Time For A Little Game Of Chicken

September 30, 2011

Despite the divisive and highly acrimonious environment that has settled over council chambers at City Hall these days, through all the sniping and partisan hackery, there is one item that could easily muster the support of more than a 2/3s majority of councillors. This city is being severely short-changed financially by the two levels of senior government, and have been for going on 20 years now. It is not a situation unique to Toronto or other municipalities in this province. It’s happening nationally. Listen to Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi. It’s taking place in the United States. Witness Chicago’s budget battles.

The difference of opinion, however, arises over what exactly to do about it.

While many of the right leaning councillors acknowledge the problem, their solution seems to consist of shrugging their shoulders and saying, what are you gonna do. We’ve tried and tried with very little to show for it. Let’s move on. It doesn’t hurt that the lack of proper funding plays into their desire to shrink local government down to size. Any case they might make for a more sound fiscal arrangement between the city, the province and the federal government is undercut by the mayor’s refusal to stop claiming that we don’t have a revenue problem.

Still, they do have a point. Previous administrations have endeavoured to secure not only more money from Queen’s Park and Ottawa (in most cases, money they once provided) but also to establish a stable funding formula in order to move past the almost ad hoc, yearly struggles to balance our books. All to only limited success.

Moderate councillors suggest we keep on keeping on, nagging away at our deadbeat provincial and federal politician to do the right thing and start ponying up the cash they owe us. On Tuesday, Councillor Pam McConnell successfully put through a motion for the City Solicitor “…to report to the Executive Committee on the legal implications of the allocation, funding and downloading of Provincial responsibilities to municipalities including a comparison of how municipalities in other provinces have responded to provincial downloading pursuant to the British North America Act and the Constitution Act, 1982.” The BNA Act? Chortles were heard from the council floor. Or maybe that wasn’t chortling. Maybe it was the sound of straw clutching.

But why not seek legal counsel on this issue? We are, after all, legally bound as nothing more than ‘creatures of the province’. Doesn’t that entail a degree of responsibility on the province’s part to keep us properly fed and housed? Aren’t even the lowliest of creatures entitled to move about freely, outside the cage of inadequate transit? (Yeah, I went there.)

Yes, yes, yes. Of course, go about your quixotic tilt. Councillor MacConnell’s motion passed 39-6, with only the mayor and some of his hardest core supporters voting against as well as.. what? Councillor Josh Matlow? What up with that, Councillor?

(Nope.. nope.. Do not get distracted by the curious case of Councillor Josh Matlow’s centrism. That’s… another post entirely.)

In any case, that’s more long term thinking. What about the here and now? Dire warnings rang out over the course of the meeting’s two days that if we could not get our fiscal house in order, if we could not come to some sort of agreement between service cuts and tax hikes, if we could not balance our budget as we were legally mandated to do, as we have every year previously, well, provincial caretakers would swoop down from their perch at Queen’s Park and do it for us. Oh, the shame! Oh, the horror!

You know what? Sometimes I think we should just dare the province to do it. One budget year, we just simply acknowledge that we have not been given the proper tools to do the job adequately and that instead of inflicting damage upon the city and the people living within it, we choose instead not to balance our books. Like the other two levels of government do, we run an operating deficit.

And if the province has a problem with that, hey, come on down, folks. You try it. You get your hands dirty, slashing and burning. You take the heat from citizens outraged at tax hikes. Yeah. Not so easy, is it?

Maybe the time for playing nice has come and gone. Maybe it’s time to up the ante a little. To, I don’t know, start withholding any money we normally pass along in the form of HST payments. The feds owe us some back taxes? Queen’s Park has some outstanding fines? We’ll just take that off the cheque we’re cutting for you, shall we?

Now, as with any belligerence married to a woeful lack of understanding about the implications, ramifications or even possibility of such gestures, my suggestion comes with a Wikipedia-like citation needed. All I’m saying is that we start exploring different approaches to the dysfunctional manner of our relationship to the other levels of government. Playing nice, rolling over and hoping for a rub of the tummy and the occasional bone thrown our way is not proving to be the healthiest of methods. Been there. Done that. And the fucking t-shirt is about 3 sizes too small.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. A more aggressive approach may be in order. By any means necessary. It’s time we thought of ways to beat our federal and provincial representatives out from the bushes where they’ve been hiding, avoiding their responsibility. We need them to come to the table and negotiate not from a position of power but as equal partners. Asking politely hasn’t worked to date. We need to start demanding. To do that, we just might have to upset an applecart or two.

feistily submitted by Cityslikr


Crazy, Crazy, Crazy

May 31, 2010

Crazy Hazel McCallion, McHellion I’ll call her, as I’m sure no one ever has before, she’s at it again, spouting off nonsensical blatherings. Won’t this woman ever retire? Talk about your career politicians.

At a pre-meeting of big city mayors before this weekend’s gathering at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Mississauga mayor McCallion pooh-poohed a call for a new, more equal partnership between all three levels of governments. According to last Thursday’s Toronto Sun, “…McCallion said a new partnership is not enough — it’s time to open the “can of worms” that is the constitution to give recognition to the important role of cities, enshrining powers and revenue sources needed to keep municipalities viable.” Has grandma finally lost her marbles? Surely she can’t mean opening up the always divisive constitutional process just for the sake of such a trifling matter like municipal powers?

“It really means a look at the constitution, there’s no question about it,” McCallion said.

Now I know there are some who would say that perhaps we should cede a little ground on this issue to someone of McCallion’s… errr… experience. I mean, the woman just might be old enough to actually know the intention of the makers’ of our constitution, going all the way back to the original British North American Act of 1867? Maybe old Hazel has some insider information.

But if there really is “no question” about looking at the constitution why hasn’t anyone else suggested it?

Where's Hazel?

In order to give cities the powers they need to sustain and upgrade infrastructure and build stronger communities, wouldn’t our elected officials in Ottawa and Queen’s Park utilize every means at their disposal to make sure that happens, including looking at the constitution? Surely to god our Prime Minister and Premier, M.P.s and M.P.P.s aren’t so petty and rigid that they would blindly adhere to some document written back during the middle years of Queen Victoria’s reign simply in order to keep power (and revenue) in their grubby little hands while municipalities heave and convulse under the weight of increasing fiscal and human responsibility. That can’t be what McCallion’s suggesting.

And if there really was “no question” about looking at the constitution wouldn’t this be a major topic of debate during our current municipal election campaign? With all the tough talking hombres we’ve got running for mayor in 2010, you’d think at least one of them would be pushing the idea of increasing Toronto’s share of power and revenue through constitutional reform instead of nattering ineffectually at each other and casting highly dubious aspersions upon the present council and the mayor. If Hazel McCallion — who has been mayor of the 6th largest city in Canada for longer than most of Toronto’s mayoral candidates have been old enough to vote — has decided that the only way for cities in this country to continue to grow sustainably and prosper is for a constitutional rejigging, and none of our candidates seem to agree on that or even deign to bring the subject up on the campaign trail, well obviously, Hazel McCallion is talking through her hat on the issue.

Perhaps McCallion needs to take a little time out (nap maybe? Don’t old people need naps in order to keep themselves functioning properly?) and then read Carol Goar’s take on the matter in the Toronto Star. “…local taxpayers have lost their appetite for mayors and councillors who see Canada as a dynamic urban nation,” Goar informs us. “… the debate about building strong, sustainable city-regions has almost petered out,” she continues. You see, Hazel? If the Toronto Star has decided that we should just shut up, sit back and let senior levels of government ignore the needs of the some 80% of Canadians who live in cities, that’s the end of the discussion. We don’t want to hear talk of provincial status for Toronto or the GTA. Or pie-in-the-sky, pipedream calls for constitutional reform in order to put power and actual decision making in the hands of, you know, citizens.

It’s off the table, old lady. Municipalities are the playthings and pawns of our higher ups, regardless of how negligent and detrimental the policies of senior levels of government may be to our lives. You’d think after more than 30 years of being mayor, you’dve cottoned on to that fact.

insanely submitted by Cityslikr