After spending the past week at city council I have come away disappointed and disgusted by some of the self-aggrandizing, weak-kneed opportunists the city has elected to council. Many councillors, who have claimed to support revenue tools for transit, withdrew their support, choosing to protect their political derrieres.
Here’s the background: Toronto has spent 40 years quibbling over subway and transit expansion – mostly due to the lack of funds to build anything. It’s easier for councillors to debate over the lines than to take a stand on funding tools. Over the past few years Mayor Ford has claimed that “efficiencies” and “developers” would pay for the subway expansion. However the efficiencies he found added up to very little and should properly go to balancing the budget with any surplus going to paying down the debt. Developers informed the Mayor that they could not sell condos above subway stations for the $4 to $5 million price tag required to cover the $200 million cost of building the subway stations below. The value of the “air rights” Mayor Ford claimed would more than pay for subway expansion was completely bogus.
Thank gracious we still have Metrolinx, the transit organization set up by the Province to build and expand transit across the GTHA. After years of consultation with transit experts, policy wonks and politicians, they created a 25 year transit expansion plan. But the plan needs to be funded and will cost approximately $50 billion – this works out to $2 billion per year needed to get transit in the Toronto region caught up after 40 years of neglect. On May 27, Metrolinx will announce the funding tools they believe the Province should use.
This opened the door for Toronto to present direction on revenue tools to Metrolinx and so council instructed city manager, Joe Pennnachetti, to do extensive consultations with the public and create a report summing up what transit revenue tools Toronto residents wanted to support. The report was extensive and the top four revenue tools chosen through public consultations were:
- Sales Tax
- Fuel Tax
- Parking Levy
- Development Charges
However, the Mayor and his executive tried to block the city from submitting any revenue options to Metrolinx, in a bid to push responsibility for any “taxation” to the provincial level, where the Mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford is planning to run for the provincial Conservatives and could use the issue to further define his anti-tax campaign.
Council over-ruled the brothers Ford insisting a “mature” conversation was needed. Unfortunately nothing even coming close to a mature conversation could be found at last week’s debate, which saw councillors ignore all the research and instead fly off with their own funding ideas and digress into soap box campaign speeches on the need for particular subway lines in each of their wards.
Councillor Josh Matlow – one of the few brave councillors in the bunch – proposed Motion 1.b suggesting council support the revenue tools outlined in the city manager’s report. Unfortunately this led to heated debate that carried on for three days.
The debate was divisive and provided the perfect opportunity for councillors vying for the Mayor’s chair to demonstrate their leadership skills. But leadership did not appear, and unfortunately the anti-tax chants coming from brothers Ford worked to eventually push councillors away from backing any of the funding tools the city manager put forward.
Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker tried to score points with his constituents by refusing to consent to any transit revenue tools if plans did not change to include a subway in his ward.
Councillor Stintz, who had originally claimed to want an “adult” conversation on revenue tools, yet again compromised her credibility by ignoring her prior support for the Big Move transit plan and endorsing Councillor De Baeremaeker’s demand for a subway line. Not only did she support a new transit map (that seemed to be drawn on the back of a napkin) but she also backed out of supporting the revenue tools that the City Manager, the Toronto Regional Board of Trade, Civic Action and the Toronto Transit Alliance have all endorsed.
At one point Councillor Ford announced to the press “that if subways required transit revenue tools then there wouldn’t be any subways for Toronto.”
Councillor Vaughn created a motion asking city council to support “a surcharge on vinyl labels as a new tax dedicated to fund subways.” This caused quite a reaction from Councillor Ford (who is also the CEO of Deco labels) and Vaughan eventually withdrew it.
But it was Councillor Josh Colle who announced the most conniving and devious motion of the week: to amend the original motion (supporting the city manager’s revenue tools recommendations) and delete all revenue tool recommendations. On a side note I wonder if the arrival of MPP Mike Colle (father of Councillor Josh Colle) into city council chambers had anything to do with the younger Councillor’s subsequent motion to delete all revenue tool recommendations? His motion’s main agenda was to push responsibility for revenue tools up to the Provincial level, and it would seem that those who voted for it are more concerned about appearances than doing what is right for Toronto.
Such strategic political maneuvering allows Councillors who supported Councillor Colle’s motion to circumvent their duty to the city without being too suspect while at the same time allowing them to honestly claim they didn’t back any revenue tools for transit. So instead of directing the province with recommendations on the transit revenue tools the city manager compiled from weeks of consultations with the public, these councillors simply supplied the province with a list of tools each one of them personally would not support, ignoring the will of their constituents and the research provided to them by the city manager.
This pathetic political posturing was supported by:
Ana Bailåo, Michelle Berardinetti, Raymond Cho, Josh Colle, Gary Crawford, Vince Crisanti, Glen De Bearemaeker, Mike Del Grande, Fran Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Rob Ford, Mark Grimes, Doug Holiday, Norm Kelly, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Giorgio Mammoliti, Peter Milczyn, Frances Nunziata (Chair), Cesar Palacio, James Pasternak, Anthony Perruzza, Jaye Robinson, David Shiner, Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson, Krystin Wong-Tam
The councillors who stood firm in their commitment to transit revenue tools were:
Paul Ainslie, Maria Augimeri, Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, John Fillion, Paula Fletcher, Mary Fragedakis, Mike Layton, Chin Lee, Josh Matlow, Pam McConnell, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Joe Mihevc, Ron Moser, John Parker, Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan
These councillors deserve a hefty pat on the back for not putting their political careers ahead of doing what is needed for the Toronto. I tip my hat to each and every one of them.