Like many of you, I have marked the first anniversary of Rob Ford’s performance as mayor of our city with concern. The rapid decline in popular support of Ford is not surprising to city hall watchers, who witnessed his behaviour for the past 10 years as a city councillor. He is what he is, and he is living up to expectations. While it might be satisfying to say, “we told you so” to his disillusioned backers who over the past year have been dropping him faster than a hot Ferris wheel in the polls, it really does not address the issue of where we go from here.
The one thing I am confident about is the people of Toronto are learning that Ford’s contention of gravy and solutions to our city’s fiscal problems is wrong. Even with a highly reputable auditing company doing his work to analyze the city finances, no gravy was found. Either Ford was unaware or purposely ignored the fact that 90 percent of all city expenditures are mandated by provincial legislation and regulations. So where has that left us? In light of this fact, it was never about gravy, but a philosophical position to win the hearts and minds of the public. The emperor has no clothes now and what Ford is offering is a significant reduction in citywide services and the wholesale sell-off of our strategic investments and assets. Ford has learned the people of Toronto have little appetite for the dismantling of the public services that have made this city one of the most liveable in the world. He is now trying to meet our fiscal challenges, exacerbated by his ill-advised tax cuts of last year, through the selling off of Enwave, a portion of Toronto Hydro, the Toronto Parking Authority and very valuable public real estate assets and the privatization of public services. Thankfully, the Ford brothers’ recent development proposal for the eastern waterfront, primarily to benefit the private development industry, was wholly rejected by the people of Toronto. Similarly, I would suggest the selling off of these public strategic investments and privatization proposals should be rejected. Like business, investments have been made by the city in these agencies with public dollars to ensure a return on the public’s investment. The value of these publicly funded and nurtured investments are being eyed by private business because they are widely acknowledged for their great valuable and revenue-earning potential. Torontonians benefit from these planned, hard-earned, long-term, revenue-generating investments.
Where does that leave us? We need a change in perspective and focus on where the problem really exists. The problem is the funding of cities. We do not have a fiscal problem — we have a revenue problem. We can not continue to support a modern municipality on the property tax base and receive short-term rescue funding from the province from time to time. Cities are created as creatures of the province and have far outgrown this status. The people of Toronto need to recognize this. We need to stop beating each other up to ensure the continuation or discontinuation of services we usually take for granted because of an arcane funding model.
In the recent provincial election, Toronto elected an overwhelming number of Liberal MPPs. In part it was with recognition that the cut and burn policies of Ford were echoed by the Conservative Party platform. It’s high time the province stepped up to the plate, to take back programs that it should fund, such as the provincial court services, welfare, housing, and transit. The hard reality is only five to six percent of all provincial and federal tax dollars paid by residents of the city come back to the city. We need a fair deal. We are the economic engine of the country.
There needs to be a wider focus on this aspect of city financing. The newly elected mayor of Calgary has taken on the leadership position of former mayor David Miller to lead the charge for a fair municipal funding model. In this context, the Ford approach becomes irrelevant — leaning on cuts, rationalization of services and city deconstruction. Otherwise, the real work of creating a modern, thriving city will be put on hold to our collective detriment.
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