We Really Going Down This Path?

March 29, 2012

Watching The Bottom Line segment last night on the CBC’s National a day before the federal budget was coming down and one of the panelists Patricia Croft said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the private sector experienced a serious recession a few years back and now it was time for the public sector to face its own recession.

???

So the divide is complete. Those not lapping it up at the public sector trough for these past 3, 4 years, the unlucky sods stuck toiling away heroically in the private sector trenches have seen tough times, buddy. They’ve endured while their lazy counterparts in government, most all unioned up, have been picking the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, living large on our dime.

Now it’s time for a little payback, err, comeuppance, I mean, yeah, OK, payback. Enough is enough. We all know what caused the recession. Wildly inflated public sector wages, benefits, pensions and sick days. Those damn teachers brought us to the edge of financial apocalypse! We demand restitution! We demand a day of reckoning!

It’s remarkable, really, just how effective this bait and switch has been performed. That all this government debt, from the federal right down to the municipal level, has been due to reckless spending out of the public purse. None of it came from a mania for slashing taxes or a lack of oversight of financial institution that believed in their own corrective powers and that greed was indeed good – bankers gone wild!

And here we are, anemically digging ourselves out from under the wreckage, no serious questions asked or answered about how we really got into this particular mess, and now it’s time to gut our way back to prosperity. Trust us, we’re instructed by the same people who led us off the cliff in the first place, this is how it’s done. Have we ever steered you wrong before?

We’ve asked this question more than a few times before but in light of this week’s budget madness it bears repeating. How exactly does it work, this cutting your way to growth? You keep wages stagnant, remove benefits, reduce pensions, making people more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. They respond either by piling on more personal debt or tucking what money is left under a mattress. That expands the economy how exactly?

I don’t know why I even bother asking, frankly. No actual answer is ever forthcoming. We cut our debt and debt payments and, voila, there’s more money in the bank to spend on those things people really want. Except, point me to an example where that’s actually happened. Don’t talk to me about the Chretien/Martin Mid-90s Miracle where, in fact, the pain wasn’t short but sweet. Instead it was just passed along, downloaded if you will, to the provinces who, if they aren’t resource extracting the shit out of their economies, are mired down in debt and dislocation, themselves having offloaded as much of the fiscal difficulties onto their municipalities.

As Trish Hennessy pointed out earlier this week at Framed in Canada, this austerity model has so far proven to be hypothetical, illusory, nice and neat on the blackboard but not the proven panacea its adherents claim. With each cut and reduction Greece makes, more bailout money is needed to keep it from collapsing. Great Britain is travelling down a similar path. Austerity, along with its philosophical tax cut soul mate, aren’t really driving economies in the direction their proponents tout.

Rahm Emanuel, that staunch fiscal conservative according to Councillor Doug Ford, is looking at “a ‘major new infrastructure program’ to create tens of thousands of jobs across Chicago by ‘coordinating the revitalization of Chicago’s infrastructure.” What? Government spending in Chicago?! But Mayor Rahm. Everybody knows governments don’t create jobs. Governments just get in the way of the real job creators in the private sector. Unless they don’t.

Our friend Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto today wrote about how Mayor Ford should be luxuriating in the spotlight (our words not his) with his handling of Toronto’s labour situation. Deals signed with very little disruption so far, ‘phenomenal news’, according to the mayor, that gives the city flexibility. Flexibility to reduce the work force, to outsource jobs to the private sector, to start respecting the taxpayers.

No doubt this is exactly what Mayor Ford campaigned on, probably even more so than his promise to build subways. He was elected to bring unionized city workers to heel. Punch them in the face, bust their unions preferably. So that we would never have to endure the horrors of another summer garbage strike. Ever.

They need to get a taste of what the real world’s like out there. They need their own recession. Recovery starts from the bottom and our public workers haven’t hit there yet.

questioningly submitted by Cityslikr


The President’s Man Goes Local

October 5, 2010

So Rahm Emanuel resigned his post as chief of staff to the most powerful position on the planet (after, that is, the top 5 places within the Chinese government structure) to run for the mayoralty of Chicago. This is a guy who served for three terms in the House of Representatives. He’s now running to be mayor of Chicago. A power broker inside the D.C. Beltway packs it in for what looks to be a rough ride of an election in the 3rd biggest city in America.

Does that strike anyone else as a step down a rung or two of the success ladder?

I mean, aren’t mayor positions simply consolation prizes for those without the goods to make it big at state/province or federal levels of government? It certainly seems to be the case here in Toronto during this particular campaign cycle. Also-rans and not-quite-good-enoughs battle it out for ultimate supremacy of this backwater burg we call home.

Yet, here’s arguably the meanest, nastiest and most successful backroom Democrat in recent memory heading out of Washington to try his luck running for the lowly position of mayor. Obviously it’s some sort of punishment being meted out for the crime of pushing President Obama too far to the middle. Yeah, thanks for all your help, Rahm. How be you just run along now and try your hand at local politics?

Or, maybe this is a case of an extremely motivated politician realizing just which way the wind is blowing, where the action really is. Cities are where it’s at, baby. In this globalized world of increasing urbanization that we’re living in, cities are assuming control of the agenda, the engine driving innovation, sustainability, diversification. What politician with an elevated sense of self-importance (one can posses that trait in a good way) wouldn’t want to be at the forefront of all that?

Gazillionaire Michael Bloomberg, touted as a possible independent candidate to run for the presidency of the United States, takes a pass, opting instead to stay as mayor of New York City. In Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa dabbled for a time in California state politics before moving into the municipal arena, first as a council member and then mayor. Portland Oregon mayor Sam Adams has burst onto the national scene as a leading advocate for building environmentally sound cities. So famous has he become that a beer has been named in his honour.

But over the course of Toronto’s dreary 9 month campaign so far, we’ve been told it’s just about filling potholes and fixing street lights. After 7 years of tentatively stepping toward the future, all we’re hearing now is what we can’t do, not what’s possible. Voters are cowering in the face of necessary and exciting change; their fears and worst instincts catered to by unimaginative candidates who seem oblivious to the shifting sands of where power is headed. We imperil our ability to adapt to what’s coming and thrive in the possibilities that will arise if we hand over the levers of power to someone incapable of seeing past nickels and dimes.

Rahm Emanuel seems to understand this. He’s angling to take the reins of a great but deeply troubled city. Much more troubled than even the worst case scenario being painted about Toronto by the hysterics contending for the mayor’s position. Chicago’s money woes are significantly worse than ours. Allegations of actual corruption and cronyism have stuck to some of the outgoing city officials. Crime is a significant problem there and not just a convenient bogeyman being shaken around in order to frighten voters.

Despite all of that, Rahm Emanuel wants to be the mayor of Chicago. There’s an element of flight, certainly, from an administration looking to take a hit in next month’s midterm elections. If it does happen, there’ll be plenty of fingers pointing at Emanuel as a prime architect of Obama’s fall from grace. But he could run toward a much more lucrative spot in the private sector, assuming such a thing exists anymore which also might explain the President’s low approval ratings.

Emanuel’s decision to follow in the footsteps of Richard M. Daley bespeaks of how important cities have become on the political landscape. Those accepting that new reality have begun to assume responsibility for proper future planning, at times defying upper levels of governments by setting more stringent environmental targets and broadening personal rights and freedoms. In the vacuum created by the divestment of powers by successive federal and provincial/state governments as a way to balance their books, forward thinking cities have assumed the responsibilities and set out on a course to not only remake themselves in a 21st-century fashion but the regions and countries that they are part of as well. Savvy politicians like Rahm Emanuel recognize that and are jumping at the chance to get involved.

It’s unfortunate Toronto has been hijacked by mayoral candidates more content to wallow in petty grievances and almost tribal hostility instead of generating ideas about how best to move into a future where cities will be at the forefront of policy decisions and societal change. If the next mayor doesn’t understand that and seize upon it, all the advantages we as a city have presently (and we have many) will be for naught. Our enviable position cannot be translated into expanded opportunity by merely filling potholes and fixing streetlights. We need to stop shying away from thinking bigger.

civically submitted by Urban Sophisticat