Based on a very unscientific poll, that is, a guesstimate on my part, 2/3s of voters in Toronto’s municipal election last year cast their ballot largely out of anger toward how their city was being run. Why wouldn’t they? It was in the air. The eventual victorious mayoral candidate was not alone in bellowing out at every whistle stop and campaign debate that City Hall was awash in out-of-control spending with no respect for the taxpayers and he would Stop The Gravy Train if elected. He simply said it more relentlessly and convincingly than most of his opponents and it made for great copy in the newspapers and AM radio.
Consisting of anecdotal evidence exemplifying council extravagance and out of context big numbers (billions of dollars, ladies and gentlemen, billions of dollars!), it coalesced into a wave of discontent that mirrored the anti-government worldview of then councillor and now mayor, Rob Ford. Enough was enough, voters of Toronto told their elected representatives. The city needed to get its fiscal house in order. Finally.
Problem was, it’s a (per)version of reality that’s largely untrue. Yes, there are money clouds on the horizon that could be problematic. But we’re still emerging, snail-like, from economic turmoil we’d not experienced in 80 years. All levels of government had been forced to take on extra debt. Spending also ballooned as the city undertook long overdue transit expansion and infrastructure projects. Projects that had not only been ignored by the megacity but by the pre-amalgamated, lower tax municipalities before they’d found themselves strapped to the yoke of downtown, spendthrifty pinko elites.
So profligate was the outgoing administration that it left behind a massive surplus in its wake. Hundreds and millions of dollars that would force the city to make huge sacrifi—I’m sorry, wait. Would you mind repeating that? A surplus, you say? A surplus?! Doesn’t that mean more money was brought in than went out? How exactly does that jibe with out-of-control spending?
No matter. The new mayor and his team would see to it that such a thing could never, ever happen again. They quickly set out to shut down revenue generating tools (i.e. taxes) and burn through their inheritance to create a one-time rosy fiscal picture. But next year… next year. Well, that was going to be a different story altogether. The dire economic outlook they had said was coming, it would be here in no small part owing to the decisions they just made. Everything would be on the table. Surpluses were something tax-and-spenders not prudent fiscal managers inflicted on the city.
In other words, ignore the man behind the curtain. Toronto’s financial situation had never been nearly as dire as David Miller’s critics made it out to be. Even a passing, non-prejudicial glance would’ve revealed that our property tax rates, both residential and business, were not at all out of line with the surrounding jurisdictions. Our debt level is far from problematic and the numbers to service it are subject to hysterical hyperbole by those wanting to manufacture a crisis. Disagree? Then explain why our credit rating remains solid. Such relative stability, in fact, is allowing the Ford administration to begin its neo-conservative experiment on the city.
The irony of the situation is certainly not lost on the mayor and his team. So much so that they have gone to great lengths to discredit their predecessor’s surplus. Governments shouldn’t run surpluses, they told us. If they do, it should go straight to paying down the debt. Yes, and there’s an official process in place to do such a thing and one the Ford administration was rather cavalier with, opting instead to freeze property taxes. Surpluses are proof that we’re paying too much in taxes. OK. So does the corollary to that suggest deficits are an indication that we’re not paying enough taxes?
But nowhere is the twisted spin logic more in evidence than in the talking points memo Team Ford sent out to all like-minded councillors during last week’s budget debate and that Jonathan Goldsbie wrote about at Open File Toronto. The entire document is worth a read to get a glimpse at just how orchestrated the mayor and his allies are. It also reveals what Councillor Adam Vaughan suggested during the debate that the 2011 budget is much more a series of tactics than it is an economic strategy.
However, the spin takes on true Lewis Carroll-George Orwellian proportions when it deals with the handling of the surplus angle. By applying all accumulated surpluses to the 2011 budget, we unmasked the true financial condition for all to see. The 2012 budget forecast reflects the true gap between the city’s revenues and spending habits. Take a moment. Reread those words. I couldn’t possibly sum it up better than Mr. Goldsbie did in his article. “In other words, by ploughing through our savings, we can see how poor we really are.”
It’s nothing short of fucking incredible. If Team Ford spent even a fraction of the time coming up with a feasible transit plan that they do in concocting steaming piles of bullshit to cover their destructive ulterior political motives, we might have something tangible to talk about. Instead they prevaricate, dissemble and churn out talking points in communication packages to throw people off their scent and offer cover to councillors who may not yet know how to fully talk the talk and walk the walk.
To follow and adhere to the mayor’s so-called line of reasoning, to spew out his pre-packaged babble as if it’s anything other than ideological cant is to fully admit that you’ve given up on critical thinking. Rational discourse is no longer part of your vernacular. You’ve become a pod person. An unthinking, brain dead virus, feasting upon the flesh of our body politic, offering up no solutions or substance. In your cold, cadaverous hands, truth is now fully expendable, to be used only when convenient and beneficial to your cause, if at all. You’ve stop talking sense. So it would be better for us all if you stopped talking altogether.
– zombie killingly submitted by Cityslikr