by Royson James
The barrage of the bungling barbarians continues unabated.
One day they propose to destroy the waterfront. The next day they muse about cutting cultural grants, even as the world gathers for the international film festival. They suggest we close libraries, sell our zoos, offload our heritage museums.
Today, they want to sell off 706 buildings that house poor people.
The budget alarm is louder than normal this year only because the guy with the bullhorn, Mayor Rob Ford, has created a crisis to cut services in what he considers a bloated government.
Every evidence flies in the face of this characterization of wanton waste at city hall. Still, every crumb that falls triggers claims the whole bread is spoiled so let’s can the baker.
Amidst the noise and the haste, remember that the budget won’t be set till January and many a trial balloon will be floated to gauge public reaction. So, be steadfast and vigilant and vocal about the type of city you want; don’t cower and despair.
It’s discombobulating to hear that the city is expecting an extra $130 million — most of it from higher land transfer tax revenues — when just last week councillors were struggling with what services to cut in order to reach a phantom target everyone knew would change by this week. And will change again before the year ends and the new budget is set.
The budget slashers on council, the ones who consider library service on Sunday as “gravy,” they point to Greece and bankrupt American cities and say that’s Toronto’s future, if we don’t diminish our transit service, sell off public housing, reduce the public service to the lowest, groveling level imaginable.
Not so. Toronto is far from bankrupt. And you know it’s not when the mayor gets elected promising to add 100 police officers; and promptly gives them a whopping raise and considers this an achievement.
Perplexingly, the same mayor demands the same police force cut 10 per cent of its budget without reducing the number of officers — a near impossibility.
Toronto has grave challenges in funding transit. But it has funding tools rusting in its tool box, languishing there because of tax-averse political dogma.
Canada’s richest city certainly can pay for a first-world transit system — if someone shows the way. Agree on a 1 per cent sales tax dedicated for transit and we’re on our way. Our problems are many. But almost every one worth mentioning is being eroded and diminished further by the current civic leadership.
Over the past decade, civic activists fought and got Queen’s Park to recognize the city’s funding challenges. Ontario allowed Toronto to implement a vehicle registration tax and land transfer tax.
Our new mayor swiftly killed the vehicle tax and threatens to do the same with the land tax, which will net some $300 million this year. He does so as he cries about a budget gap of $774 million.
A city in fiscal trouble does not give away $64 million of vehicle registration taxes, then tell motorists to consider less frequent snow removal.
A city with an under-funded transit system does not reject a 10-cent fare hike proposal that would net $30 million and then push the system to shut down some bus routes, run the buses less often, and pack more people on the remaining ones.
Those are the reckless actions of a rich heir who doesn’t know the value of a dollar or the value of the assets he’s inherited.
It’s up to the loyal subject to reject such a direction as the machinations of a liar or those of a fool.