Among the last votes of this term at Toronto City Council was the granting of a permit for the development of a shelter in the Vaughan Rd. and Oakwood Ave. area for homeless men.
The decision was not without controversy; some residents did not want the shelter moved into their neighbourhood. Yet, it is an example of the work that council moved forward with during the now ended four-year term, even as much of the news media presented us with the vast distraction of Mayor Rob Ford.
With the mayor having set the usual protocol at city hall on its head, this term has been one for the history books. Councillors insist, however, that despite the upheaval caused by Rob Ford’s ongoing problems with substance abuse, they were able to carry out their duties and to keep the city running without any breakdown in the provision of service.
Ford’s antisocial shenanigans infused council sessions with something akin to a circus atmosphere at times. But his absence during the summer months, when he apparently left his post for a treatment centre in order to address his substance abuse issues, provided a window into what could be quieter times at city hall in days to come. Especially if Ford fails in his bid to be re-elected on October 27.
And, if he does lose the election, he will not be the only one not returning to council for the next term. Councillors Mike del Grande and Gloria Lindsay Luby, both of whom have served extensively on council, have decided to pack it in. The mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, who represented Ward 2 Etobicoke North, has had enough after only one term and Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence councillor, Karen Stintz, who dropped out of the mayoral race after polls consistently showed her badly trailing the frontrunners, will also not be returning to council.
Aside from a new heightened awareness of Toronto’s urban-suburban tension, as exemplified by Ford’s politics, this last term has left Torontonians with other changes. User fees have increased for a number of services and facilities. Spending has declined on social services, childcare and senior services to 20 per cent of the budget compared to 29 per cent prior.
People who pay taxes to the city will have to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions regarding whether they are willing to accept the need for new spending tools.
There seems to be a disconnect for far too many in understanding that the supports and initiatives needed to keep this city functioning well and advancing, so that it remains economically competitive with other urban centres, can only be realized with the city’s ability to raise more revenue. That is how we can pay for the replacement of crumbling infrastructure and outdated thoroughfares such as the Gardiner Expressway, the much-desired expansion of transit services and world-class waterfront development.
At the same time, policymakers have to bear in mind that a tax, or whatever name they wish to attach to it, will mean different things to different economic brackets.
The reason Ford was able to gain traction during the last election cycle was in no small part because he promised to do away with the vehicle registration tax. The cancellation of that $60 a year revenue tool, however, meant a $64 million annual loss to the city in tax revenue.
This is the discussion that voters and candidates need to have going forward, and the discussion that must continue when the new term begins.
It should be no secret that there is growing economic disparity within this city, much of it along racialized lines. Any new revenue generating solutions must keep in focus the many among us who are least able to afford them.
Municipal governance is growing in importance, therefore our collective decisions must be addressed with vision and prudence.