I soon need a break from writing about the New Deal for Cities and Toronto's budget crisis, but I have to comment on a couple recent developments.
In his column on Tuesday, Jeffrey Simpson made the following points (I paraphrase):
- Municipal problems were caused by provincial decisions and can be solved by provincial action
- The thrust to get Ottawa involved began in Toronto, where the provincial Tories were wreaking havoc and were entirely disinterested in the complaints
- If it wasn't for the misaction of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves -- and the response of the Toronto Star -- "cities" would probably not be an issue on the national agenda today
- Provinces need to be responsible for their cities, including making appropriate decisions about funding, and allocations about which services are delivered by whom
Simpson describes his position as contrarian and controversial. I happen to agree with him, and have written as much recently (here, and here) and in the past (here and here, for example).
Simpson brings it home with:
The answer to the great and the good is this: Turn to the provinces. Don't like the provincial government? Defeat it. Want more taxes or taxing power? Ask your province, because it has plenty of taxation room. Don't like the services you must deliver? Ask the province to take some over.
The provinces will scream that they are cash-strapped. But many cut taxes (Ontario, British Columbia), or campaigned on tax cuts (Quebec). If tax cuts contributed to unsustainable finances, as they did in Conservative Ontario, reverse the cuts.
Canadians want healthy cities. They already have two levels of government primarily responsible for that objective, and a national government responsible for other objectives. Keep it that way.
I'm not really opposed to federal help to cities. It certainly is appropriate for them to rebate GST, or to make considerations for the impact federal policies (like immigration) have on cities. But really, municipal problems can and should be solved by the level of government that created them: the provinces.
Enter Dalton McGuinty. Despite his wonderful provinces for Toronto, and despite Queen's Park's responsibility for Toronto's mess, McGuinty is dodging (from the Globe):
Premier Dalton McGuinty warned yesterday that Toronto will not get all the help it says it needs from the province.
While expressing sympathy for the city's budget challenges, as spelled out by Mayor David Miller, he told reporters, "He's asking for more money than we have."
We know that Harris & Eves didn't leave Ontario in good financial shape. But the true situation is even worse -- without overtaxing and underfunding Toronto, Queen's Park would be in an even bigger hole. That doesn't mean that it's right to not fix the problem. It is predictable, though.