In his column today in response to the throne speech, Royson James bashes both Paul Martin (for his minimal offerings) and David Miller (for reacting so positively to the tidbits).
His point is that Paul Martin has promised a minimal and insufficient amount of support for municipalities, and that David Miller won't win much for the city if he is so easily pleased. I don't agree.
First up, Martin's promises. On the GST rebate, James writes:
But $51 million is $51 million. If that's how much more money the city saves, it can all be applied against the budget shortfall. Even if it means shifting money between capital and operating budgets, I'm sure it can be managed somehow. Also, today's Globe and Mail says that this rebate is expected to be made retroactive to January 1, so there are no worries about it not being the full amount.
James faults Martin for not coming through with more help, and his concern seems driven by a crisis mentaility. I can understand why a Toronto municipal affairs reporter would feel that we're in a crisis these days, but I don't think that municipalities across the country are in quite the same sort of bad shape at all. Other major cities would certainly benefit from and flourish under a new deal with the federal government, but they can also afford to wait a year or two for the program to evolve (as Martin has promised it will).
That Toronto faces a much more acute need for financial help is a symptom not of inaction by the federal government, but rather of misaction by the Ontario government. Cities are, after all, a provincial responsibility. The social programs that Mike Harris and Ernie Eves downloaded onto Ontario municipalities are also a provincial responsibility. And it's clear that it was the Ontario government and not Ottawa that slashed funding for public transit. Furthermore it was Mike Harris who forced the amalgamation of Toronto that has lead to restructuring costs, wage increases, inefficiencies, and six years of a bumbling, corporate-cronyist, North York administration. It is also the government of Ontario that taxes Torontonians more for education while returning must less to our schools. I could go on, but you get the picture.
As far as I can see, major municipalities in other provinces are not in a crisis, but are at a turning point in their evolution. A new deal with Ottawa is a good step along the way to improving life in these cities and adapting to modern facts. Paul Martin's promises, if fulfilled, go some way toward this end.
On the other hand, the fact that municipalities in one particular province are in much worse shape seems to indicate to me that it is that province that needs to act. Paging Dalton McGuinty... where are you?
As for David Miller, I think he is handling this file quite well. But this article is long enough already.
UPDATE: Paul Martin has announced in the House of Commons that the effective date of the GST rebate is February 1. So, that's 11 of 12 months, and therefore approximately $47 million in savings for the City of Toronto.