A Debate 3 Months Too Late

April 11, 2012

Do you hear that? The low humming, ever so slight grinding buzz? That’s the sound of triumphal ideological bluster awkwardly changing gears into reverse. It’s not particularly noisy or grating. In fact, there’s something quite soothing about it. Not yogic in its serenity. More like the summer cicada song, lulling us into a soporific state of waking slumber.

A motion to defer and rethink new recreation field user fees for the yout’ of Toronto was put forth by Mayor Ford yesterday and passed unanimously as did amendments from councillors Janet Davis and Paula Fletcher, an almost unheard of case of accord at city council during the Ford era. And as welcome as the situation was – consensus, that is, not necessarily the details which deserve another post entirely – it was deadly fucking boring. Conflict sits at the heart of good drama, yes? For those of us used to some 16 months of never ending, monumental struggle, it all felt like such a drag, man.

What’s good for the city is bad for city hall watchers?

Much of the anticlimax had to do with the vote result being pretty much a foregone conclusion. The story of new fees coming down on the kiddies of the city (‘a children’s tax’, Councillor Raymond Cho called it) to use Toronto’s playing fields took on such negative resonance that even the mayor thought it to be untenable. Either untenable or just another very likely black eye loss that he didn’t need to face at the moment. So get out there ahead of the curve on this one. Respect for the taxpayers taking a backseat to the widows and orphans out there.

But quite frankly, most of the air got sucked out of chambers because councillor after councillor stood up to defend themselves for letting these user fees see this much daylight in the first place. Notionally, if you voted in favour of the 2012 budget back in January, you voted in favour of bringing in these new user fees. Many of the 39 councillors who had given the amended budget a thumbs-up wanted to clear the air as to why they did what they did. Mea culpas and/or finger pointing get a little tedious after a while.

Here’s the thing.

This has been pretty much 2 years or so in the making. If you elect somebody as mayor who spent the entire campaign claiming he could cut waste, cut spending, cut taxes without cutting services or programs or facilities, well, new user fees shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to anyone. Add to this that after burning through a previous year’s surplus and ridding city coffers of revenue by eliminating the VRT and pronouncing loudly and relentlessly that Toronto’s fiscal foundation was crumbling, any budget proposal was going to be chock full of user fees. It’s just basic math.

Besides, with the libertarian streak that runs deep in the mayor, a You Use It, You Pay For It ethos pretty much goes without saying. Unless of course we’re talking about driving private vehicles. Then hey, it’s all for one and one for all. Mi camino es su camino, si hermano?

Yet Mayor Ford flinched on this one. Along with his brother, the deputy mayor, budget chief and all the other fiscal conservatives who screamed bloody murder back only two months ago that such profligacy at City Hall was a thing of the past. We were dangling at the end of our spendthrift rope. Financial wrack and ruin were awaiting us if we didn’t zip up our pockets and start looking after our pennies, every single dime, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

We’d burned down the banana stand, folks.

So we needed to step back, take some time for careful consideration and reflection. Unlike during the full court budget process press when it was all hands on deck, grab the pails and start baling because the good ship SS Toronto was sinking into a sea of red. Everybody, and we meant everybody, needed to start pulling their weight. There would be no more freeloading under this mayor’s watch.

Yesterday’s change of course altered the dire landscape, it seems. Mayor Ford claimed that there was new money from all the sweetheart labour deals he’d swung with city workers. However much that might be putting the cart before the horse, even if true, what happened to all the talk of paying down our oppressive debt with any extra cash we found under the cushions? Isn’t the $1.5 million that’s now being waived for kids to use our sports field ‘gravy’ according to the Frugal Times dictionary?

And how will this decision affect budget debates going forward from here? It’ll be difficult for the administration to cry poor when other ‘special interests’ step up, Oliver Twist like, mewling for more. Please… sir… you found $1.5 million for them. What about us?

Of course, with the mayor already heading into campaign mode, it probably means that we’ve turned the corner on this. It’ll be all good news for us from here on in. We slayed the debt dragon, folks. Broke its proverbial back. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. We did it.

Re-elect Mayor Ford in 2014.

belatedly submitted by Cityslikr


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