Friday, July 20, 2007

Toronto's Fiscal Crisis

TC has been busy the past month with work, vacation and home renovations. Perhaps the blogging pace will soon pick up.

Meanwhile there were two commentaries in the Toronto papers today that have made pinpoint pertinent comments. One was by Rick Salution (behind the subscription wall at the Globe)

There was a classic failure of leadership here this week: a vote by Toronto's city council not to impose taxes on land transfers and car registrations. It's a textbook case, for study by future eras and civilizations.

Take as background an example of actual leadership. Here are the words of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in 2000, shortly before his re-election after years of attacks on himself and his city, by both Thatcher Tories and Blair Labourites. “The great shining lie of British politics is that you can have good public services without putting up taxes.” He uses the hard word, lie; he states the worthy goal, good public services, instead of shabby ones; and he portrays the route to it – more taxes – as a challenge instead of something to apologize for. Here's the response, described by a reporter: “The crack of palm on palm was thunderous.”

No guts, no glory.

It is this kind of truth-telling, along with the prize when it works, that Toronto Mayor David Miller avoided. His main argument for adding taxes, reportedly, was that other big cities do it too. That's apologetic and imitative.

I think Salutin is right but the origins of this crisis do matter, and in that respect Salutin gives Mike Harris a free pass he doesn't deserve.

Not so Carol Goar in the Star:

Miller could have done a better job of explaining the city's fiscal predicament. Council could have done a better job of finding savings at city hall.

But the root cause of the municipal budget crunch is the tax relief Harris doled out a decade ago. "We are giving back to Ontarians more of their hard-earned money," he reminded voters regularly.

For most Ontarians, the benefits of those tax cuts are a receding memory.

The costs will go on and on.

My only complaint about this is that Goar (probably quite unconsciously) uses the neoconservative phrase "tax relief", which is a biased construction deliberately devised to tilt public debate on this issue. The term itself is part of Livingstone's "great shining lie".

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