Hoisted On Our Own Petard

October 11, 2011

Conventional wisdom has it that all politicians lie. They tell us what they think we want to hear in order to get elected. Once in power, they turn around and do the exact opposite. All politicians lie.

Sometimes these are lies of omission. They don’t tell us what we need to hear because we’re still living in denial about facing the hard truth. Remember Stéphane Dion and his chatter about a carbon tax? Both the ruling Conservative government and his very own Liberal party quickly ran him out of town after he dared to speak of such things. Shh-shh-shh. Canadians weren’t yet ready to face the fact their fossil fuel use needed to come at a much steeper price. They don’t want to hear about it.

Last fall, 47% of Torontonians who deigned to vote in their municipal election were similarly unprepared to accept the fact a properly functioning, liveable city came with a price tag. Instead, we bought into the notion that we the taxpayers were doing our bit, paying more than enough taxes to provide all the services we wanted. It was profligacy and profligacy only that created the fiscal mess at City Hall.

From that mindset emerged Rob Ford and his twin pillar campaign. Stop The Gravy Train. And, The City Doesn’t Have A Revenue Problem, The City Has A Spending Problem. It’s not your fault, taxpayers. Your expectations are completely reasonable. There’s just too many union fat cats and out-of-touch left wing kooks sucking us dry. Nothing else to see here.

A Mayor Rob Ford would sort all that out for us.

Turns out, according to reports commissioned by the mayor himself, there wasn’t that much gravy at City Hall. And, in fact, the city did have a rather substantial revenue problem. So instead of trimming excessive fat from what was supposed to be a bloated budget, the mayor was looking at service cuts which, on the campaign trail, he had guaranteed wouldn’t be necessary. The mayor’s also had to go to the province already – cap in hand, as he derided his predecessor for doing – asking for a little hand out to get his pet subway project up and going. And for anything else they might have a little extra change to throw our way.

Nowhere, no how was Mayor Ford’s No Revenue Problem assurance more repudiated than last week when his self-proclaimed quarterback, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, mused out loud about the prospect of the Province of Toronto. “We’re getting stiffed by two levels of government on a regular basis,” Mammoliti told the [Toronto] Sun. “It may be time for us to start thinking about acting on our own and becoming a province.”

“I know people think it is a joke but we can’t run this city on eight cents on the dollar.”

Now, it’s well documented that Councillor Mammoliti has come up with some wacky ideas in his time as a public office holder although Toronto as its own province would be well down the crazy list. The important takeaway from the above statement is his admission that Toronto cannot function properly with the scant taxation revenues municipalities in this province are forced to subsist on. Yes, Mayor Ford and all those still in his corner, this city does have a revenue problem. That comes from one of your very own.

If there has been a bigger 180 turn on a dime, a quicker, more thorough thrashing of a campaign platform once elected than that of Rob Ford, it doesn’t jump immediately to mind. His so-called election mandate was based entirely on misinformation, un and half-truths, outright lies. How much of it was intentional is difficult to tell. Being an anti-government zealot to the bone, perhaps Rob Ford believed every word he said. It doesn’t alter the fact almost none of it was true.

Undeterred, he’s attempting to proceed as if we all knew what he really meant, that no service cuts guaranteed is the same as no major service cuts is the same as finding efficiencies. That, yes, we do have a revenue problem but finding and implementing new sources of revenue is hard and not very politically palatable so instead we’ll just hack away at spending. Same diff.

But for everyone aside from the mayor and his most ardent supporters there is a gaping chasm between what he said to get elected and what he’s doing now in office. The election mandate he likes to toss around in defence of his actions propped up on nothing but blowsy hot air. Maybe Mayor Ford is doing exactly what he intended on doing all along if only we had looked a little closer at the fine print.

Maybe we didn’t look at the fine print because we knew we weren’t going to like what we saw. We wanted to believe that it was all going to be as easy as we were told it would be. A cut here and there to those who deserved it and everything would be fine, we wouldn’t feel a thing. Tough choices are for suckers.

Unfortunately, nothing worthwhile comes about without tough choices especially in terms of city building. If we want substandard services, uninspired public spaces and shoddy civic behaviour, those things are cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Ultimately, though, you get what you pay for and before long, you look around at the place you live and it’s not a pretty sight.

That’s the wagon we’ve hitched a ride on. We’re lying to ourselves pretending otherwise. Why should we expect our politicians to treat us any differently?

honestly submitted by Urban Sophisticat