"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Monday 13 August 2007

Toronto's Exceptionality (contd)

I watched Mayor David Miller on a phone-in show on Saturday. His host had complete empathy with the city's revenue "shortfall".

Questions from callers allowed him to reinforce his arguments: Toronto needs more money. Million dollar programs mandated by the Province and the responsibility of the Province are being paid from property tax.

Cost of security at the provincial courts is charged to the city. Toronto receives a bill for "catastrophic" drug benefits of $140 million. It includes special benefits for the disabled.

What the Mayor did not say was that all municipalities pay the cost of these services. There is a total lack of integrity in these and other programs like ambulance service being charged to municipal government. They are services to people not property. They should be paid from the myriad of relevant taxes collected from people by the Province.

Municipal governments should be making the case together for the people we serve. Toronto would find itself in a more secure position if they chose to align themselves with the rest of us. Over the years however, they have used municipalities around them as the whipping boy when making the case to the Province for relief from this burden. And they have been successful.

For example, each year, for ten years, two hundred million dollars have been siphoned from the pockets of property owners in the GTA and funnelled into Toronto's treasury to pay for social housing and other services inaccessible to non-residents of the city.

There were other revelations during the phone-in program. David Miller served one term as councillor before becoming Mayor of Toronto. He has no experience of how things were. He disclosed City property-owners are getting a good deal on their taxes. He proclaimed with satisfaction they are paying 15% less than any other municipality around them.

It was a startling revelation. It has been known in the hinterlands that people in Toronto pay less tax than the rest of us. In fact, because Toronto refused to adopt market value assessment thirty years ago, propertry taxes within Metro have not been even for decades The fallout from his glib comment about their lower tax rate may yet be felt.

A few weeks ago, The Toronto Star editorialised that Toronto's neighbours should join the city to convince the Province of the inequity of municipal property-owners paying for provincial programs.

If the Province were to stop pandering to the city and the city to stop plundering her neighbours,we might yet arrive at the place where we could stand united and make a difference for the people we serve. All depends on the rediscovery of the dual principles of integrity and equity at Queen's Park versus ignorance and arrogance at Queens Street(City Hall). In this matter,The Toronto Star has not exactly been a beacon of enlightenment.

We will not hold our breath. As long as people outside the city are ignorant of the reality, provincial politicians have not much to fear from property-owners at large.

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