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Things Could Be Worse For Toronto
09/06/2005

The Conference Board of Canada has issued a report that says downloading of social services from Queen's Park to Toronto has left us with a $1.1-billion-a-year funding shortfall.

Most of the media hype about this announcement revolved around David Miller's request for a share of sales and income taxes to allow us to pay these costs. However, the presentation also pointed out that there's an easier way... simply reverse the Harris-era downloading.

Unfortunately, as I recently wrote in comments on BlogsCanada and as John Barber wrote today in the Globe and Mail (Google shortcut), that's unlikely to happen. Here's how Barber put it:

In some ways, things are even worse today than they were then: Ten years ago, there was always a chance of defeating the Harris government and, it was assumed, reversing the Harris offloading.

But after nearly two years of Mr. McGuinty, it is clear that the government is just as wedded to those policies as its predecessors.

What was considered scandalous a decade ago -- the most destructive urban policy imaginable -- is now completely institutionalized.

Anyway, as bad as things are, the point of this post is that things could always be worse. We could be Detroit, after all.

Right now, Detroit is facing a $300-million deficit on a $1.4-billion budget. The mayor and city council are in a deep dispute about how to balance it.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick introduced a budget that city council felt was unrealistic. Without a balanced budget the City was at risk of bankruptcy and a state-takeover. Council has come back with its own budget that lays off almost a fifth of the police force! The Mayor vetoed this budget, but council has overturned that veto with a unanimous vote. The two sides continue to negotiate.

Detroit has been in a continuous state of decline for 40 years. It has lost half its population. Suburban sprawl and racial conflict were among the original causes, but once the problems became serious, the decline was self-reinforcing: the poor state of the city made it hard for it to compete or improve. Having witnessed all of this growing up in Windsor, I've been anxious to not let urban decay even get started here in Toronto.


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