As we head out into 2012, here's my fondest political hope: that councillors wake up and grasp the full implications of the mayor's fiscal delusions about smaller government before the budget hits the council floor January 17.
Here are five issues to watch as the city settles into the new year.
TTC SQUEEZE The bottom line is that the TTC is heading toward ridership of around 515 million in the new year (higher than the 509 mil first estimated) but currently offers service for the equivalent of only about 487 mil, even before the proposed round of cuts. Get ready to be left at the curb. And, oh yes, you'll be paying more in fares.
Still, the forces of rationality will score some victories. Studies on Mayor Ford's beloved Sheppard subway will show the number of riders does not justify the cost. And, likewise, when Gordon Chong releases his report on the plan in February (he's already said it will take a further $5 to $10 mil in further studies), we'll discover that the private sector won't finance the subway.
Watch as Scarborough residents increasingly grasp that they've been sold a bill of goods and that the killing of the Sheppard LRT spells the end of meaningful transit expansion for the foreseeable future.
This year's only real positive transit offering will be the arrival of a few of the new streetcars ordered back in 2009. And improvements like cleaner stations? With all the fiscal paring, it just won't happen.
SOCIAL HOUSING FADE The Ford administration will likely attempt to sell up to 708 Toronto Community Housing Corporation houses, thereby further reducing the stock of subsidized housing when Toronto desperately needs more. But according to Michael Shapcott, director of housing at the Wellesley Institute, 650 of these were acquired with provincial funds.
So with any luck, the provincial government will decide there is a public interest in preserving affordable units and use its power to stop the sale.
BYE, GOOD JOBS Pay attention as the Ford admin moves ahead with further privatization of garbage and other services without even waiting to evaluate how the new service model works.
Expect, as well, that the mayor will try to manufacture an atmosphere conducive to a lockout of city workers. If this happens, it won't be a short affair, but will likely run for months.
If Ford is successful in further contracting out, expect the cost of providing the services to climb in four to five years' time, as companies take advantage of the fact that the city no longer has an alternative way to deliver services. This is certainly the history in various municipalities across North America.
HELLO, PRICEY CONSULTANTS If the professional ranks of the civil service are decimated as well, expect $1,000-a-day consultants to become common. The city is proposing to eliminate 2,338 jobs through buyouts, unfilled vacancies and layoffs, 142 of them management positions. As Toronto turns to expensive outsiders to perform needed analysis and other jobs once the domain of staff earning less than $200 a day after tax, look for happy smiles on the faces of shareholders of ever-richer consulting firms. Taxpayers will have a whole other take on the cost of chopping city jobs once they find out what happens when a civil service is gutted.
TRASH COSTS RISING The mayor has already mused about changing the city's 70 per cent waste reduction targets. This is despite the fact that without them, our landfill has only around 20 years left as opposed to the 40 or more it could have with efficient recycling.
Sure, it's cheaper now to stall the rollout of the expensive green bin in condo and apartment buildings, but it sure won't be later. Already, the city has put a hold on a proposed mixed waste processing plant that would have separated garbage and sucked the liquid out, increasing our diversion rate and minimizing landfill use.
If recycling rates are adequate, Toronto won't have to look for over 50 years, or possibly never, since the rate of decay might be equal to or greater than the input, making it a perpetual landfill. But if diversion rates slow, future taxpayers will rue the day when a few dollars saved in 2012 turned into a multi-billion-dollar price tag for more dumps or costly incineration.
THE CREEP OF DECAY If this budget isn't defeated, expect gradual neglect. At first, the changes won't be noticeable, but over time, trees won't get pruned properly, potholes will take longer to fill, there'll be fewer community art projects, fewer new books at the library, and repairs at subway stations and community centres will be left undone.
A city that prided itself on being a leader in many areas will have to accept just getting by. In the short term, this isn't a disaster, but the Ford administration isn't looking for just one year of pain; it's working toward shrinking government.
Once we head into these waters, it will be hard to turn the ship around. This year could be the beginning of the end of the city we love.