Muscular Urban Agenda

February 15, 2011

The success of our cities in Canada is the success of our nation. And as such, it is time for us to embrace a new muscular urban agenda in this country. To allow our cities the resources, the powers and the authorities that they need in order to do the work we must do everyday for the citizens who live within our boundaries…It’s time to talk about cities. It’s time to really talk about how we make sure that cities have the resources they need to provide the services that Canadians need every single day, every single hour of every single day. And it’s time for us to understand that this 3rd order of government, this order of government that doesn’t exist in the Constitution, is actually the order of government that is most important to our citizens’ lives every single day.

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Toronto does not have a revenue problem. Toronto has a spending problem.

I promised myself I would not compare Calgary’s mayor with ours. I swore I wouldn’t. Crossed my heart, pointed to god… but… it’s… so… hard. Nenshi’s so… articulate …so informed… so positive… Rob Ford… has… kidney stones.

Muscular Urban Agenda!

(Yes. Did it.)

There are two kinds of people, I believe, in both the political and non-political arenas. On one side you’ve got city folk. On the other, let’s call them I-don’t-care-as-long-as-there’s-a-Homesense-and-a-Jack Astors type. It’s not so much about where you live as it is what you think about where you live. You can live in a city and not be a city folk (see Ford, Rob). You can not live in a city and be a city folk although that seems doubtful. City folks tend to live in cities because they like living in cities. Non-city folks live in cities because they have to and don’t spend much time thinking about the whys-and-wherefores of their urban situation.

By most estimates city folks and non-city folks living in cities make up nearly 80% of the Canadian population. In fact, in and around 45% of us live in urban centres with populatons of 500,000 or more and it’s a percentage that isn’t shrinking. Many city folk like Mayor Nenshi think this is a force that needs to be reckoned with, its ranking elevated beyond mere governmental errand boy and coffee fetcher (I said ‘fetcher’) to that of managing partner.

Our former mayor, David Miller, thought along similar lines but by the time the tax revolters and various other non-city folk chased him from office, his demands for fairer treatment at the hands of what we refer to as senior levels of government were dismissed as nothing short of undignified begging. Much was made during the election campaign to replace him of how the city had to stop going cap in hand to the province or the feds, looking for handouts simply because we couldn’t put our financial house in order. Toronto didn’t have a revenue problem, we were told again and again. Toronto had a spending problem.

Oh, but lookee over there. Mayor Nenshi totes the Milleresque sentiments and the well-heeled audience in attendance at the city’s Canadian Club ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and applaud him heartily. The same Canadian Club, incidentally, that couldn’t be bothered to go hear David Miller give a farewell speech in the waning days of his mayoralty. I guess the difference is, Mayor Miller taxed many of the club members. Mayor Nenshi didn’t.

It’s all well and good to clap and cheer the concept of increased resources, powers and authority for municipalities. It’s another thing entirely to willingly subject yourself to them. Increased resources, powers and authority almost always mean the ability to tax and we here in Toronto, given such resources, powers and authority with the City of Toronto Act in 2006, seemed far from willing. In fact, we rewarded those who promised to do the exact opposite with our votes.

Gone, vehicle registration tax and millions of dollars of revenue (i.e. resource, power and authority) with it. Let’s freeze our property taxes while we’re at it. Millions more dollars of resources, powers and authority done away with. Next year, we’re eyeing you Land Transfer Tax.

We can’t demand more responsibility if we refuse to exercise the small amount we’ve already been given. Opting not to use the powers of taxation at your disposal and choosing instead to hack away at the services and infrastructure that elevate a city beyond simply the place you live to the place where you thrive and flourish, that’s not only short-sighted and detrimental, it’s the height of folly and reckless governance. It is the opposite of a muscular urban agenda. It’s flabby anti-urban abuse. True city folk would take no part in that. Nor would they stand by idly and watch it happen.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr