Thursday 16 September 2010

Toronto Mayoral Race: Is Toronto a city in decline? No. But, if Rob Ford becomes mayor ...

When Rob Ford becomes mayor… - EYE WEEKLY
Eye Weekly takes a look at how the Toronto mayoral race has been twisted with the right-wing contenders claiming that Toronto is a city in decline (while it is quite the opposite), and what would really happen if Rob Ford became mayor.

The crime here is that Ford defined the premise of the debate in a way
that contradicts reality. Despite his assertions to the contrary, we
are not a city in decline.

During an epic worldwide recession,
the banks headquartered in Toronto stayed strong and our housing market
held its value. The city is densifying and growing vertically every year
(just look at the skyline). We’re an innovation hub that’s helping lead
the world in pharmaceutical, medical and mobile technology development.
We have arts institutions that are stronger than at any point in our
history, a growing body of compelling architecture and a slowly growing
transit system. Toronto’s property taxes are the lowest in the GTA,  yet
the operating budget is balanced (if precariously), while services have
actually expanded in recent years. We have a population as ethnically
diverse as any city in the world and yet we suffer little racial
discord. Our crime rate is, by Canadian and international standards,
exceedingly low.

By virtually anyone’s standards, we are among
the best cities in the world in which to live and do business. We have
problems, real ones, with the way the inner suburbs have evolved and
failed to evolve, with the way the budgeting is done, with a persistent
revenue gap, with labour relations at City Hall. Yes, we have problems.
But they are the growing pains of a thriving city in the process of
But here’s the most disturbing truth of all: it’s not worth going into detail about the city Rob Ford promises because it’s pure fantasy.
Mayor Rob Ford has absolutely no chance of enacting his agenda and
will, as a result, grind the city to a halt, undoing seven or more years
of progress and creating a situation much like the one he claims he’s
addressing now.

Reality one: basic math
numbers simply do not add up. The cuts he proposes to “waste” at City
Hall are almost purely symbolic — a footnote to the budget — and are
dwarfed by the $250 million a year in revenue that would be lost from
his elimination of the vehicle-registration tax and land-transfer tax.
That scenario alone would make his expansion of customer service, police
service and subway building impossible. Meanwhile, cancelling new
streetcar orders and discarding the ones we have while buying fleets of
new buses would create hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs and
vastly increase the operating shortfall of the TTC. We simply could not
afford it.

Reality two: he can’t boss the province around
of what Ford wants to do — notably cutting the size of council — would
depend on provincial legislation McGuinty or any other premier would
never approve. And his great transit scheme? At the moment, the province
is paying for $3.7 billion worth of the Transit City plan Ford wants to
scrap. Do you think they’ll continue giving him the money to use for
his own devices?

Reality three: He can’t really boss anyone around
even before things get to the provincial level, Ford wouldn’t have the
authority to get his ideas past the council level. He could set the
agenda and make appointments to committees, but he — as outgoing
Councillor Howard Moscoe put it — “could not pass wind” without winning a
vote at council.

This is a problem for Ford more than any other
candidate because he has shown no history of being able to work with
anyone on anything. He proudly told me in 2006 that even council’s right
wing hated him (“I don’t want to eat lunch with those guys anyway,” he
said). It’s easy to forget now that even Mel Lastman considered Ford an

So who would accept the kamikaze mission of being his
budget chief, charged with making his magical numbers add up? Who would
sit on his transit commission, trying to keep the trains running while
negotiating the stiff penalties and absurd demands of his platform? No
one who knows anything about finance or transit, that’s for sure.

we’re actually facing is gridlock and regression. Why? Because we’re
looking at four years of angry shouting and a loud, probably
unproductive argument between Ford and council (and between Ford and the
province and between Ford and the city’s labour unions and between Ford
and city staff…).

He might well succeed in stopping progress
altogether in a few areas: grinding Transit City to a halt, cutting some
taxes and slashing spending on arts and cultural programs. The city’s
years-in-progress bike plan might be scrapped or halted, environmental
progress rolled back. But Ford would replace those with nothing.

opportunity cost — what we’ll miss out on by taking no action — will be
huge. Development will slow as the planning department becomes paralysed by political deadlock. Transit growth will stop and basic
maintenance and service will be cut as the commission endlessly debates
how to square financial and contractual circles. Basic infrastructure
will be neglected. In short, the city will start to rot.

most distressingly for a penny-pincher like Ford, our financial hole
will just keep getting bigger following tax cuts while pressing budget
and revenue problems go un-addressed, forcing steep tax hikes or drastic
service cuts or, most likely, both.

Then by the time the next election rolls around, everyone will be even angrier and perhaps we really will be a city in decline.


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