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Shelley Carroll Doles Out Hard Truths

Shelley Carroll speaking at the Board of Trade. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.

In a breakfast speech delivered at the Board of Trade this morning, budget chief, city councillor, and prospective mayoral candidate Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) did not pull her punches. Her bottom-line message: there are no easy fixes for Toronto’s financial woes, and anyone who says otherwise is either misguided or misleading you.

Your tax dollars at work. Chart is part of the City of Toronto’s 2010 Operating Budget presentation [PDF].

To the Board of Trade, which recently released a report [PDF] that (among other things) called for a curb on expenditures, Carroll pointed out that much of the increase in spending is due to the City’s obligation to deliver provincially mandated services, and thus is no proof that spending is out of control or can readily and significantly be cut back. (The McGuinty government has been better than its predecessor at transferring money to the City to help pay for the programs and services it requires the City to deliver, and the demand for these services has been growing. The City’s expenditures have gone up to reflect the increased funding and the increased demand.)
To City boards and agencies, many of which defied a request a couple of months ago to provide budgets that reflected a 5% spending cut for 2010, Carroll said that they needed to start working to find efficiencies rather than perpetually fighting against them. Carroll singled out the Toronto Police Service and the TTC specifically when talking to reporters after her speech, and emphasized that they needed to be far more willing to work with the City, and go line-by-line through their budgets to find non-service-related cuts.
And to the province, which has long refused requests to upload what it has downloaded (though that has started to improve with this budget cycle) and to restore an operating subsidy for the TTC (which after having been reduced for years was finally eliminated under Mike Harris in 1996), Carroll said that Toronto was simply about to run up against a brick wall: if Toronto is to continue to be the economic engine of the province it must be afforded the means to run the requisite transit system and other necessary services. “Between now and twenty years from now, something has got to give,” Carroll said adamantly, after her speech. “Between now and twenty years from now we will hit a point where we are of a population [such] that we are the only city in the world that is still relying on property taxes to run itself.” Carroll also pointed out that there was a period of time when the Board of Trade had in fact endorsed provincial cost-sharing of transit operations, and called upon them to do so again.
The reaction to a speech is almost always as important as the speech itself. If Carroll is mulling a run for mayor, today’s remarks likely served (in addition to a defence of the current budget) as a trial balloon for various aspects of her campaign platform, the most prominent of which is reconfiguring the City’s relationship with the province. It’s not a new thought, but as the budget chief who balanced the books this year without a special infusion of cash from Queen’s Park, and as a councillor who is most often described as a pragmatist, Carroll may have greater credibility than most to make it. It certainly would give her a ready-made challenge to George Smitherman, who recently left Queen’s Park and who, she can point out, did nothing to remedy this structural problem with the City’s budget while he was there.
And, in the meantime, there is still a budget to pass, which Council will do at a special meeting devoted to the task on April 15 and 16.


  • mark.

    This is the most reasonable thing I’ve read since the mayoral race began.
    I think everyone needs to commit to memory this gem:
    “there are no easy fixes for Toronto’s financial woes, and anyone who says otherwise is either misguided or misleading you.”

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    IOW: We will have to make some major sacrifices like selling off all of our public owned facilities and property.
    Or that’s usually what that statement translates into in poli-speak…
    This woman scares me, she comes across as very apathetic. I find that many self-made people have this attribute to their personality. The mentality of: “Well I did it, so you can too”. Which we all know (or at least I hope we all do) is b/s.

  • http://undefined Vincent Clement

    But Mark, people have been saying that for over 10 years. They use the ‘no easy fix’ argument as a reason to do nothing instead of doing the hard things. Toronto keeps looking over its shoulder hoping for the Province to come in and save them. With a record deficit that will not be happening any time soon.

  • http://undefined rek

    That chart is horrible.

  • http://undefined canuck1975

    What I find misleading about the chart above is that it doesn’t show where non-property tax funds are going. Things like the land transfer fee or the vehicle licensing fee. How about user fees?
    It’s misleading to show only one chart from a presentation and not the whole picture.

  • http://undefined rek

    Selling off public assets is a long-term sacrifice (of municipal income) for short-term gains that fall far short of what they should be; or two bad decisions in one.

  • http://undefined PSC-TO

    “IOW: We will have to make some major sacrifices like selling off all of our public owned facilities and property.”
    Or not.

    18. Why can’t the City sell assets like the Parking Authority and Toronto Hydro to cover budget shortfalls?
    The City of Toronto owns billions of dollars worth of assets. However, residents do not want us to sell parks, community centres, or water treatment plants because these all provide vital services. The Parking Authority and Toronto Hydro make healthy profits that directly flow into the budget. These revenues allow us to borrow funds more easily and issue city bonds to raise the financing necessary to invest in extended services and increase the “value” of the city. When public assets are sold to the private sector, like Ontario did with the 407 Highway, public control is completely lost. In the case of the 407, fixed toll rated have been raised several times by the private owners resulting in this roadway becoming one of the more expensive toll roads in North America.

  • http://undefined Hamutal Dotan

    It’s a practical necessity: the full presentation is 53 slides long. You can get it by clicking on the link provided in the image caption above, or here: [PDF].

  • http://undefined McKingford

    IOW: We will have to make some major sacrifices like selling off all of our public owned facilities and property.
    Uh, no. That line is currently being sold as an easy fix by a certain bald headed, bike-lane hating mayoral candidate.
    And while it would certainly be a sacrifice, it wouldn’t be a fix of any kind, let alone an easy one.

  • rek

    I think ttg was paraphrasing, not putting forward a position.

  • mark.

    Actually, people have been saying that since the dawn of reason. There are very few things we’ve actually figured out. Christ, even the questions that Plato asked haven’t been fully resolved.
    I think Carroll is saying this now because there are many ‘easy fixes’ being thrown around: sell Hydro (explained above), cut ‘waste’ (the auditor just released a report saying ‘waste’ is minimal), freeze hiring (keeps old gaurd, no new ‘blood’), etc. Her point, I think, is to critically examine the ‘easy solutions’ that some mayoral candidates are proposing.

  • http://undefined McKingford

    Yes, I got that. And my point, which I have obviously not made well enough, is that this is not at all what Carroll is saying (but it is what another prospective mayor is saying).

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    please don’t quote from ad material.
    Clinton and Obama promised some sort of universal healthcare… yeah…
    She’s either got to do something drastic or nothing at all. There is no in-between by her own admission (no easy fix).
    So unless she wins Lotta Max and it happens to be worth 1 billion dollars and she also happens to donate it to the city budget, what exactly are her options with that kind of statement? Higher taxes?

  • Paul Kishimoto

    Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line; never get involved in a land war in Asia; and never use a 3D perspective pie chart.