Father Knows Best

Premier Dalton McGuinty is starting to get on my tits in a big way.

A week ago or so, the Globe and Mail reported that provincial government insiders were musing almost out loud that if the province were to get back into long term co-funding of the TTC in the way they used to in the olden days, there would be strings attached. More money equaled more control of and more say in the operations.

Then this week the premier decides to wade into the city’s election campaign, saying that there needs to be a debate about whether or not the TTC should be made an essential service and barred from striking. What’s that then, Dalton? Is there anything else you’d like us to do? How be you just tell us who to vote for? Fuck that. Why don’t you just install the new mayor and save us all that money, fuss and bother having an election.

We really, really need to reframe the terms of this relationship.

As it stands, the premier of Ontario acts like a disapproving father dealing with a profligate child. Finally forced to put his foot down, he is now insisting on putting his 2 cents in about how the kid spends his allowance and who he’s going to date. There, there, that’s a good boy now. Daddy knows best.

Someone needs to remind Dalton where the money that he is being so sanctimonious with comes from. Us. Here in the cities. PST soon to be HST. Provincial income tax. Etcetera, etcetera. It’s not actually his money to bestow upon us with instructions how to use it.

Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Only an outdated, 19th century constitutional glitch allows the premier of Ontario to pontificate upon and wield unworthy authority over powerless municipalities. It’s a sad state of affairs that is becoming more and more untenable and ultimately detrimental to the well being of cities. Drastic action needs to be seriously contemplated.

Who would’ve thought that here in 2010, we would be wistfully looking back to the enlightened leadership of Bill Davis?

increasingly angrily submitted by Cityslikr

Fun With Numbers

With all the talk of Toronto’s looming economic apocalypse, I decided to submerse myself in a little policy wonking. I hunkered down with both the Toronto Board of Trade’s early February report, The Growing Chasm: An Analysis and Forecast of the City of Toronto’s Finances and a CUPE commissioned paper from economist Hugh Mackenzie entitled, Reality Check: Toronto’s Budget Crunch in Perspective. Two opposing points of view; two tales of two cities.

Now, I am no economic whiz. Numbers, pie charts, graphs and stats tend to make me break out into a cold sweat. Like most of us, I can be baffle-gabbed and hoodwinked when set upon by numerical waves. So in no way should this be taken as a valid economic assessment of these reports. Rather, what blinks before you is a general overview of my impression of them.

Firstly and not surprisingly, the conclusions drawn in both papers reflect the opinions and standpoints held by those who contracted, as it were, the reports. As to be expected, I guess. Still it feels a little, how shall I say, unscientific. But that just may be the nature of the beast when it comes to the field of economics as a whole.

In the Board of Trade’s The Growing Chasm, there is no mistaking whatsoever how we must not tackle the city’s dire financial situation and burgeoning structural operating budget deficit. Of their report’s 34 pages, two (#s 21 & 22) are delivered in dark highlighted boxes. Within those boxes is an impassioned plea against commercial property tax increases. According to this study done by Canada’s largest chamber of commerce, businesses in the 416 area code already bear an unfair tax burden and cannot be expected to carry anymore of the load. If future city councils were to try this than businesses would have no choice but to pick up their stakes and move to more tax friendly locations in the GTA.

To the Board of Trade the actual culprit for City Hall’s runaway spending and growing structural deficit are the wages and benefits that are doled out to municipal employees. Of course in his report done at the behest of the Toronto Civic Employees Union Local 416 of CUPE, Hugh Mackenzie strongly disagrees with that notion. His numbers suggest that employee wages and benefits are perfectly reasonable and that, in fact, Toronto’s recent increase in operating expenditures is 4% lower than the increases in municipal expenditures throughout the rest of Ontario.

Again, I can’t decipher the numbers thrown around in these reports well enough to be able to ascertain who’s massaging what figures or who’s cherry picking what data but I am confident enough to say that the Board of Trade’s report contains a methodological blemish that makes me, at least, suspicious about the veracity of their report. Early on in the Growing Chasm it is suggested that the city’s structural operating budget deficit has been around “since at least the start of the decade”. Sounds a little vague. Surely something this important, this ominous structural operating budget deficit, can be traced back a little more accurately than simply “Since at least the start of the decade”?

No matter. The report then bases all its assertions on the numbers gleaned from the 2002-2008 period. The end number, 2008, is reasonable as it is the last year for which the statistics are available. But why start at 2002? Why not begin right at amalgamation with the birth of the megacity before the structural operating budget deficit reared its ugly head in order to give us a full and complete view of the city’s finances from day one? 2002 seems an arbitrary snapshot as if the Board of Trade needed just that time frame to prove their point. It’s analogous to someone trying to establish the fact that the ancient Romans were poor builders of edifices by pointing out the shoddy condition of the structures from, say, 1945 to the present day.

Or maybe I’m just missing something. Clearly everyone in the mainstream press and the front running candidates for mayor have hopped on (the Toronto) board of Trade. There is a Growing Chasm. City Hall has taken part in an unsustainable spending spree! Cuts must be made! Assets sold! Taxes frozen!! Anything less and we will be going to hell in a hand basket while businesses flee the downtown core to the more amenable environs of 905.

No question. No doubt. And no paying attention to that man over there, Hugh Mackenzie, telling you otherwise.

studiously submitted by Acaphlegmic

Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part II

Welcome to our second installment of Meet A Mayoral Candidate! The weekly highlighting of one of the unsung candidates for mayor of Toronto in campaign 2K10©™®.

Up this week: George Babula and the Parkdale Party.

Now before you go getting all huffy and start yelling that there can’t be a Party because parties aren’t allowed to overtly participate in municipal politics, the Parkdale Party isn’t a Party party but a party!, as explained to me by spokesman Walter Widla. When the members of the Parkdale Party get together, it’s always a party!

Who are these members of the Parkdale Party including their mayoral candidate George Babula? According to their website, this is “a group of individuals who grew up during the period of time when Toronto was a wonderful place to call home. Doors were not locked through the day and kids played outside until the street lights came on.” It was the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s “and Parkdale was just like most other neighbourhoods throughout the city” where “…immigrants or children of immigrants…” could “…work their way to prosperity and a good life for their family.” The Parkdale Party would endeavour to restore this sense of a secure and prosperous city so that new immigrants are given that exact same opportunity “to find a good quality of life.”

How would this be done? First and foremost, trust must be reestablished between City Hall and the taxpayers. This trust has been eroded because too much is being done behind closed doors. Taxpayers are no longer able to see why and how their taxes are being spent and therefore resent forking over their hard earned money. Mr. Babula vows to swing the doors wide open if elected, shining a light on the inner workings of every department, council meeting and even union negotiations for all to see. That way, the public will give informed and ungrudging consent for their money to be spent.

Such transparency will also lead to much cost savings as it will force efficiencies on departments under the ever vigilant scrutiny of the public eye. Like many of the candidates running for mayor in 2010, Mr. Babula believes the city has more than enough revenue coming in to meet its expenditures. All that is really needed to restore a sense of fiscal sanity is accountability, transparency and trust.

Nice sentiments but as regular readers of these pages will know by now, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke believe that our city’s money woes are a little more complicated than that. It is disconcerting to see that many of the candidates running for mayor, from the frontrunners to those operating out of the spotlight like George Babula and the Parkdale Party, have internalized the idea that we are the sole authors of our money misfortunes and all that is needed to turn things around is discipline and purity of purpose. There are bigger, more pitched battles to be fought in order to regain some sense of sure-footing on Toronto’s part.

Detail disagreements aside, Mr. Babula and his team seem committed to making the city a better place to live. Their platform is much more in depth than anything front runners like Smitherman and Rossi have put forth so far. When asked our lame ass question we’re putting to all the mayoral candidates, “If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Babula like to see his legacy written?”, their response was: “The Mayor who re-built the Trust Bridge between Toronto’s citizens and City Hall“. It reveals something that should be as important as tactical prowess or media savvy in a political candidate: heart. Corny? Sure. But in a campaign for public office, a little compassion and empathy beats divisive calculation hands down.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr