On the other hand…
It was gently asked of me yesterday that if the characters in the current $150 million pooling-uploading saga now swirling around City Hall and Queen’s Park were different – like, say, a mayor I didn’t see as a raging incompetent or a provincial government I felt was more Mike Harris-y – would my reaction be the opposite of what it was. Essentially, a variation on the why is he so fucking incompetent theme. A fair question.
Yes indeed, the Liberal government is getting away with some dubious claims in this transaction, using Mayor Ford’s epic inability to get along with absolutely anyone and everyone he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with as cover. As John McGrath pointed out on Friday, over the course of the 3 year phase out of the $150 million pooling fund, the city will ultimately be short-changed just over $13 million after factoring in the uploading of services back to the province over the same period of time. (The chart is on page 5 of this letter sent to the mayor’s office by Finance Minister Charles Sousa.)
Of course, Mayor Ford muddies the waters with his immediate ballistic response, threatening to cut social programs to the tune of $50 million next year when, in fact, the pooling fund-upload exchange will net the city an additional $700,000. It’s hard to believe there can’t be some financial re-arranging at the city level to mitigate the need for any cuts. It’s also hard to believe the mayor would be willing to go into an election year with the mess of significant cuts to social programs on his hands in the hopes voters follow him in pinning the blame on the provincial government. No service cuts. Guaranteed. Remember?
This is all purely political jostling on everyone’s part. It’s just unfortunate, if not at all surprising, the Liberals decided to play along. A solid majority of Toronto residents know that we’ve elected a child-mayor who only operates through the lens of campaigning. The provincial government is supposed to be the adult in the room. Instead, they’ve started up their engines in a game of chicken.
In order to try and mask that, the finance minister threw into the pot relief from a loan made to the city by the province back when Mike Harris was premier and Mel Lastman mayor. A loan to cover the initial costs of amalgamation with the expectation of being paid back with all the efficiencies that would be found. Efficiencies weren’t found, so the loan has been ignored for most of its life.
So, the finance minister claims that’s about $230 million in savings for the city but it’s actually Ford level accounting. If the city hasn’t made a payment in a decade or and wasn’t expected to, it should hardly count as any sort of savings. Thanks for the gesture, Queen’s Park. As empty as it may be.
The politics of this goes beyond just the war with Ford. The Liberals want everyone to know that it’s not giving any municipality preferential treatment even if there are legitimate reasons it might. If the province is fully assuming the costs of the social programs Toronto bears a heavier burden providing than other cities in Ontario, fair enough. I’m yet to be convinced that’s actually the case.
But the Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Toronto MPP, is petrified of being seen as Toronto-centric by the rest of the province. So no special deals on a casino. No special funding treatment. As it goes in Kenora, so it goes in Toronto.
It would be unfair to suggest that it’s simply back to business as usual since 1995. The Liberals have reclaimed much of the costs their Progressive Conservative predecessors downloaded onto municipalities in the Great Savagery of 1995-2003. (Certainly not all. For one, there remains the outstanding matter of the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating budget they haven’t made good on.) Let’s give credit where credit is due.
It’s sheer big-balled audacity, though, to point to the city’s annual surpluses as proof we’re sitting pretty while Queen’s Park battles heroically with a debt load that’s kept us all afloat. Lest they need reminding, cities can’t run an operating deficit. They’re not allowed as provincially mandated. Our surpluses come from conservative budgeting that leaves many of our services (some also provincially mandated but not necessarily provincially funded) and residents more than a little frayed around the edges. It’s at moments like this when it’s worth asking if the province is putting back as much into Toronto as it’s taking out. I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to that.
While it may be politically advantageous at this point to use our bumbling, stumbling mayor as a convenient punching bag, it would do well for the provincial government to remember that there are real life implications to their political calculations. Implications that will inevitably be borne by those least able to bear them. Mayor Ford won’t be among them.
Perhaps the bigger lesson to be learned from this is for the people of Toronto. Queen’s Park and the governments in power there, first and foremost will be looking out for themselves. We’re just part of their always fluid political equation, little more than polling numbers.
We need to look after ourselves and have been given some of the tools to do so. In order for that to happen, we have to stop electing politicians who refuse to step up and take on that responsibility. It makes us easy prey for those putting their own interests first.
— responsibly submitted by Cityslikr