Last night, Shawnte & I joined hundreds of our friends & fellow citizens at Toronto City Hall for the second all-night Executive Committee meeting. We listened as deputant after deputant pleaded for Mayor Rob Ford to spare their essential city services from the chopping block, to look instead for more creative ways to solve his manufactured budget crisis. And we watched as Ford and his hand-picked inner circle ignored and ridiculed our fellow citizens of this once-great Toronto.
Many of last night’s deputants advocated for restoring the vehicle registration fee and implementing road tolls and congestion charges. One deputant, Rob Shirkey, read from a Toronto Board of Trade report suggesting the city could raise over a billion dollars in revenues per year by asking drivers to pay their share. A billion dollars would plug the deficit hole, pay for every public service and grant up for a cut, and leave enough left over for Ford to kill his hated Land Transfer Tax and make a hefty property tax cut.
So why aren’t tolls on the budget table?
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti took a stab at that one. During the election, voters told Ford’s people they didn’t want road tolls. A simple answer from a simple man. Of course, if you ask someone in a bubble if they want to pay more, they’ll say no. Ford’s people didn’t ask “would you rather pay a modest vehicle fee, or a 35% property tax hike, or lose your parks and libraries and community programs?” They’d get very different answers to that question.
Balancing a budget is a tricky play, and Ford fumbled right from the very start by slashing revenues as he took office. Even with all of the cuts now on the agenda for next week’s council meeting, only $100 million will be saved. That still leaves a budget hole of over half a billion dollars, if you’re like Councillor Norm Kelly and you “believe” there’s a $774M shortfall. The city must increase revenues somehow. That will eventually mean raising taxes or creating new user fees, no matter how much gravy Ford and his million-dollar consulting firms think they can find.
We can’t count on the private sector to provide homeless shelters, harm reduction programs, quality libraries, effective public transit and sustainable urban development. The people who depend most on those programs are the ones the least capable of bearing the cost. Cutting taxes for the rich while slashing services for the poor isn’t leadership. It’s class warfare.
Taxes and user fees are always unpopular. Even some speakers who spoke in favour of tax hikes struggled to say they would like to pay more. We elect leaders to make those tough decisions for us, not to ask us how much we would like to give. A true leader at City Hall would say, “here’s how much our vision of society costs. And here’s how we’re going to pay for it.” And we would pay for it.
I hope that Council comes together with a vision that is more than Ford’s idea that a city is just roads and police and garbage. Toronto is so much more.