The Toronto Committee of the Communist Party calls for needs-based statutory funding for the city of Toronto to provide good quality public services, free transit, reverse privatization, and expand rent-geared-to-income social housing in the city. While the so-called ‘new deal’ negotiated with the Province takes some of the most intense pressures off the city, it does nothing to address the root causes of the decay at Toronto’s core.
It is undeniable that the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and the Gardiner Expressway are rightfully the responsibility of the Province and should be removed from the city’s balance sheet, they represent only a portion of the expenses wrongfully downloaded onto the City during the amalgamation in the 90s.
While the uploads are overdue, the ‘trade’ being offered, for the City to capitulate on a political fight over Ontario Place so that Ford can continue to pay back his developer friends, in return for some short-term funding – which itself is not guaranteed – is a political mistake. Acquiescing to Ford’s plans for Ontario place is a retreat from the fight for the need for local democracy and autonomy. Finally, we refuse the false choice between expanding regressive forms of taxation such as higher property taxes or the introduction of a Municipal Sales Tax (MST) on one hand or more cuts and privatization on the other, which are still a large part of the new budget deal discussion happening in the city.
Toronto’s $1.5b funding shortfall did not develop overnight, it is a slow moving catastrophe which has been brewing since the megacity amalgamation of 1998. During the process of amalgamation, there was a massive expansion of service costs foisted on Toronto as the city limits and the population exploded. At the same time, the regressive property tax continued to be the city’s tax base, while provincial and federal transfers continued to diminish as neoliberalism became firmly entrenched in the city and across the country.
Not content with the amalgamation, the Harris Tories also downloaded the costs of the DVP and Gardiner on to the city’s balance sheet, two infrastructure projects which cost more than the maintenance of every road in the city combined, and has gobbled up the city’s capital budget for decades now. The cost of education continued to be funded by the city but was then centralized and dispersed across the province reducing funding to Toronto. The “education levy,” now hoovers up over $2b dollars from the city’s operating funds by taking a portion of the property tax, and allowed the Province to shift funding away from the wealthy and corporations, and on to working people.
Over time, the inadequate tax base and the new financial obligations have piled up, and since cities are merely a creature of the province, themselves with little democratic control or authority, they have been unable to generate funds to address the budget shortfall. Now, nearly three decades of malpractice has come to a head- and the cheque has come due for a city nearly bled dry already.
Horse-trading with a provincial government reeling from one corruption scandal after another is not the only way to resolve this crisis however, and it is far from the solution working people in Toronto need. Labour and people’s movements in the city should instead put pressure on the Mayor to continue along the path of a real new financial deal for cities, and continue the work started by David Miller, before he too took a compromise in the form of the City of Toronto Act.
A real solution to this crisis would mean a deal which takes the boot off the neck of working people, who are already facing a deepening affordability crisis caused by a massive transfer of wealth from workers to corporations through skyrocketing rents and prices and wage suppression. A deal which first and foremost sources its funds through statutory transfers from the Provincial and Federal government, who have the progressive taxation tools needed to pay for services. Importantly, this deal must reject regressive taxation tools like the proposed municipal sales tax. Furthermore, property taxes should be limited to funding the servicing of property – water, garbage, sewage, fire and police.
A Toronto which ensures a decent standard of living for all of its residents is possible – and the conditions to fight for it are growing. Labour and the people’s movements must unite with progressive councils across the province, and begin to build a movement which will win a real New Deal for cities.
Toronto Committee, Communist Party of Canada