After council voted unanimously Wednesday, September 26, to reopen community centres on Mondays, a parks activist said, "So it?s a victory, then."
Victory? No, they don't really "do" victory around here. Manufactured disasters will suffice, so long as certain voters keep blithely voting for a junta of councillors whose strategy seems to be getting what they asked for and then complaining like hell for the cameras.
Victory and loss are two sides of the same coin when the decision just means another hole - $500,000 in diameter - is now already sketched onto next year's budget. But the biggest cost may be that the debate allowed council's right wing to collectively defecate in the memory centre of anyone who was paying attention.
I usually balk at broad left/right distinctions, but the boundaries couldn't be clearer these days.
In the left corner are those trying to make a case for public investment in public services. In the right are those who seem to believe the city should just negotiate corporate service deals and provide the bare-bones infrastructure those corporations need - another apparatus to keep money circulating among the wealthy.
A number of centrists bounce back and forth.
The approach taken by the left has been mostly one of trust: learn which services people want, explain how much they cost, establish that the city is effectively in deficit and suggest that we might want to take a collection, in the form of a modest new tax.
The approach of the right has also relied on trust: trust that you aren't paying close attention when they create crises.
If their plan weren't working, there's simply no way Karen Stintz could make a statement like the one she made while grilling the mayor: "The [tax deferral] vote we held was simply a vote on a strategy to lobby the government, never a decision to lay off people." Yeah, see, we thought we were going to keep them around and all, but just never have to pay them.
Or how about Denzil Minnan-Wong, after the Wednesday vote: "These [cuts] are being used to coerce city councillors to support these increased taxes, and the two are very separate."
Get that? City services are free, because the entire world economy has given our city a pass. Welcome to Toronto, where capitalism doesn't apply. Here's your personal subway. Follow that logic to its natural conclusion and we might ask Minnan-Wong and friends why they're so insistent on solving a budget crisis that clearly doesn't exist by looking elsewhere for cuts that needn't be made, since everything, after all, runs on pixie dust.
"All of these [cuts] are extremely regrettable, all of them. This one [community centres] happens to be one that people really notice," said Mayor David Miller from the council floor Wednesday. "From my perspective, the deferral of the [tax] vote caused this. I said so at the time, and a number of members of council were quoted in the press saying it's time to look at cuts. Well, this is what cuts are. They're not imaginary."
I'll buy that Miller's opponents are worried about their constituents' access to community centres, but I'll wager they're more concerned with drowning out this nagging little fact: taxes pay for things. The ultimate goal seems increasingly to be to disconnect discussion of policy and services from discussions of how those things are funded.
Only in such a context can the free-marketeers vote to close community centres one month, then skate in the next and save those same centres from the capricious tax voodoo of a "conniving' mayor, all the while setting the stage for deeper cuts and the endgame of privatization.
Look, if Minnan-Wong were talking about all of us pitching in and figuring out how to provide services cooperatively via direct community control, I'd be all for it. But it seems as though he's just looking for anything that'll stick to the mayor, even for just a few seconds. That's about the length of most people's political memory these days.
I asked him what his alternative would have been to the community centre cuts, and he pointed to a recent court ruling that the federal government owes property taxes to municipalities - a ruling now being challenged by the feds. "We have $900,000 extra revenue on this council agenda in the PILT [payment in lieu of taxes] report, so that money could have been used, clearly, to have made a decision earlier than today to not close the community centres."
All right - except, no. Not unless you wanted the mayor to do it without a council session, which, judging from a month's worth of whinging over insufficient debate, you don't. The PILT revelation is a new one, and Wednesday's meeting was the first chance to deal with it as a council.
Come on, folks, just come out and say it. You want to get rid of Miller, cut wages, eliminate whatever social services you can and privatize the rest. And when even some of your constituents start complaining about how "efficient" their lives have become, it'll be too late.
"This is what efficiencies are," those directly responsible will say. "They're not imaginary."
And we'd object - if we could just remember exactly what they were talking about.