Monday, 11 August 2014

Election 2014: A Lost Opportunity To Push For A Real Deal For Cities

By Joe Fantauzzi
ninetytwopointeight@gmail.com@jjfantauzzi

The Toronto municipal election has been dominated by coverage of issues such as transit, taxes and housing. Each of these issues unto themselves are important and crucial to a healthy, viable city.

However, this election is turning out to be a lost opportunity for Toronto's candidates to call on Queen's Park to loosen the political strings and establish a Real Deal For Cities that locates our metropolis as a viable, respected entity ─ instead of a so-called "creature of the province."

This analysis doesn't call for an amendment to recognize Toronto and other cities as third levels of government in the Constitution Act, 1982, but merely a push ─ a needling ─ of Queen's Park, and by extension Ottawa, to devolve new spending authorities and building mechanisms to Toronto within the framework of Section 92.8 of the Constitution, which as the sidebar to this blog notes, grants municipalities wholly to the provinces as if they were some sort of colony.

Rejecting the conservative and paternal framework of the current province/city arrangement isn't revolutionary. In fact, as Warren Magnusson tells us in "Are Municipalities Creatures of the Provinces?" while municipalities are generally seen to be at the bottom of the constitutional heap, many cities predate the provinces to which they are seen to be subservient.[1] Toronto is one of those cities: "a relatively late creation...(it) had been around in one guise or another for 74 years at the time of Confederation."[2] In other words, the historical record simply doesn't back up the creatures of the provinces mantra.

The neoliberalism (read: public private partnerships or outright privatization) of the modern age may also, perhaps ironically, back the argument for more official authority at the city level and a divesting of responsibility from the provincial and federal levels. That the federal and provincial governments are seen to have consumed all available sovereignty ignores the idea that many services are now "provided by agencies at one remove from government: private firms operating under service contracts, non-profit organizations with multiple funding sources and missions of their own, public authorities with their own boards of directors, regulatory boards, advisory agencies, joint ventures and all manner of other bodies"[3]. The provinces do not have "command" over what happens in the day-to-day operations of these agencies other than perhaps funding and defunding decisions, which some agencies may be able to get around depending on their revenue stream(s). The point here of course is that today, there aren't merely two levels of governance at play vis-à-vis services provided to Canadians ─ despite what the Constitution Act says about which level of government is "responsible" for the delivery of service. There are already more players than the province and Ottawa; why can't Ontario grant more power to the local council closest to those agencies making on-the-ground decisions such as the power to fund and defund? Or even the power to abolish and or assume control of?

In fairness, it has been tried before. The much-discussed New Deal For Cities was a hot topic in the early 2000s, culminating locally in the new City of Toronto Act, 2005. The truth, of course, is that the 2005 Act was merely an update to the very Act that precipitated the amalgamation of Toronto in 1998.[4] The irony of using a tool that led to five municipalities (North York, Scarborough, East York, York and Etobicoke) disappearing overnight to somehow empower the city through new spending measures is rich. 

While the city now has powers of taxation such as the vehicle registration tax and the land transfer tax, substantive taxation powers, such as income tax and sales tax, remain controlled by senior levels of government. These are powers best managed by the city. People work in the city and buy things in the city. It is in the city and to the city that they should pay their taxes.

There is still time for the leading mayoral contenders to take up Toronto's cause. But it is looking less and less likely that such a task, one so clearly connected to the essence of what Toronto is to its residents, will be even discussed, let alone made an item of debate during this election campaign.

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[1] Warren Magnusson, "Are Municipalities Creatures of the Provinces?" Journal of Canadian Studies, 39 no. 2 (Spring 2005): 7.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ron Levi & Mariana Valverde, "Freedom of the City: Canadian Cities And The Quest For Governmental Status," Osgoode Hall Law Journal, 44 no 3 (2006): 456

Monday, 23 December 2013

Province Should Supersede Toronto's Management And Declare An Emergency

By Joe Fantauzzi

Days after the first bit of freezing rain began falling, there are still hundreds of thousands of Torontonians without power.

Toronto is also without political leadership. Rob Ford, the city's figurehead mayor, who apparently still has too much power, is rejecting help from Queen's Park and is refusing to declare an emergency.

It's time for the province to step in and do what the city's management will not. As soon as the final requirements fall into place for a declaration of emergency, if they have not already, the province must do so ─ issues around precedent and politicking be damned.

If nothing else, it would send a strong message to residents, such as those freezing in the dark, that this situation is being taken seriously. That impression is lacking at present.

The Constitution gives the province the ability to dissolve municipalities at its will; it should also enable the province to help a city paralyzed by a partisan fool who thinks he will come out of this storm a hero.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Tory Non-Confidence Stunt Fails Torontonians

By Joe Fantauzzi
ninetytwopointeight@gmail.com@jjfantauzzi

The announcement today by the Progressive Conservative Party that a non-confidence motion will be  attempted with the aim of punishing the Liberal government for ineptitude on the gas plant cancellation portfolio is a stunt ─ and bad for Toronto.

The collapse of the provincial Liberals would not get Torontonians any closer to the things for which we need provincial involvement. Those important items include, but are not limited to, improved public transit, Queen's Park's eye on the ongoing Toronto casino debate and a reduction of sky-high auto insurance premiums, being pushed for by the New Democratic Party.

When the Liberal government prorogued the Legislature last October, the Tories, along with the NDP, condemned the government and accurately accused it of suspending democracy for partisan purposes. The Liberals said an over-heated environment was gridlocking progress at Queen's Park.

The Opposition noted prorogation, which came at the same time as the resignation of then-Premier Dalton McGuinty, gave the government an opportunity to avoid hearings into the gas plant scandal.
It also allowed the party to refresh itself with a new leader in a highly questionable way.

But since the legislative session has begun anew, the Tories have done little to nothing to reform the abuse of prorogation they stamped their feet so loudly about, even though it is wholly possible.


Photo/Saharalipour, Wikimedia Commons
By contrast, the NDP introduced legislation to fix the broken prorogation framework in Ontario.

Meanwhile, by pushing for a confidence motion on the very issue that arguably already contributed to the suspension of the Legislature for four months, the Tories are playing exactly the same cynical political games they accused the Liberals of in October.

Coupled together, the optics of this lack of interest in the reform of prorogation and the attempt to use a confidence motion to fall the government while gas plant committee hearings continue, is worrying.

And all of this before the Liberals unveil a budget May 2, which will provide a conventional opportunity for the government to test whether it has the confidence of the entire legislature.

With this gas plant-related non-confidence attempt, the Tim Hudak-led Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is ignoring the needs of Torontonians.

Torontonians should ignore the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario during the next election ─ whenever that may be.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Transit Debate To Unearth More Than Revenue ─ It Will Show Us Who We Are

By Joe Fantauzzi
ninetytwopointeight@gmail.com | @jjfantauzzi

"Revenue tools."

Those two words seem to be the rallying cry in an attempt to spur transit expansion in a talk-weary Toronto desperate for respite from crowding into subway cars, squeezing onto streetcars and waiting in the cold for another bus after being left behind by the last, packed to capacity.

Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, has announced $50 million worth of lines on maps called The Big Move. 'Lines on maps' in the sense that the costs of the plan cannot be covered at present. 

And yesterday, Toronto's business community threw down the gauntlet. 

During the release of a discussion paper, the Toronto Region Board of Trade estimated the annual economic cost of gridlock at $6 billion. If we fail to invest in adequate transit expansion that number will rise to $15 billion by 2031, the board said.

To stave off the complete collapse of the Toronto we all know and love, the Board of Trade thoughtfully offered suggestions to raise some cash: a sales tax; a fee on non-residential parking spots; a fuel tax; and high-occupancy lanes that motorists driving alone could access for a price, The Globe and Mail told us. 

In fact, the Globe was so enthusiastic about the Board's advice, its Queen's Park columnist even joined the business bigwigs at the news conference, according to Toronto Community News.

Meanwhile, the civic-minded corporate lobby proclaimed we Torontonians "can't continue to turn our back on solutions" and demanded those who have issues with their suggestions to come up with their own.

A call for action during dire times, it would seem.

The problem is, all of the Board's suggestions would hit low-income Torontonians harder because they serve as flat taxes, meaning everyone pays the same ─ unlike income tax, which rises based on the ability to pay.

In a post today Spacing noted that the only office-holding politician at the Board's policy announcement was Trinity-Spadina's MP Olivia Chow, who serves as the federal New Democratic Party's transportation and infrastructure critic, and who has also been publicly musing about running for mayor in 2014. (Full disclosure: I want Chow to run for mayor and am actively encouraging her to do so. She has not publicly declared her intentions.)

The Ford Administration was quick to dismiss the Board's recommendations because it apparently wants to pursue public-private partnerships that do not currently exist.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also said she wouldn't support the recommendations because they shift the transit cost burden onto residents while allowing corporations to dodge taxes via loopholes, the CBC reported.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party-affiliated Councillor Shelley Carroll, who also harbours mayoral ambitions, seemed content to snipe at Ms. Horwath from the sidelines via Twitter.

Political argle bargle aside, many people likely can't convince themselves in good conscience that, as desperate as they are for more transit, it's fair that the poorest Torontonians should have to contribute at the same rate as the richest Torontonians just for the privilege of commuting to work.

It's just not how a society that acknowledges, and wants to curtail inequality, operates.

Surely, we don't want to go down the path of ends (more transit) justifying the means (disproportionately taxing those who are already struggling). Do we?

No. This is Canada.

It stands to reason then, that we should be asking the wealthiest Torontonians to pay a little more ─ which is something the Board of Trade didn't do yesterday.

The February 12 issue of Canadian Business magazine revealed the amount of so-called "dead money", or money Canadian businesses are not reinvesting into the economy after years of tax cuts, at an estimated $600 billion.

$600 billion. Of idle money.

If we're going to create new taxes, we might as well add one for companies that get giant tax breaks and do nothing with the money. 

Tax that idle cash and invest it into transit. If businesses want an economy free of gridlock, they'll have to pay for it, too.

As a side note, the Canadian Business article identified what the magazine called the "Top 25 Corporate Hoarders" in Canada. The Bank of Nova Scotia was first at $54.8 billion. The Royal Bank of Canada was third at $12.6 billion.

Meanwhile, as an unrelated interesting fact, representatives of both Scotiabank and RBC sit on the Toronto Region Board of Trade's board of directors.

Admittedly, the revenue tools are out there. The tools we choose will define us.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Stronger Commitment To Toronto Student Nutrition Needed From The Province

By Joe Fantauzzi
ninetytwopointeight@gmail.com | @jjfantauzzi

As part of its 2013 budget, the city approved $1.163 million more for a program that provides subsidized meals, primarily breakfasts, to needy children at school.

The motion to add the money, made late in the budget approval process by St. Paul's Councillor Joe Mihevc carried 37-8. In October, Dr. David McKeown, the city's medical officer of health told the Toronto Star the program was underfunded by 60 per cent.

The student nutrition program helps 143,000 kids across the city, according to Toronto Public Health.

Meanwhile, contained in successful motion that led to the money being allocated to the program was a request that Dr. David McKeown, the city's medical officer of health engage in strong appeals to both the province and Ottawa for increased funding for the program. And that he embark on "aggressive" efforts to strike funding deals with the private sector.

At the provincial level at least, word that the nutrition program was granted a cash injection was greeted as good news.

"I’m very pleased to see that the City of Toronto is supporting this important program through additional budget funding," Liberal Minister of Children and Youth Services Laurel Broten said in a statement to NinetyTwoPointEight.

Broten trumpeted the province's previous investments into the program, noting that student nutrition serves as a pillar of the province's Poverty Reduction Strategy, that the province invests $17.9 million a year in the program and also added that last year, the provincial funds helped get breakfasts, snacks and lunches to more than  690,000 elementary and secondary students. The Liberals have quadrupled their investment since they took office, she added.

But the minister was non-committal on a question about whether her ministry would make the subject a priority and push for additional funding for student nutrition during this year's provincial budget negotiations.

That's disappointing.

Past successes are important but difficult to laud when the issue at hand continues into the future ─ especially when it involves hungry kids.

Children should not have to wonder if their school will receive food funding ─ especially during a period during which the city's conservative mayor is leading a charge against spending and was among the eight councillors who against increased municipal funding for the nutrition program this year.

And waiting for the private sector to pony up the cash is not how publicly-funded programs are supposed to work. Would increased private sector involvement lead to a loss of control over the food being placed in front of Toronto's children?

Student nutrition programs are linked to higher math, reading and science grades and obesity prevention, public health tells us.

How much will it cost us in the future if we don't invest into our children now?