Two articles written last week underlined the fundamental problem facing this city right now. Simply put, we have a crisis of leadership. It manifests itself in all that isn’t working, people freezing to death in the streets, crumbling infrastructure, substandard public transit. These failures, though, can all be traced back to a consistent failure at the top.
After the spectacular implosion of the radical Rob Ford experiment of misgovernance, Toronto desperately looked around for an upgrade in competence in the mayor’s office. John Tory, we were told, was just the ticket. Competent – no, prudent! – yet bold. He was a successful businessman, top gun at a huge corporation, shortform for possessing a supreme fitness to lead the city from the crack-dazed darkness of the last 4 years.
Career politicians got us into this mess. Only stood to reason that a giant from the private sector was needed to clean it up. Because, that’s how the world works.
Post-election, a flurry of activity signified that business was being tended to, being taken care of. Cars were towed. Bus service increased. Mayor Tory got to work early, got down to busy-ness. Hey. Did you hear? The mayor’s having another press conference.
That’s how you run a city, yo.
That’s how you look like you run a city.
In comparison to his predecessor, John Tory just had to show up without soup stains on his tie and having not obviously wet himself to immediately earn the mantle of competency. The bar was that low. Policy ideas were secondary to appearances.
Even beauty pageants, however, consist of more than just the swimsuit competition. Stuff needs getting done. Decisions have to be made, some significant. Like say, budgeting.
As David Hains wrote in the Torontoist Saturday:
There are no good choices in the budget, and it is time to wake up to why that is the case and what that means. There is a much bigger discussion to have here: Toronto needs to talk about the fact that there is a structural deficit, and that it is also willing to acknowledge that things cost money, particularly the cost of making responsible decisions. If we fail that, we will see Toronto go from budget crisis to budget crisis, pulling out its hair until it wonders how it became bald.
Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory has numbers to deal with, big numbers. He has to decide what to fund, what to build, what to repair, what programs and services to maintain, expand or cut. Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory will be constrained by the fact there’s only so much money to go around, that on the annual operating side of things, he has to balance the books. Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory must make some tough choices.
Turns out, Mayor Tory isn’t like every other previous mayor of the city. He’s going to spare himself the trouble of making tough choices. He’s going to pretend like there’s another way of going about business at City Hall. His choices “represent…a methodical, responsible approach to budgeting.” Carve out some cash from capital expenditures to plug the hole on the operating side. Hike user fees to help pay for some of the increases in services. Keep property taxes ‘at or below the rate of inflation’. Nix talk of any new revenues. Demand 2% in efficiencies from city departments.
Done and done.
Responsible. Methodical. Prudent. Competent.
Except, it is none of those things. In a word, as Mr. Hains suggests in his article, ‘wrong’.
Mayor Tory is ducking a systemic fiscal problem in the hopes of some magical appearance of money from the other two levels of government sometime down the road. Money both Queen’s Park and Ottawa should be handing over in the areas of transit and affordable housing at the very least but money they’ve shown little inclination in handing over for years, decades now. Money the mayor should definitely be pushing for but money he should definitely not be counting on.
It’s like planning your life around the expectation of a relative dying and leaving you some money sometime down the road.
Not what you’d classically consider responsible, methodical, prudent or competent.
And then there’s the mayor’s bold transit plan, SmartTrack.
As John Lorinc pointed out in his Spacing article last week, we’re not even close to knowing what the price tag of that thing’s going to be or what portion the city’s going to have to come up with. Tory’s campaign-driven funding scheme, TIF, is another complete mystery, untested as it is on such a scale. Never mind how much the proposed eastern section of it while overlap with the Scarborough subway extension that he has tried to keep clear of. (Let’s not re-open that debate no matter how dumb and financially onerous it may turn out to be.)
Whatever its merits may be, aside from threatening to blow the city through its debt ceiling limit and, with that, future construction and repairs of, well, pretty much everything else, SmartTrack also looks as if it could further delay much needed transit building in Toronto. What if, in a year’s time when staff reports come back and questions arise about the viability of both SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway, “a kind of supercollider for Toronto’s latest transit ambitions,” Lorinc writes? Imagine that pitched battle at city council.
Subways, subways, subways versus SmartTrack, SmartTrack, SmartTrack!
And the shovels remain firmly unplanted in the ground.
After 4 years of paralytic, farcical uncertainty on the transit file, Mayor Tory has simply upped the ante instead of bringing clarity or even a semblance of sanity to it. In campaigning for the job, he refused to risk any loss of support by coming out against the Scarborough subway while offering up another fanciful transit plan that may well ensure the subway turns out to be nothing more than a costly white elephant. That’s political calculation not leadership.
It isn’t responsible, methodical, competent or prudent either.
In barely under three months, John Tory has fully revealed himself to be nothing more than just another small-time, parochial politician who is using this fiscal crisis (yes, it is a crisis) to diminish the city’s ability to deal with it rather than strengthen its hand. Why? Either he’s a committed small government ideologue or he possesses a steadfast aversion to making hard choices. Probably a healthy dose of both.
Whatever the reason, we need to stop expecting him to be anything other than an obstacle going forward, another failed experiment in the mayor’s office.
— hands wipingly submitted by Cityslikr
I think this is an unfair criticism of Mayor Tory. In fact I think his unique budgeting fix is a great strategy. It buys time. People really have to face the fact that “things” cost money and tough choices have to be made over what “things” we find important.
Just to gripe and gripe is not a solution. And your article is another gripe in my opinion.
Dear Ms. Schiralli,
We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke will accept your assessment of ‘an unfair criticism’, not agree with it but accept it.
However, a ‘gripe’?
We are hardly alone in suggesting Mayor Tory’s budget solution is neither a fix nor great strategy. It’s unique only in the sense that it doesn’t address the real issue at hand. The city has a revenue problem. So what time is the mayor trying to buy here?
Mayor Tory doesn’t want to talk about addressing that revenue problem. He’s crossing his fingers in the hopes that the deus ex machina of senior levels of government floats from the heavens and smooths out all our fiscal problems. He doesn’t want to talk about additional revenue tools. He wants to continue to depend on an untenable property tax and not even use that to its fullest.
We’re not griping. We have plenty of solutions we could offer. Mayor Tory just doesn’t want to hear them.
Thank you for your reasoned response. I apologize for the use of “gripe” as it is indeed a “fighting” word but I was trying to get across my point that nothing can be done right now.
I personally think this is a brilliant strategy as it buys time and also gives him clout when he tackles the police budget and looks for other efficiencies. The recent cost of $10,000 to install 12 plugs in chambers is a perfect example of how we have to do things better. Similarly the city’s response to Uber is so out of date. Thoughtful response is needed not a knew jerk reaction to sue. However suing does buy time. I liken him to a hatchet man brought into a floundering organizatios. He needs time to do a reasoned, rational restructuring and that includes detailing our mission statement. We need the Shelely Carrolls, the Gord Perks, the Rob Fords, the Mahevics etc. to speak for their voter base and we need your critical voice too.
He has laid it on the line that he will not consider other revenue tools. You say “he doesn’t want to talk about addressing that revenue problem” . Well you know as well as I do, any move right now in that direction would infuriate a large voter base. Rather he seems to be putting his energies into getting voters engaged in the process of prioritizing just what we want and what we will pay for. And as David Socknaki said “things cost money”.
Some voters will continue to hide their heads in the sand and just want the lowest property tax. They are busy with family. They are busy with careers. So the more views that get expressed the better.
I don’t think you’ll find many that will argue with what you’ve laid out. He’s exactly what we the majority (which is another story all together in what really is a majority when you don’t get 50%+1) of Toronto wanted. Revenue tools sound great but even I’m surprised at how many left leaning council members won’t touch that with a ten foot pole.
Smart Track, Smart Track Smart Track does remind me of the Ford mantra but even Paula Fletcher here in my good old Ward30 is backing Tory on that front. The Libs and NDp that voted for Tory knew what they were getting. Trust me I was and am one of them. Couldn’t handle or trust Chow which pains me because i knew her and Jack before her run as mayor and what she had to say back then I believed.
Tory is in this for four years of clean up. We the city can wait for something better in 2018. We aren’t going to get the perfect mayor. There is no such thing. Even Miller was an ass when it came to leading, vision, accountability (though thankfully like Tory no Crack) This isn’t a Tory can do no wrong rant, just a trust the many of us that did vote, weighted and measured what was out there and came up with the best solution for the timing being. Are we happy? meh. Are disappointed? no. Will things get better over the next 3 budgets? Yes.
Pressure is coming from outside the downtown core and the inner city wards like Ward30 are already seeding help in very ingenious means. We’re actually going to make it 🙂 Last bit, the one thing Ford taught us is that Mayor has no power, we do. Yup you and I.
I’ve seen more people come out to the 4 or 5 public meeting in the last 6 weeks in Ward 30 (specifically) than I have in all of the last few years and if my friends/fam that I usually want to bring can’t come, I’m recording, RTing, Facebooking, doing everything I can to make sure they’ve got info they need to keep us in the loop. 20 or so people at boring old Park update meeting last night in Church and I had 15 people DMing me to send them info..from a music related twitter account!!
Keep up the good tweets @cityslikr Love your stuff. We (Toronto) are going to surprise you. Even us that voted for T.O.R.Y 🙂
Thanks giving me a platform. Never enough space on twitter.
Revenue tools? Like what? road tolls would be a start but don’t start adding new taxes. We have been paying more taxes over the last 30 years and NOTHING transit has been built. Not just Ford, NORTHING has been built except for Downsview Palace, I mean station which did not even save any buses. The extension was a 50sec extra travel for buses to get from Wilson to Sheppard. Even Dalton’s ‘gift’, though we will all pay thru the nose for it has not happened. He deferred it because our construction industry could not handle the work and he wanted the 2017 budget to look good. Even Mrs. Dalton, I mean Wynn refused to release any of the supposed money, All work to date on Eglinton Crosstown has been paid by the CIty. Let the friggin Province get their act together. I realize they have little things like Election bribery/fraud and gas plant incidents BUT how about starting to pay the TTC subsidy Dalton refused to restore? Mr and Mrs Mcguinty-Wynn have dithered far more then Ford. Miller & Lastman all together!