City Council is going to be crazy today. We highly recommend you watch. (Click here for the online feed.) The chambers are going to be packed to capacity, with the overflow relegated to watching the proceedings on the screen in the rotunda. This does not happen often. It will be loud. It will be hectic. It will be exciting.
Both the pro-tax and anti-tax groups are encouraging supporters to flood the meeting. This will be the Ragnarok between the Toronto Real Estate Board (and those councillors in its thrall) and everyone else. It really is that simple now. Now that the compromise land transfer tax proposal (which will net the City $50 million less than the previous plan, but c’est la vie) has been endorsed by usual right-wing excuse-makers like the Toronto Board of Trade, large developers, and the Toronto Sun(!), it should pass overwhelmingly. But it won’t. The Toronto Star pegs the vote at 25 in favour, 18 opposed, and 2 undecided. That there are eighteen councillors beholden to one specific, narrowly-focused lobby group is quite a problem. But so is the fact that, until the last three months, the mayor hasn’t had time for those who disagree with him.
And it would be so much easier to praise the mayor for his sudden willingness to engage his opponents not as nemeses to be written off, but as colleagues to be won over, if he weren’t still so disingenuous. Last week, he lied to NOW when he told them, “I’m not comfortable with public services being paid for by private interests.” Yes, he is. It is impossible to reconcile that statement with his passionate support for the privatized street furniture plan, which he termed “a win-win-win-win-win-win-win situation” for the City—praise that he also contradicted when he told NOW that “the areas where we do badly are the most privatized.” It would have been more accurate for him to tell NOW, “I’m not comfortable coming into conflict with unions.” The only difference between street furniture and all the privatization schemes that he dismisses out of hand is that no union jobs were at stake. And thank goodness for the public sector unions, as without them there’d be little to distinguish the mayor from more traditional private-sector-has-the-answers conservatives.
Of course, the mayor would argue (and he has) that the street furniture contract is not privatization. But his budget chief, Councillor Shelley Carroll, certainly seemed to disagree in this letter to the Star in July:
Councillor Case Ootes’s arguments against diversifying Toronto’s tax base would not ring so hollow had he not voted against two opportunities for massive savings to the city – one a public/private partnership….Earlier this year, Ootes spoke against a contract for a private interest to provide all of Toronto’s worn-out street furniture, provide all maintenance and return advertising revenue to the city. These votes don’t jibe with the councillor’s known political bent.
Councillor Carroll recognizes the street furniture plan as being inherently right-wing, of jibing with Ootes’s “political bent”—could one not say that it doesn’t jibe with the bent of any of the so-called progressives on Council? What makes this letter even funnier, though, is the fact that Ootes did vote in favour of the street furniture deal. (Perhaps Carroll is confusing him, as people sometimes do, with the somewhat similar-looking Councillor Jenkins?) And we’re pretty sure that Ootes never said anything against the street furniture contract, although we’ve lost our notes from June’s Council meeting, so we’re not 100%.
Today’s Council fun gets underway at 9:30 a.m., but the tax issue probably won’t come up before 10:00 at the earliest. The debate could go on all day or only until lunch; because the taxes are a deferred item, it’s possible that the councillors who spoke in July won’t be allowed to stand up again. Either way, expect Speaker Sandra Bussin to be pilloried for her ruling.
Torontoist will be back after the vote to give you the lowdown.
Photo by sevennine from the Torontoist Flickr pool.