract, one that prohibits any government action that could limit the 407 consortiums ability to make a profit.
Tolls have risen as much as 200 per cent in the past five years, and are set to rise again. When then-premier Mike Harris sold the road, he promised increases would be limited to two per cent plus inflation for the first 15 years. The public had to take his word for it, because the deal was secret.
As if thats not bad enough, the private owners want the provincial government to act as their collection agency. The contract gives the owners a big stick the province agreed not to renew drivers licences until any unpaid 407 bills were settled.
The Harris government ended this practice after the list of delinquent drivers was found to be full of errors including people being tolled that had never driven on the highway. Now, the consortium is suing to force the government back to denying plate renewals for drivers who havent paid up. So much for the private sector being able to run a business on its own.
Faced with a corporation that has free rein to charge whatever it wants for nearly a century, the Ontario NDPs call for the Liberals to buy back the highway for the $3.1 billion it was sold for seems like a bargain.