Urban Defender

Urban Defender: Fireworks yes but don't light the candles quite yet: the Money isn’t here & Toronto is still a creature of the Province.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Fireworks yes but don't light the candles quite yet: the Money isn’t here & Toronto is still a creature of the Province.

While the Victoria Day weekend – The Queen’s Birthday – is traditionally celebrated in Ontario by fireworks and this weekend in Toronto will see huge displays of pyrotechnics every night, it may be too early for a companion celebration for the recent 2nd Reading passage of the Federal Budget bills. So here at least we are keeping the cake in the freezer and the candles in the cupboard

It is certain that the sentiment that moved Toronto Mayor David Miller , as reported at cbc.ca on Friday, to say that Chuck Cadman should be given the keys to the City was right and good. After all Mr. Cadman in a refreshing display of populist integrity befitting his Reform roots did vote to save the day for the Martin-Layton budget that promises more millions for City of Toronto, and cities across the country, for housing, transit, child care et al.

And Belinda Stronach surely deserves a Metropass for her convenience when she comes down into the City from her perch in the Newmarket-Aurora Electoral District.

Far more significantly, as reporters on both CTV Newsnet and CBC Newsworld noted immediately after Thursday's budget vote, it was Jack Layton and the NDP’s budget deal that made the down-to-wire vote even possible.

Predictably, today such august journals as the Ottawa Citizen are reporting the bleating of the boys in red suspenders to the effect that the Layton-Martin budget will imperil Canada’s fiscal position. This will of course only reinforce Harper’s determination to prove he is right and the rest of us are wrong, and as the Toronto Star notes in its Saturday edition the budget is far from passed. But we can still be glad that momentum seems to moving in favour of funding the needs of our cities again, even if the money is still far from being in the bank.

Just as recent news about the Province of Ontario’s progress toward delivering a new City of Toronto Act, to give Toronto broad new powers (really powers that most progressive municipal jurisdictions in North America already have), is a not a whole loaf. Though the process aims high by seeking to provide:

. . . Toronto with governmental powers with respect to city purposes as well as natural person powers would give city council significantly more flexibility than it now has to (i) legislate, (ii) raise revenue, and (iii) organize itself to provide local services and good government.

Staff Progress Report - Joint Ontario – City of Toronto Task Force to Review the City of Toronto Act, 1997 and other Private (Special) Legislation, May 2005

One among the issues is that while new Act would look to providing Toronto with the means to raise revenues, it has been widely reported that Premier McGuinty is not willing to consider allowing Toronto a share of Provincial Sales Tax or Income Tax – the supposed Holy Grail for the City.

While it is almost tedious in the extreme to keep repeating the basic truth, as so many have done like the Mayor, the Toronto City Summit Alliance, the Board of Trade, and the United Way, that the City of Toronto needs to have a stable revenue base that expands as the economy grows and is sufficient to meet its responsibilities. It is by no means clear that we want to let our political representatives off the hook for being directly responsible for the taxes they raise in our name.

So while it is too soon to celebrate anything, it may not be such a bad thing that the Province is reluctant to hand over a slice of its income tax or sales tax. Rather what it may wish to consider is vacating room in the sales and income tax and permitting Toronto to not only occupy that room but be responsible for the determining the tax rate. Otherwise to ensure fairness and equity (which we can surely assume is their goal) the Province will have to take back some of the things that were provided as downloading gifts to Toronto when it was amalgamated in 1997.

Just because municipal politicians may be nervous in the extreme about being seen as implementers of a new tax, or having responsibility for part of an existing tax, does not mean we should abandon the principle of that our elected representatives should be accountable for the taxes they levy, and the revenue they control, so we may all enjoy a reasonably equitable and vibrant version of civilization.

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