The 5.6% Dissolution

June 12, 2010

Pondering Toronto’s 2010 mayoral campaign so far, which is something I do with fair regularity given the subject matter on this particular site, I am often left scratching my head as to the approaches and tactics of various candidates. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Who are they trying to reach with that particular line of reasoning or this mode of attack? Is George Smitherman actually gay or is all his talk of having a husband merely a beard to mask the fact the man doesn’t possess a progressive bone in his body?

My latest bafflement arises via deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. Reading through an interview he did earlier this month with blogTO, I was struck by the answer he gave to their question, Why didn’t you do more about these transportation problems as deputy mayor? Councillor Pantalone’s response? In 2008 [the Fraser Institute] analyzed the Province’s tax situation situation and found that out of all the taxes paid in Ontario –put together in one basket, municipal, provincial, and federal — municipalities only got 5.6 percent…

Huh.

Now, I had no luck in locating the analysis Pantalone was referencing but will shoulder all the blame for that as I started breaking out into hives spending that kind of time on the Fraser Institute website. Preston Manning says this, Mike Harris says that. (A Simpson shudder and intense itching begins all over upper torso.) But taking Joe at his word, I began to wonder why he wasn’t making more hay with this point.

Why wasn’t he channeling voter frustration and outrage at the fact that the city is being severely short-changed by both senior levels of government and forced to annually negotiate dire fiscal straits due to massive imbalances in both governance and revenue structures? As a councillor for almost 3 decades now and having worked with all sides of the political spectrum, Joe Pantalone had arrived at this late juncture in his career finally and reluctantly convinced that Toronto (and every other municipality in Ontario) was being knee-capped by Queen’s Park and until true, unconditional reform was undertaken, nothing was going to change that. No amount of fiddling with numbers, privatization or selling of public assets could alter that reality.

Sure, his opponents would go down the beaten path of telling Joe we need to get our house in order before going to the province with cap in hand, begging for bailouts. They already have, haven’t they, Rocco Rossi. But played right, those kinds of statements could be effectively turned against those using them, showing them to be know-nothings, out of touch with the facts. Or worse still, enablers of a dysfunctional governance structure where too much power and money go to those with the least amount of accountability.

Because one doesn’t need the 5.6% analysis from the Fraser Institute to know that there is a systemic unfairness at the core of our political system. Where one level of government has complete and utter control over another with little recourse or redress on offer. Evidence abounds that this arrangement, which goes back to the birth of this nation in the middle of the 19th-century, is beneficial purely uni-directionally. Municipalities bear the brunt of provincial and federal neglect and mismanagement. Until we can get ourselves out from under the weight of that, there is little to be done to fix our current predicament. Anyone who tries telling you different is either uninformed or lying. Maybe both.

And Joe Pantalone should tell them so. He should tell us that. He should point out that in every city budget, Toronto is forced to spend more on provincially mandated programs than it receives in money from the province. That’s the deficit spending at the centre of our present money woes. It’s not out of control spending at City Hall that is responsible for higher property taxes, increased user fees, underfunded public transit and infrastructure projects. No matter how loudly and often Pantalone’s mayoral rivals spew forth that nonsense. No. This city’s increased expenditures are going directly into the gaping maw of Queen’s Park. Not only are our provincial taxes going to feed that beast but so is a chunk of the taxes we’re supposed to be paying to the city for the services they continue to deliver to us.

That’s what Joe Pantalone should be saying every time he opens his mouth or one of his opponents open theirs.

But maybe Joe’s been at it for too long. He’s too much of the consummate insider and can no longer see the forest for the trees. For now, he’s content to simply counterpunch, rope-a-dope in the hopes that the right of centre contingent around him exhausts itself, flailing as it is at the populist figments of their collective imaginations. He is not the warrior we’re looking for to wage the real battle ahead that needs to be waged.

resignatedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat