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Are Toronto's Problems Self-Made?
05/02/2003
On Tuesday, Globe and Mail business columnist Eric Reguly charged that Toronto's problem is not that it is being short-changed by the provincial and federal governments, but rather that sleaze and mismanagement at City Hall are what's hurting our city and its budgets. He notes the MFP Scandal and the Union Station deal as glaring examples of this sort of shady business. All these deals happen to revolve around the same group of cronies -- Mayor Mel Lastman, Blue Jays President Paul Godfrey, construction boss Larry Tannebaum -- among others. It has also been reported elsewhere that there is overlap with the gang who ripped off the province in the Ontario Realty Corporation land scam. Illegal campaign contributions go uninvestigated by city police. And today it has even been reported that a Lastman-favoured supplier is linked to the "godfather of the Italian mafia in Montreal." So, Reguly is certainly right when he claims that:
So far, [Toronto] has shown it can't manage taxpayers' money.
But this doesn't give us less right to complain about senior levels of government. In fact, it gives us much more reason to be steaming angry with Queen's Park and the Harris/Eves government. Prior to the hated megacity legislation, Toronto seemed to be a reasonably well-run municipality. When you look at what has happened since, it seems clear that all the anticipated negative consequences have come true. As Wendell Cox predicted, we've gotten "Less Democracy for More Money". In a speech on February 26, 1997, he said:
Communities will have less access to government. Bigger municipal government will be less sensitive to neighborhood concerns. People will be relegated to second class status, because effectively dealing with city hall will require the hiring of lawyers and lobbyists. Special interests will gain great advantage.
Our new, giant municipality is one where massive cash is now the key to being elected. As reported in Monday's Toronto Star, mayoral candidates will need to spend at least $1,000,000 on this campaign if they hope to compete at all. It's the kind of place where the dominant force for five years has been a complete clown -- the kind of guy about whom it can be said "everything he touches turns to crap". Reguly is right that Toronto's City Hall is terribly run, and we can thank Mike Harris for that. (Not to mention Al Leach, Harris' municipal affairs minister at the time, who knew better than to run for re-election in this city, but who has since gotten involved with the gang working on the Union Station deal. What a guy!) Not only did the Harris/Eves Tories download terrible costs on the city, and rearrange "Who Does What" so that the city ends up paying for the sorts of expenses not found in the areas where Tory votes come from, they also imposed a costly system on us that seems guaranteed to result in corrupt local government. City Hall doesn't even have the power to clean itself up. They need provincial permission to monitor the interaction of lobbyists and local officials. Indeed, Torontonians have the right to be very angry. Especially those of us who live in the formerly-well-run old city of Toronto. The downtown core residents have been forced to pay all the increased costs -- of downloading, of the megacity, of the corruption -- because of the property tax "reforms" imposed by you-know-who in Queen's Park (As reported by John Barber):
The reason is that central-city assessments are increasing at a faster pace than suburban assessments -- as determined by the relentless [current value assessment] machine. That's great for speculators in downtown real estate, but it makes life tough for people actually trying to live south of Eglinton Avenue, who are being asked to shoulder an ever-growing share of the local tax burden regardless of their incomes or ability to pay.
A city councillor has given me information that implies old-city core residential property taxes have been going up an average of 10% per year since 1997. I'm still working on verifying that number. Whatever the number is, it's a lot. I just don't understand why the residents of Riverdale and Rosedale, Forest Hill and The Annex, and all the rest of the old city aren't storming the provincial legislature.
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