Monday, September 26, 2011

Letter to Toronto City Councillor, Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32)

Dear Councillor McMahon,

I am a resident of Ward 32, and am writing to express my concerns regarding the service-cutting fiscal plan proposed by Mayor Rob Ford. As I am sure you are aware, the Mayor claimed during his campaign that Toronto had a "spending problem" and not a "revenue problem". Thus, in his view, it would be possible to balance the city's budget without major service cuts.

Given his proposals of service cuts and fire-sales of city property, it is clear that the Mayor was either lying or incompetent, or both. After all, if the Mayor can be believed, we have gone from about a $300 million surplus under Mayor Miller to about a $800 million deficit under Mayor Ford. This implies that Mayor Ford has misplaced over $1 billion during his first year in office.

Unfortunately for Mayor Ford, his budget numbers cannot be believed. For example, the nearly $800 million is calculated based on a number of "worst case scenario" assumptions, including various emergency funds such as larger amounts for snowclearing than will probably be necessary.

The Mayor also seems to not understand basic budgeting concepts. For example, he incomprehensibly continues to state, in public, that the cancelled vehicle registration tax -- which removed about $250 million in revenue from the budget -- is a "savings" to taxpayers. This is rather like quitting one's job and claiming it paid off the mortgage.

To make matters worse, the Mayor -- and his advisors -- are engaging in irresponsible fear-mongering, further deception and wedge politics.

Deputy Mayor Holyday, amongst others, has proclaimed that the only alternative to the proposed service cuts is a 35 percent property tax increase. This is false. A 35 percent hike would only be necessary if the city had to make up the entire projected budget deficit out of property taxes, which is clearly not the case.

Similarly, the Mayor and his advisors have proclaimed that citizens who arrive at City Hall to speak against or protest the proposed cuts are somehow agents of public sector unions or the "far left". Not only is this flagrantly disrespectful -- union members and leftists are citizens like any other, as equal as any other -- it is also based on nothing. (Except, perhaps, Councillor Mammoliti's Cold War-era fantasies about Communists.)

Finally, the Mayor and his allies have publicly contemplated selling city assets, while simultaneously talking down their value and talking up the city's desperation. For a group that proudly proclaims their business expertise, this is amateurish at best. If you want to sell your car, the last thing you should do to get the best price is talk about how many miles the car has on it and how badly you need the money for rent.

Given all the above, it is clear that the Mayor and his circle are not capable of, or not interested in, effectively managing the city's financial situation. It is well-known that Toronto has had a structural deficit since amalgamation, thanks to the deliberate downloading of services by the Harris government. Resolving this deficit in the long-term will clearly require action from the province, which will not be forthcoming at least until the October election.

However, Council should, after the election, consider how to effectively persuade the province to reverse the Harris government's errors and permanently solve the city's structural deficit.

I understand that you have taken a leadership role in bringing Council around to seeing the folly of Councillor Doug Ford's Waterfront/Port Lands ideas. I would therefore encourage you to continue in this role when it comes to bringing Council together with Toronto's MPPs to reverse the province's decades-long neglect of our city. Similarly, it would be responsible to bring the Toronto-area MPs together with Council to reverse the federal government's much-longer, yet equally damaging, neglect of Toronto.

The current issue, of course, is resolving this deficit this year. To do so requires a delicacy of touch and an understanding of Toronto's finances that simply escapes the Mayor and his advisors. 

I therefore insist that you oppose Mayor Ford's radical and damaging cuts agenda, and work to lead Council towards an alternate budget process.

Council must consider all the revenue and spending tools at its disposal. This may include modest tax increases, modest fee changes and impositions, the introduction of new taxes and revenue devices. It may also include some service reductions and genuine (rather than rhetorical) efficiencies. It may even include the sale of some valuable city assets that are more effectively managed elsewhere. It is unusual, for example, for a city to be running a zoo the size of Toronto Zoo, rather than simply collecting rent and taxes for the use of the land.

All in all, the Mayor and his circle cannot be trusted with managing the city and its finances. I urge you to step forward to oppose his agenda, and lead Council to a more responsible and effective process, both for this year's budget, and in the long-term.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Rawlings

Friday, September 09, 2011

On the Ontario Liberal platform.

I had planned to go point-by-point through the OLP's platform, like I did the OPC and ONDP. But, well -- the platform really wasn't worth the wait.

Here's the Cliff Notes version:

  1. Harris was awful -- never named, just "previous PC governments", which is an odd choice, given Hudak's close ties to Harris.
  2. Rae was the same -- never named, just "previous NDP government", which is probably a smart choice, given the party Rae is now associated with.
  3. The PC and NDP platforms are sucky.
  4. The McGuinty government has done everything right. ("eHealth?" Never heard of it.)
  5. Vote Liberal, and we'll keep doing everything right

That's seriously about it. There are scattered promises here and there -- all-day two-way GO trains in and out of Toronto, for example -- but they aren't costed, they aren't funded, and nowhere is it explained why these wonderful things haven't been done in 8 years of Liberal government. (Not to mention all the things that are claimed as accomplishments that don't actually exist yet -- sticking with transit, how 'bout the Eglinton-Scarborough crosstown?)

So, that's what the choice comes down to:
  • A selection of parties that don't have a hope in hell of getting an MPP, and don't have any serious plans I include the Greens here -- get it together, guys, you've been in government in Europe.
  • An NDP that's led, again, by a closet Liberal. Apparently, we didn't learn the lesson of Bob Rae. I see zero evidence that Horwath believes in any of the traditional (labour) or modern (environment, education) principles of the NDP. Some policies are okay (transit), but only because the alternatives are so terrible.
  • A PC party that's not as right-wing as Harper's Conservatives, but, given the responsibilities of provincial governments, capable of doing substantially more damage. Seriously, if Hudak gets a majority, he'll take us back to Harris and then some. Hope PC voters enjoy general strikes.
  • A Liberal party that has, over 8 years, proven it has no real ability to improve Ontario's basic institutions. The best it can promise is to continue to stop them from collapsing too quickly.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm certainly inspired. Anyone want to form an Ontario chapter of the Rhino Party?

(I'll try to get something up next week or so on the NDP federal leadership race, which might be more cheerful than the dismal state of Ontario politics. I'm actively looking for full-time work, though, and that eats up time.)