After spending the better part of 13 hours or so in a committee room, I don’t think it unreasonable to expect some sort of return on that investment. A little nugget of wisdom. A soupcon of insight. I’d even settle for just one witty bon mot.
Yesterday’s beyond lengthy Executive Committee delivered on all that and more. Without resorting to any Doug Fordian detached from reality over-statement or hyperbole here but I think I can safely say that, by meeting’s end, I had caught a glimpse into Toronto’s troubled, tortured soul.
Yeah OK. I could still be a little fuzzily delusion. It was a long day.
On the one hand we’re like this place itching to be taken seriously as a world-class city. And world-class cities have subways-subways-subways, ferris wheels, casinos and an airport on the waterfront. But in the same breath, if the debate turns to something like the struggles of BIXI with an analysis of how similar bike-sharing programs are working in places like Paris and New York, the response is always, well, we’re not Paris or New York (or London or Chicago), are we.
Small town minds with big city dreams, as Burt Lancaster might’ve said in some movie from the 1950s. In fact, he probably did and I’m lifting it.
So the sense you get is a dog chasing its own tail, going in circles, believing something will be different this time around. Hours and hours Wednesday were taken up on stuff we’ve been rehashing for years. The island airport. Another report on the possibility of extending a subway further into Scarborough. Repealing a tax instituted in 2008.
Governance of the undead. Issues never die. They just lumber forward in search of brains.
Which is exactly why we’re still talking about a Scarborough subway instead of having one, or an LRT that was good to go five years ago. Volumes have been written about our lack of nerve in building needed transit since about, oh I don’t know, when Bill Davis was premier of the province. Lack of nerve combined with a tightness of wallets might be a fairer assessment of the situation.
We are witnessing that inclination to the extreme currently at City Hall. The Executive Committee, the mayor’s handpicked cabinet of sorts, represents the most radical example of this city’s penchant for both fiscal and policy penury. We got great plans, folks. As long as it doesn’t cost us a dime.
Translation? We’re not going to do anything much other than keep everybody’s taxes detrimentally low.
Many of these guys made their mark railing at any and all the initiatives of the previous administration of David Miller and have essentially spent the better part of the last 3 years ripping them to shreds, regardless of the economic consequences or setbacks. Canines — when not chasing their tails — marking their territory and ruining the carpet in the process. Doesn’t matter to them. They can’t smell anything anyway, having cut off their noses and all that.
But it was interesting to note, that when the subject of reducing the Land Transfer Tax came up deep into the evening, there was far from unanimity in the crowd. Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee hasn’t exactly been a band of brothers for some time now (although it most certainly is a bunch of bros at the moment), and it appears as if it’s not regrouping for him on what was a key election issue back in 2010. He promised to get rid of the LTT and has since scaled back on that, eyeing a gradual elimination, starting with 10% next year.
Not so fast, said some key members of his Executive including, and arguably most vocally, councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner. Councillor Minnan-Wong pointed out that, while understanding the mayor’s ‘enthusiasm’ to start repealing the LTT, it wasn’t a campaign promise he had made. Any loss of revenue from the land transfer tax was probably going to have to be made up with higher property tax increases which the councillor was dead set against.
Councillor Shiner was even more adamant in his opposition. He’d spent much of the meeting thundering about the need to find a way to start building transit. “Subways, subways, subways? Where’s the money, money, money?”
“We cannot any longer sit on our bottoms and do nothing,” Shiner said during the LTT debate.
While the item was eventually passed along to the budget committee for its deliberation, it’s really, really hard to see it with much of a life expectancy.
Of course, 2014 election watchers will see that and begin to worry about how Mayor Ford will happily use the rejection of any sort of reduction of the Land Transfer Tax as a campaign cudgel. Any loss is a win at this point. Over at The Grid yesterday, Edward Keenan scared the bejesus out of everyone with an article mulling over the very real possibility of Mayor Ford’s re-election next year. Nothing seems to dampen the man’s rock solid base with polls having him at exactly the 47% approval rating he won with in 2010.
But I see some real problems brewing for the mayor going forward.
While he most certainly will hold any defeat of his push to reduce the LTT aloft and blame city council for ignoring his mandate and blocking the will of the people, Mayor Ford won’t be able to just paint City Hall with a simple tax-and-spend brushstroke. Last time out, I think fellow conservative travellers like councillors Minnan-Wong and Shiner sat back and let their colleague do his thing in the hopes he’d clear the stink of Millerism out of the place. They’d happily assume positions of power that had been denied them since 2003 or so.
This time out they might not be so quiet.
If conservative councillors like Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner vote against any reduction of the LTT, I imagine they’ll be very forthright explaining to their constituents why. The city can’t afford to lose the revenue especially if it’s actually serious about building public transit. The scenario will be such that conservative councillors in suburban ridings the mayor needs to win will be campaigning against the mayor’s agenda.
Before embracing what might be a little glimmer of hope, however, it would do well to remember that our city does have a tendency to turn on itself. If history is anything to go by, we could be back having this exact conversation a year, two years, five years, a decade down the road.
– repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr