Letting Them Off The Hook

October 12, 2011

I’ve got no particular axe to grind with the Globe and Mail’s columnist Marcus Gee. His columns seldom either infuriate or excite me. He’s not the worst journalist covering the City Hall, not by any stretch of the imagination. At least, not until Sue-Ann Levy stops her doodled rants on the pages of the Toronto Sun. And takes Joe Warmington with her when she goes. Mr. Gee is much more palatable writing about this city than he was international affairs all those many years ago.

But he still doesn’t get it. Or, if he does, he adamantly refuses to accept the facts as they are. His stubbornness in viewing municipalities as mere after thoughts on the governance scale, last on the bus, last to exit, does us no favours. In fact, he may help entrench the view of cities as wayward children, naïve to the ways in which the world works.

“Whatever party had won [the provincial election] on Thursday night,” Gee wrote last Friday, “and whatever governing arrangement emerges now, the prospects of wringing a wealth of benefits for Toronto out of the provincial government are dim. With a projected $15-billion budget deficit, and the threat of a global economic crisis, Queen’s Park is in no position to help another level of government with its money problems in any substantial way.”

The Toronto-Queen’s Park relationship shouldn’t be about leverage and looking to cash in on enforced, political largesse. Any problems the provincial government has with its books must include obligations it has to the municipalities it oversees. Ditto the federal government. The rising deficits cities face, both from a fiscal and infrastructure stand point, originate with the debt the two upper levels of government owe them.

Even that phrasing – upper or senior levels of government – denotes a degree of priority which is long past a best before date. Municipalities in this country are groaning under the weight of negligence inflicted upon them by Ottawa and the provincial legislatures. They’ve washed their hands of responsibility and left cities to make the impossible decisions of what to cut and how deep. We are living in an era of absentee landlords, deadbeat dads if you will.

We are told by Mr. Gee that as premier Dalton McGuinty has done alright by us. He’s re-upped some of the downloads imposed by his predecessor, Mike Harris. He’s made strides on the transit portfolio, albeit in half measures. What more do we want? “Even under NDP pressure,” Gee opines, “he [McGuinty] seems unlikely to reverse himself completely and disinter Transit City. A provincial commitment to 50-50 sharing of transit costs seems just as far-fetched, given the great cost and the awful state of the provincial accounts.”

Why, Mr. Gee, should we not expect the premier to live up to his promise, now almost a decade old, to resume the provincial share of the TTC annual operating budget that was in place until the previous government at Queen’s Park reneged on the deal? How is it any different than a citizen of Toronto deciding he could no longer afford to pay the full amount of the property tax bill and cutting the city a cheque for 50% of the amount? Walking away from your responsibility is still walking away from your responsibility regardless of the state of your finances.

Besides, allowing municipalities to sink in a sea of red ink and to collapse under the weight of neglected infrastructure and a second-rate transit system does no one’s bottom line any good. That shit’s got to be paid by someone sometime or everyone suffers irreparably. This isn’t about doing something out of the goodness of your heart or because it’s politically expedient. It’s about good governance. Withholding on your responsibilities is anything but.

Marcus Gee enables such deplorable behaviour from our senior levels of government. He gives them an escape clause. We’d really love to help you out but we’re a little bit strapped at the moment. Maybe after that whole economic meltdown plays itself out, we can talk about what it is you need to get yourself back up on your feet again. Until then, you’re on your own. There’s really nothing we can do.

That’s a cop out, plain and simple. We’re paying the price for someone else’s shirking of duty. And Marcus Gee blithely let’s them off the hook scot-free.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr