It seems that many people believe that the City of Toronto doesn’t need to levy taxes in order to maintain a high level of City services. If only the City had its finances in order and cut back on spending, they say, then there would be no financial crunch. In response, Mayor Miller likes to point out how many cutbacks there indeed have been and how much contracting out is already taking place and, above all, how the TTC was recently rated the “most efficient” transit system in North America
If anyone doubts this last point, they need look no further than the sign at right, affixed to a hoarding currently located at York Mills station, or the fact that the woman who voices the stop announcements is not paid anything (on top of her usual salary for her job as a TTC communications assistant) for doing so. Perhaps if the Mayor had offered up such striking examples of efficiency, he might not have suffered such a stunning defeat on Monday night, as City Council voted 23–22 to defer consideration of two proposed taxes until October, following the provincial election.
The vote was remarkable for at least two reasons: 1) the Mayor doesn’t lose votes, especially not on matters he has deemed a priority; if there’s something he doesn’t think he can win, he’ll sooner not let it get to a vote than suffer the embarrassment of a loss; and 2), twenty-three plus twenty-two equals forty-five, which means that every single member of Council was present, which is an even rarer occurrence than the Mayor taking a blow like this; apparently, Councillor McConnell flew back into Toronto especially for the occasion.
According to the Star, the outcome was determined by two surprising swing voters: Suzan Hall (Ward 1 Etobicoke North), who is usually so quiet and unremarkable that her Wikipedia entry was once marked for deletion, and Brian Ashton (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest), whose position on Council’s Executive Committee was supposed to (in theory) compel him to vote with the Mayor—his failure to do so will surely result in his ouster. And poor Council newbie Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West), of whom we are rather fond, is also sure to face retribution from Miller’s office, for daring to be an NDPer who won’t unconditionally support the Mayor.
If we ourselves sat on Council, we would have voted to implement the “revenue tools” (one a land transfer tax, the other a vehicle ownership tax [PDF]) right away; anything that strengthens City coffers and provides fewer excuses to rely on privatization sounds good to us. That said, delaying consideration until after the provincial election isn’t entirely unreasonable, even if it is a bullshit excuse concocted by the real estate and automobile lobbies in order to buy themselves more time. For most people, the ideal result would be the province fully uploading those services and other costs that it imposed upon Toronto in the dark days of Mike Harris. While that still likely won’t happen within the next three months (if ever), delaying the implementation of the taxes does give McGuinty an opportunity to ride in on a white horse, offering new money for the City in order to reduce the necessity of new taxes. He’d look like a hero, simply for doing the minimum to keep his province’s most important asset from going bankrupt. And isn’t that what politics is all about?
Jonathan Goldsbie is the unnamed person quoted here stating that “taxes are an investment in a society that works.” Photo by Goldsbie.