The Cost Of Doing Business

On Wednesday over at the Toronto Standard, writer Jeff Halperin interviewed Josh Hjartarson, 2BillionQuestionvice president of policy and government relations at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, talking about the organization’s report this week, The $2 Billion Question. Business’s perspective on, you guessed it, funding Metrolinx’s The Big Move. Both are interesting reads and lead to some wider questions.

The first is kind of tangential to the matter of transit itself but one that jumped out at me immediately. In the OCC report [pages 1 & 3, if you’re following along], it was pointed out that for ‘every $100 million invested in public infrastructure, 1670 jobs are created’. The total number of jobs created between 2012-2031 with The Big Move would be in the neighbourhood of 800-900 K. 800,000-900,000 new jobs over the next 19 years.

Remember, these numbers are cited by the Chamber of Commerce, folks. Not a group you normally associate with promoting public sector spending. Numbers that would’ve come in handy during the transit funding debate last week at city council. I’ll give your grossly inflated $1000/year/household in new taxes, Mr. Mayor, and see you some one million jobs created. They shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to round up in their favour.

When talking up the merits of a casino or runway expansion, it’s all about the jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. justsaynototaxesTen thousand of them, apparently, if the casino were to be taken off life-support.

But the jobs created investing in public infrastructure? Not it if means any sort of tax increase. Any whatsoever. No New Taxes trumps Jobs, Jobs, Jobs every time.

Another question is what role businesses as a whole have in contributing financially to the public infrastructure that helps them operate. From the public education that provides a functioning pool of workers to the roads and rails that bring both employees and goods to their doorstep, what should the cost be of doing business? Does the business community pay its share for carrying the freight, so to speak, of the public sphere that it relies on to exist?

The quality of local infrastructure is key to attracting international investment and talent. Effective transit and transportation grows the potential pool of workers which businesses can draw from and the customers that businesses can sell to. Efficient transit reduces the number of cars on the roads, which enables goods to flow faster and more reliably.

Better transit makes for a better business environment, according to these words from the Chamber of Commerce report. If that’s the case, as a group they should be more than willing to do their part and pony up. Yet, that’s not the vibe I’m getting from the report.

Of the 11 revenue tools put forth by Metrolinx and considered by the OCC, only three directly impact businesses – commercial parking levy, land value capture and development charges – and most of the costs of those could and probably would be passed on to consumers. taxationistheftRight out of the gate, an employer payroll tax was deemed a ‘Non-starter’. “The tool would be a drag on competitiveness and job creation…”, the report states, “… the tax would be a disincentive to invest in the GTHA… concerned that there is no direct connection between the input (revenue) and the output (improved transportation).”

There’s a disconnect here between the emphasis on the importance of infrastructure in ‘attracting investment and talent’ and the concern that a payroll tax would ‘be a drag on competitiveness and job creation’. We need solid infrastructure like transit as long as someone else pays for it. Sound familiar?

How is there ‘no direct connection’ between an employer payroll tax and ‘improved transportation’? The ease with which employees get to and from work would surely be related to their overall productivity. Why should it be the employees alone, through transit fares or road tolls, paying for something that will also benefit their employers?

Like the revenue tools debate at city council, there’s too much stress put on the disincentive side of taxation for transit funding. It will chase businesses out of the GTHA.crumblinginfrastructure It’s a job killer.

Where are the voices touting this is a long overdue investment? Certainly the Toronto Board of Trade needs to be commended for its tireless work in keeping this conversation going while all levels of government dither. But there needs to be a buy in from the wider business community like those taking part in the Chamber of Commerce report that revenue tools shouldn’t be seen as a burden but a necessary course of action for our future well-being and economic competitiveness.

For decades, governments of all stripes have under-invested in the GTHA’s transportation infrastructure, the OCC report states. That much is undeniable. The question is why?

Jurisdictional disputes, starting with a near absence of the federal government on the transit file. The cities alone incapable of raising the amount of money needed and a province either not inclined to spend money building transit or overly concerned with being seen focussing on just one locality. Fear of the Toronto Premier knock.crumblinginfrastructure1

But we also can’t ignore the fact that the senior levels of government have been creating huge holes in their respective revenue streams, accepting the common sense ‘wisdom’ that lower taxes translates into a better economy. Personal income taxes cut. Sales tax reduction. Corporate taxes cut.

We can hardly be considered antagonistic to business interests in this country, according to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study last year. Maybe the timing’s just a coincidence that as governments willingly forgo revenue, investment in the public domain has also gone underfunded. You can try blaming inefficiencies and spending scandals for the lack of money to spend but all told, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to income lost by tax cuts.

That’s not to suggest business pick up the entire tab for The Big Move. crumblinginfrastructure2But I’m not sure why they should get a pass either. Corporate taxes were never put on the table for consideration by Metrolinx or the Board of Trade. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce worries about ‘economic competitiveness’ as much as it does fairness in its consideration of the various revenue tools.

What could be more fair than everyone chipping in, including businesses? Everyone has a reason why they shouldn’t have to pay. Now is the time for someone to step up and say, here’s my x%. Let’s get this thing done.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr



Last week Ivor Tossell wrote about the then latest brouhaha — it was nearly 5 days ago, plenty of time for even newer brouhahas — swirling around our mayor, Rob Ford. In the article, Mr. Tossell summarized the mayor’s approach to the truth, governing and reality.

This is Rob Ford’s truth. The facts will be decided not by reality, but by the people, on election day… It’s a schoolyard view of the world, in which truth flows from popularity and power. He’s used it to run his administration like a radio phone-in show, talking to just one crowd with a mix of pandering and fabulism…


What a fantastic word to describe what we’ve been living through for the past three years since Rob Ford became a serious contender for the office of mayor. Fabulism. Fabulist.

Might I offer up a new word for general usage, especially in honour Ivor Tossell’s own contribution to the political lexicon in Toronto, Uncompetence.

The word* is: Fablication.

The generation of a world where whatever you say, if you’re the right thinking kind of person, is treated as hard, cold fact. Where a statement can contradict a previous statement and both statements can still be taken seriously. Fablication creates a magical place that emphasizes simple-mindedness not simplicity. fablication2Where rigour is not de rigueur.

Rob Ford’s fantasy political world is nothing but pure fablication. In it, there are never any negative consequences to your actions. Government has a spending problem not a revenue problem, and any extra dough that might be needed to build a subway (and subways only because streetcars are the root cause of traffic congestion) will flow effusively from a potent combination of a casino and the private sector.

Who wouldn’t want to live in such a land of enchantment?

In the 2010 municipal election, 47% of Toronto voters believed such a locale actually existed. All you needed was to stop a mythical gravy train and hop aboard a boat load of respect for the taxpayer. No fuss, no bother. Only those suffering from an engorged sense of entitlement and just the mildest sense of irony would feel any pain. fablication1Those symptoms largely inflicted denizens living in the old city of Toronto and in East York.

Even today, a solid chunk of those supporters continue to clap their hands in the hopes of keeping that dream alive, encouraging Mayor Ford to further dig in his heels. And he does. As Metrolinx ratchets up the real world conversation about viable revenue options to fund a long overdue transit expansion and the city’s chief planner chairs a roundtable, the Next Generation Suburbs, the mayor talks about graffiti and fake vomits (with accompanying video track) at the idea of new taxes and tolls.

Surely we can build more transit by cutting further finding efficiencies, rolling back public sector wages and benefits, stopping boondoggles. Where the hell do all the gas taxes go? asks a former PC MPP, apparently with a straight face. Stop demanding money, folks. We can just fablicate new transit.

Fablication built Ford Nation.

Listen to it in action every Sunday between 1 and 3 p.m. on 1010 Talk Radio. fablication4Or, for a quick hit, read David Hains’ synopsis of the show. (Check out 2:32 in Monday’s post for what I’m talking about when I talk about fablication.)

While the mayor is a very good practitioner of fablication, his brother is a master.

Witness Councillor Ford’s performance last week at Ryerson’s inappropriately named Law, Business, Politics – The Real World class. (Don’t know if it’s just my internet connection but the video is very, very choppy.) It was an hour and a half of outright fablication, punctuated by moments of actual serious discussion from co-panellist, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

You see, the duly elected councillor is not a politician. He’s a businessman. He and his brother-mayor (elected with the largest mandate in Canadian history [≈ 1’10”] and the most accessible politician in the country, in North America who fields 80-90 phone calls a day and doesn’t spend his time behind a big desk, talking to bureaucrats [≈ 54.30”]) have already saved the taxpayers of Toronto a billion dollars [≈ 57.30”]. fablication3When the councillor hosts visitors to the city, he’s always having to answer the same question. “What is there to do in Toronto, Doug?” [1’1”]. So that’s why we need to build a casino because, while the councillor doesn’t want to throw around wild numbers, he will anyway. Build a casino on city owned property and that’s $30 million in tax revenues, plus $30 million in a land lease agreement and we’re only getting started. Which is why we don’t taxes to build subways, folks. Casino revenue and the private sector who will tunnel across the city for us [1’17”]. apparently, in order to help alleviate our congestion woes.

And on and on it goes in the view of a fablicuist. (Trying on new words to see how they fit). Strawberry fields for-ever.

Why make up a word when there’s already one that might fit the bill? Fabulism. Fabulist. Fabler.

In the traditional definition, fables are supposed to have a meaning, an ‘edifying or cautionary point’. There’s nothing edifying or cautionary in fablication. Fablication is all about self-interest. fablication6Opinion, especially of the uniformed type, passes for truth. Facts are figments of a fablicateur’s imagination. Anything goes, in the world of fablication. Up is down. Black is white. Everything’s relative. The truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Fablication is the tool used by those on the wrong side of every issue. It is the creation of a reality unencumbered by the necessity to adhere to any notion of the truth. It’s undemanding, free-floating, amorphous and subject to change at a moment’s notice. Eventually a fablicated world will collapse into itself, but the key for everyone living outside its bubble is to limit the damage inflicted before it does.

* as far as I know ‘fablication’ was first coined by Catherine Soplet

studiously submitted by Cityslikr

Junk Politics

Times being what they are, I find occasionally stepping away from it all beneficial to my mental health. To head off and visit somewhere free of the politics of place and simply enjoy the view. I’m just a tourist, taking in the scenery.

It’s been difficult over the last couple years certainly to tear myself away from Toronto politics. Blink for a minute and you may well miss something extraordinary, something you’d never thought you’d see in your lifetime. When you think it couldn’t get any crazier, nothing could top what you’ve just witnessed, those diminished expectations are easily surpassed.

But I’m discovering that such novelty does have its limits. When the incredible becomes simply routine, it loses significance or much of any newsworthiness. The abnormal sinks into the swamp of the new normal.

So it goes with the mayoralty of Rob Ford.

Much has been written in the last few days about the latest antics of His Worship, his aggressive encounter with the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale in a public park outside the mayor’s home in Etobicoke, the controversial appearance of Sun News’ David Menzies on the Ford Brothers’ Sunday radio show and Mayor Ford’s declining to attend the PFLAG flag raising next week. None of it flattering for either our city or the chief magistrate we voted to represent us. “Rob Ford’s stupid and offensive radio show demeans us all” from Matt Elliott. “Send in the clowns” by Edward Keenan. And “Rob Ford and the Banality of Excess” by Michael Kolberg in the Toronto Standard.

There’s not much I can add to the growing canon of Rob Ford is really a bad mayor literature except for a hearty but sad agreement. What was once funny and entertaining has now become just sad and worrisome. Who knew that electing a mayor with destructive anti-urbanist views could adversely affect the city?

I remember way back in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush as president, comedian Richard Belzer saying that while as an American he was sad about the result, as a comedian he couldn’t be happier. The jokes essentially wrote themselves but, 12 years on, America has yet to recover from the debacle.

That’s sort of the feeling that’s developing here. Oh, the fun we are having watching such a sad spectacle but at what cost? In fact, that’s not even quite right. The fun was fleeting. “But a story needs an arc,” Kolberg writes, “and Rob Ford’s administration is a flat line.” Pause.. pause.. pause.. indignant mayoral temper tantrum.. pause.. pause.. pause.. indignant mayoral temper tantrum.. pause.. pause.. pause.. Where’s the new beat to push the story forward?

Actually, that’s being supplied by city council. In the face of Mayor Ford’s inability or interest in leading, a majority of councillors is slowly coalescing to fill the void. Normally unaligned players are now finding common ground in developing an agenda without any positive input from the mayor and city business is being conducted. Perhaps more slowly than it would if a mayor participated but proceeding nonetheless. First time councillors are now finding their footing in the wide open space created by the mayor’s truculent intransigence.

Not all is dark and forlorn.

What is most disturbing about all this, however, is Toronto’s descent into what Benjamin DeMott has called ‘Junk Politics’. It’s the politics of anger, resentment and division that appeals to our worst instincts rather than seeks to inspire our better natures. Watching the risible reactions from the mayor’s supporters in defense of his indefensible actions is increasingly disheartening. There is no wrong in anything he does, no justification that isn’t based on some perceived slight or ulterior motive of those who are not seen as being onside or part of the team. The once vaunted Ford Nation, the mayor’s base, sees only threats not opposing opinions. They thrive in a cesspool of negative catch phrase outrage, unable or unwilling to engage in any semblance of adult discourse.

This is Mayor Ford’s Toronto, his bread and butter and only hope in any sort of political future for himself. They are proud in their obstinance and conviction that the way forward is by looking backwards. It’s a tough nut to crack. One that guarantees a continued war of attrition and a threat to Toronto’s ability to develop into a healthy, productive and fair-minded 21st-century city.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr