Pulling a left on my bike out of the alleyway at the top of the back lane behind our house onto the street, I failed to check to my right to see if there was any oncoming traffic. Legally it’s not something I’m required to do as it is, starting at that point, a one way street heading south. Technically speaking there should not be anyone coming from that direction. But, in most cases I do check as bikes frequently ride up the wrong way of the street as well the odd lost car driver, so turned around that they’re unaware that they’ve broken the law.
On this particular occasion, however, I failed to take the proper precaution before heading up the street. From just back behind me came this bird-like call. A short little greeting letting me know that I was not alone on the road making my way north. It had something of a finch quality to it. Perhaps even the titmouse. Pleasant without the slightest hint of aggression or nastiness. Wordlessly I was informed of the close proximity of another cyclist.
Quickly swerving to my left, I instinctively apologized to the other rider as he pedaled past me. The apology was graciously accepted and he headed off into the night. No harm, no foul.
Why can’t this be the tone taken in all interactions on our streets, roads and lanes? Enough with the indignant horns, angry bells and bellicose verbal taunts. We’re all just trying to get to our respective destinations in sound body and mind. It ain’t a war out there, people, regardless of what some of our campaigning pols are trying to hype.
If somebody does something wrong, makes a wee mistake or even simply gets overly pushy, let him have it with nothing more than a gentle reminder that you’re there and have been mildly inconvenienced by their inattentive (or selfish) actions. We’re all just simply trying to share the space with each other. It would make for a more pleasant trip whether behind the wheel of a car, atop the seat of a bicycle or strolling along on foot.
Unexpectedly finding ourselves in the middle of a casino in Niagara Falls one night last week (tell me that hasn’t happened to you), we pondered on the notion of government sanctioned gambling. What had once been a highly controversial topic less than 20 years ago was now simply a given. A not-quite-Vegas-more-like-Reno-or-maybe-Atlantic-City given where cheese and bad food rules although the drinks are made in Ontario expensive.
We are not gamblers. Or, after our Niagara Falls experience, I should say, two of us aren’t gamblers. (Acaphelgmic went missing and has still not turned up days later.) It’s not owing to any moralistic bent. To our mind, we just don’t see the point of it. Money does burn a hole in our pockets but we can think of much more interesting ways to piss it away.
Like with so many other things though, we are face first into the prevailing winds of our time. Large swaths of the public, who otherwise rail against handing over their hard earned cash to the government in the form of taxes, happily do just that at a slot machine or card table. It’s a matter of personal choice, I guess, although for some that is highly debatable. Gambling, once the scourge of decent society, is now an acceptable pastime, wealth distributor and government income generator.
Last fiscal year, the Ontario Gaming and Lottery Corp. pumped nearly $4 billion into the Ontario economy, half of it directly into provincial coffers. It is a major employer and corporate sponsor of charities and cultural events. The 10 casinos it owns and/or operates have brought a pulse back into the ailing municipalities that have embraced them. This is a service sector largely resistant to economic cycles.
“If gambling, why not drug decriminalization?” my non-gambling colleague asks over sparkly cocktails at a glittery bar. “Or prostitution. Let’s accept the fact that there are distasteful habits that we just can’t legislate or regulate out of practice, and get in on the action.” Own it to rule it.
Maybe mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti isn’t so out there after all. OK. He is but as governments on all levels grapple with mounting fiscal imbalances why are we ignoring potentially huge revenue streams that are swirling around us, untouched in the underground economy? Not so long ago, we as a society didn’t abide gambling. We seem to have overcome our qualms about that. Why not legalized (and taxed) prostitution or drug use?
I would probably be an even stronger advocate of such ideas if I truly thought moneys made from such non-traditional enterprises were properly plowed back into the public sphere. A meander off the beaten track of the city of Niagara Falls doesn’t fill me with hope however. My childhood memory of the place is that of a somewhat tacky, down-at-heel vacation destination. Posed on the veritable precipice of a truly astounding natural wonder, the town was as equally awash in chintzy souvenir shops, carnival attractions and all the other markings of low rent consumerism.
Despite the boost to the local economy that the government run casinos claim to have provided, Niagara Falls still feels somewhat shabby. Dilapidated houses sit in the shadows of high rise hotels on somewhat derelict feeling streets just off the main drags. Actual residential areas are few and far between. Try finding a bank when you’re in need of some cash (no, I don’t have a problem) and are absolutely unwilling to hand over exorbitant fees to ATMs that you’re pretty sure are directly linked into the casinos.
It simply feels that little of the cash being thrown around town makes its way back into the lives of the people who live here. But hey, without the casino, do you think Gladys Knight and the Pips would give so much as a second thought to Niagara Falls as a tour stop? Where else would octogenarian funnyman Don Rickles ply his trade without our wealth of casinos?
And where else could our provincial government turn in order to divest its citizens of billions of dollars aside from the casinos and other gambling venues? It is the new reality, this uneasy truce between citizens and their elected representatives. The casino quid pro quo. I’ll give you my money although I want a little something in return. No, not services. But a chance to strike it rich under the flashing lights and faux grandeur of palaces dedicated to what we once considered nothing more than filthy vice.
Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society. — Franklin D. Roosevelt
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With the proposed city budget now open for public viewing, I think it’s worth quoting some contrasting, old school pro-taxation observations to counter the prevailing hue and cry of outrage and indignation making the rounds from the trained anti-tax seals. Like it or not, Toronto delivered a balanced budget without any of the usual help from the province, using an up tick in property taxes (its main revenue source), a healthy dose of user fees and some hocus pocus pulling of hitherto unknown surpluses and savings from a magic hat.
Deceitful? Yeah probably, but by now we should be used to grave government pre-budget prognostications that help cushion the actual blow with some surprisingly good news once the official announcement is made. Illusory? Only time will tell.
But the point here is that there is a balanced budget in place which – and it bares repeating – is legally mandated for all municipalities in this province by a government that is presently staring at its own $24.7 billion deficit owing to the tough economic times we are living through. Yeah, yeah. The irony of the situation is thicker than the cast of The Bachelor. Yet somehow provincial officials manage to keep a straight face when dictating fiscal prudence to the cities.
With a month or two to digest the budgetary nuts and bolts as it winds its way toward a full council debate and vote in April, let’s focus now on the user fees and property tax increases. “Nickeled and dimed”, so says Pete Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post. “Oink! Another trip to the trough”, according to the Toronto Sun which, really, can’t be considered a source of information but more of a stream of consciousness vomiting directly up from the reactionary slice of society’s id. “The mayor says you can’t have a great city for free,” said candidate Rocco Rossi. “But neither can you take a free ride on the backs of taxpayers year after year.”
People like Rocco Rossi, the writers at the Toronto Sun and National Post apparently think that our tax dollars travel straight from us plain folkses wallets into some off-shore slush fund for greasy politicians and union members. In the same article that featured Rossi’s inane babblings, it’s stated that it now costs Toronto homeowners $6.39 a day for the services we receive from the city; services that include (and I’m quoting directly): police, fire, ambulance, TTC, libraries, parks and rec and much more [bolding mine].
All that for the low, low price of $6.39?! As a homeowner, it seems mighty reasonable to me. You can’t get 3 square meals a day from McDonald’s for that price. And them’s empty calories, my friends.
Nobody likes to pay taxes. The mayor’s claim that homeowners in Toronto still pay less property tax than anywhere in the GTA only goes so far. That’s as it should be as in most Toronto neighbourhoods, houses make a smaller footprint than those in the outer suburbs and the economy of scale kicks in delivering city services to more people/area. It’s disconcerting, our growing reliance on user fees which inevitably come down on the poorest amongst us although budget chief Shelley Carroll talked about subsidies for those that need them.
Wouldn’t it be grand to live where everything was free and the only money we ever had to spend went to filling our bellies and providing us with digital cable? When you find such a place, let me know. I might come and crash on your couch for a little bit, suss it out.
Until then, how be we suck it up. This budget is going to spring leaks. They always do. It is a stopgap measure to get us through an ugly economic period. More than a decade after amalgamation and downloading of services, the expected savings never materialized and the revenue neutral nature of the process wasn’t neutral at all. We’re still bearing the costs of the ill-advised property tax freeze by the Mel Lastman regime (peopled by many of the same stiffs now surrounding the Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman campaigns) that waited for the savings and the revenue neutrality to appear. It never did. Now we’re paying the piper, hoping for saner heads to arrive.
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I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.