Day 101

March 10, 2015

So sometime this week (I’m predicting Wednesday but not ruling out Thursday), city council will approve the 2015 operating, capital and rate support budgets. It is at that point when the 2014 municipal campaign will officially close.keystothecar John Tory actually takes over, full on, as mayor of Toronto.

What?! you say. But John Tory’s been mayor since December 1st of last year when he was sworn in. He’s got the chain of office to prove it.

True. But since the 2015 budget process kicked into gear in December, we’ve been told that this was an election year budget, cobbled together by city staff and assembled in a short time frame with the minimal of input from city council. Normally a year long process scrunched down into 4 months or so.

I don’t reject the notion out of hand. New mayor, new council (sort of), with lots of things to do post-election. To hit the ground running, from a budget perspective may be a little too much to expect without much guidance and input from staff. Continuity favours the bureaucracy once every 4 budget cycles. This one’s it.

To a point, of course.

That below the rate of inflation property tax increase was a major campaign plank for John Tory. Ditto SmarTrack dough. And I find it a bit hard to believe that staff thought it a great idea to add $443 million to the capital budget to expedite the Gardiner repairs. whispersI’m not saying the mayor had anything to do with it but his Deputy Mayor of choice, Denzil Minnan-Wong, sure does love him his car.

Still, tradition has it we cut the mayor some slack on the very first budget after being elected to office. A mayoral mulligan, if you will. Sort of a, he did what he could but his hands were tied by previous decisions, kind of thing. Next year, though. Next year.

Starting on the first day after the 2015 budget is passed, Mayor Tory has stated work begins on the 2016 budget. That one will be his baby, the one that will start to shape his legacy. 2015 was tying up loose ends left behind by the previous administration or two. (In theory, at any rate.) 2016, well, that’s Tory time. While he’s offered up hints of the direction he wants to take the city in, when budget 2015 wraps up, the buck starts stopping on his desk. There will be no one else to blame, no more before his time talk. John Tory will be master of his own fate.

Within the confines of being a mayor, that is, a position we all know to be limited in the powers of both the purse and jurisdiction. trainingwheelsActually, now that I think about it, there are plenty of receptacles for mayoral excuse-making when it comes right down to it. An uncooperative and unruly city council. Neglectful senior levels of government. Overzealous accountability officers! A culture of non-accountability rife in the ranks of city staff.

So scratch that. There’s no end to blame gaming at a mayor’s disposal. It’s just, going forward, we no longer have to indulge John Tory that opportunity.

blamelessly submitted by Cityslikr


We Have Enough

March 12, 2014

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

newpriorityneighbourhoods

But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

finally submitted by Cityslikr