When the far left and the far right on Toronto City Council both share the same criticism of newly elected Mayor John Tory’s first proposed budget, we have to take notice. It is clear from items in Tory’s $11.5 billion budget proposal that he means to respond to every aspect of the most urgent needs of the city.
We believe he has good intentions. Nevertheless, just about every decision Tory makes, at least in the early stages of his tenure, will be compared to the previous mayor, the badly behaved Rob Ford, who is sitting once again as councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North, the post he held for 10 years before his divisive term as mayor.
It remains to be seen how well Tory can manage to bring enough councillors on side to get this budget through. His proposal, which will not be voted on by City Council until March, has received criticism from Ford on the far right of the political spectrum and from far left councillor, Gord Perks. Ford and Perks, who have had a history of being adversaries, now agree in their criticism of Tory’s budget, which includes a $200 million line of credit from the provincial government meant to ensure a balanced budget, and which, by the way, has not yet been approved by Queen’s Park.
Of course, increased payments by residents are also coming in order to balance the budget. Already, Tory has broken a campaign promise regarding fare increases for public transit. In exchange, he will offer up free rides to children up to age 12, but that comes at a cost to adults with fares going up 10 cents per ride for non-cash fares across the board.
It’s a nice gesture for the kids, but it is also a clever distraction since Tory had promised not to raise fares in the first place. His explanation that he didn’t know how badly off the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was is hard to accept, just as it will also be hard to accept this increase for those who already carry the bulk of the financing for the cash-strapped, yet essential, public service.
We have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for Tory to put forward a plan to bring all levels of government to the table for discussions on a better way of funding this city’s public transit system, one that would not involve wounding those who must depend on the service.
Yes, it will be less pressure for them to have to find fares for their children going to school, but they will still end up paying for those fares through the coming increase.
Along those lines, instead of the 2.5 per cent increase in property taxes aimed at holding to the inflation rate, Tory could have had chosen to increase property taxes so that they come closer to responding to the real demands of the budget, instead of literally nickel and diming TTC riders.
There would be some push back in such an instance, yet Toronto residents still pay the lowest property taxes in the region and have for too long been coddled to expect that their taxes should be kept below the rate of inflation. It is an unrealistic formula, and one that will continue to ensure that budget planning takes the kinds of twists and turns that Tory is now suggesting with his provincial line of credit.
It seems that with the best of intentions, the new mayor is trying to make everyone happy, but that is always a formula for problems down the road. For example, his proposed $970 million to fix the Gardiner Expressway, a $443.2 million increase to repair the thoroughfare many have argued should be taken down, may appeal to some motorists. But couldn’t those millions have better served to answer the backlog of repairs crying out for attention in every public housing site in the city? Instead, the money would be earmarked to shore up the Gardiner in 12 years rather than the previously proposed 20-year commitment.
After the Ford years, there is little appetite for upheaval, so Tory’s middle-of-the-road initial offering is understandable. Even so, this budget calls for scrutiny and there is room for adjustment.