November 17, 2006
David Miller, get off your knees! What a spectacle you made of yourself on election eve. No sooner did you win re-election as Toronto’s Mayor than you began begging senior levels of government for money.
“Tonight you have given me a strong mandate to tell the Premier and the Prime Minister that Toronto needs a 1 cents share of the existing sales taxes, and we will not take no for an answer,” you said in your victory speech, and then you said it again, in case the Premier and the Prime Minister weren’t listening.
Well, they were listening. The next day, the Ontario Premier calculated your so-called “strong mandate” – you managed just 23% of the eligible vote in a match against no credible opponent – and he told you to get real. So did Ontario’s Finance Minister: “It’s just not on,” he said. So did his federal government counterpart, Jim Flaherty, who called your plan a “non-starter,” and then gave you a dressing down for failing to manage your budget.
Frankly, Mr. Mayor, while Toronto may well have legitimate grievances in how the tax pie is being divvied up – what government doesn’t – most Torontonians don’t want you to turn your mandate into a non-stop plea for pogey. The federal Finance Minister has a point when he says you, above all other mayors in the country, have your hand out farther and faster, nagging for money “day after day.” Appointing yourself Special-Pleader-in-Chief for Canada’s big cities, as you are now doing, doesn’t help your case.
Let’s be honest. Toronto’s problems are of its own making – largely your making, Mr. Mayor. You’d like more tax revenue? Then why adopt an anti-business bias through discriminatory taxes that force Toronto businesses to flee the city? With fair taxes, businesses would not leave Toronto in droves, the city’s tax base would grow, and with it the taxes you’re pleading for. You’d like public transit to work better so it can attract more passengers? Then why not privatize it, as Toronto icon Jane Jacobs recommended? Once London, England, privatized and otherwise deregulated its transit system, London transit began to thrive. You’d like to end the traffic congestion that costs the economy billions in inefficiency? Then do what London and Stockholm did with such stellar success: Toll congested streets to end the congestion and raise money for city coffers.
You asked the province for more powers to raise money and it assented, including the right to toll roads. The province also gave Toronto a windfall by downloading to the city road assets. Now you refuse to take responsibility in meeting the city budget by utilizing your own powers and your own assets to meet your fiduciary responsibility as Mayor.
You lamely claim that you can’t introduce a charge for the use of congested roads, although it is proven to pull people out of their autos and into the public transit you claim to champion. You say, “We don’t have the transit infrastructure that a city like London, England, has,” and that, “People in London have a real choice: They can choose to pay the congestion charge or they can choose transit. . . . That is not true in the Greater Toronto Area.”
Yet London and Stockholm both faced the same situation Toronto does now. They solved their problems by simply adding buses prior to introducing tolls to deal with the extra transit use they knew would come. The tolls more than paid for the buses. In fact – no surprise – the tolls became a big money-maker for the city governments. What did surprise was the tolls’ popularity with voters in both cities. Politicians who backed the polls won their elections; those who didn’t were turfed out. A recent public opinion poll in Toronto shows the same result would likely occur there, even without a debate. According to a recent Decima poll, more Toronto residents want to see a toll than don’t if it would solve the congestion problem.
But you are a problem gnasher, not a problem solver. You claim that tolling major roads into Toronto would push traffic into Toronto’s neighbourhoods. Don’t you know that the naysayers said the same thing in London and Stockholm? And that the city traffic engineers proved them all wrong, by brilliantly anticipating where problems might occur, and successfully redirecting traffic to avoid any upsets? Or do you think Toronto’s traffic engineers are any less capable than those across the pond?
The problem, Mr. Mayor, is the vision thing. You were elected the first time round, three years ago, because people thought you had it. No Toronto mayor ever disappointed more people more quickly. You are now known as the do-nothing mayor. Yet Torontonians reelected you anyway, because you claimed you needed a second term to produce results. Now you tell us that your mayoralty is all about making Toronto a bigger and better beggar.
Mr. Mayor. You lead one of the continent’s largest cities. You are a big-city mayor. You need to act like one.