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There Are Serious Structural Problems That Put Toronto in This Hole
14/07/2003

There are two problems that face Toronto that go beyond anything a mere change of muncipal government can fix. They are:

  • A lack of effective local democracy
  • An inability to get a fair fiscal share
Both of these problems are not new. They were created by acts of the provincial parliament, led by then-premier Mike Harris, then-finance-minister Ernie Eves and then muncipal-affairs-minister Al Leach.

When Mike Harris imposed the megacity amalgamations on Toronto, he created a monster that's hard to manage. He and his government proceeded to impose special rules on Toronto that make it even more difficult for this city to function.

Toronto deserves a local government that is responsive to its needs. Instead we have a city council where each councillor represents nearly 60,000 residents. (Rumours are that Queen's Park actually wants to reduce our number of councillors in half.) As it stands now, it is mucher harder than it used to be to have the city offer programs or services that are crafted to the needs of our neighbourhoods.

We have a city that is so large that there are many issues that can be of great importance for some of us that are irrelevant to people at the other end of town. This is one of the reasons that hundreds of thousands of downtown residents can be adversly affected by expansion of the island airport... the project was approved almost entirely on the strength of the suburban vote.

Toronto has had democratic management of its schools removed and administration taken over by the province. The excuse is that the board is not able to submit a balanced budget. The reality is that after massive cuts and underfunding, the province's appointee isn't able to do so either.

Finally, this new megacity seems to be a breeding ground for cronyism and suspicious deals that cost taxpayers millions. I don't know whether this is because the megacity is too large for competent management, or whether the suburban regions are naturally manipulated by Lastman-like electoral machines. Either way, we're losing out.

As for the financial side of the picture, I have written much about this before. At the same time that Harris, Eves and Leach were creating the megacity, they also were rearranging the province's finances in a way that have dumped a load of costs onto this city while continuing to rely on our ability to generate income and sales tax revenues.

Recently, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released a report on muncipal governments' performance in Ontario. When you look at the tables you'll find that the City of Toronto actually is rather efficient in terms of service-delivery costs. However, this city is falling deeper and deeper into a fiscal hole. The only reason that a city with low costs of local government and a strong economy should be suffering so much is that we're not getting a fair deal.

As much as I, with many other Torontonians, eagerly await a new muncipal government here in Toronto, things aren't going to get much better until these serious Queen's-Park-imposed structural problems are resolved.


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