There is fear the province will be even more unresponsive to city's financial pleas once it's passed the act. Too broke to benefit toronto's next municipal elec tion is still 12 months away, but Mayor David Miller has already trotted out the stump speech that will likely be the foundation of his campaign. The unexpected preview came this week when Miller called a news conference to respond to the release of a joint provincial/municipal staff report on the long-awaited New City Of Toronto Act.
The mayor wasn't in a big hurry to mention that the new law is intended to give Toronto "broad permissive powers." Instead, he went on about how "my office and this city council" have spent the past couple of years "making the changes that the people of Toronto sent us here to make."
Miller then began reciting a list of accomplishments, things such as "making the city cleaner and more beautiful" and helping hundreds of homeless people "get off the streets into homes of their own."
Likewise, the mayor's community safety panel has helped "hundreds of young people to overcome prejudice and poverty" and "to find jobs and training to steer them away from crime."
From there it was on to how the "transformation of our waterfront" has begun. Miller cited a film studio, a water race course, a lakeside park and a soccer stadium at Exhibition Place as proof of progress.
Of course, no list of things done in the public interest would be complete without mentioning the changes council made to the city's much-maligned administrative structure. "More open, transparent and accountable" was how the mayor described the new bureaucracy.
Yet "as important as each of those changes has been, they are just the beginning," Miller enthused. In fact, they are simply "the foundation for much greater changes to come."
And with that, the mayor launched into his praises of the New City Of Toronto Act as a "grand initiative" that will give Toronto the kind of legal power and authority "that no city in Canada has ever had."
Alas, Miller would be wise in an election year not to overplay the significance of this legislation.
His office deserves credit for putting its creation and passage high on the agenda at Queen's Park. But city-building costs money. Lots of it. And, sadly, the New City Of Toronto Act provides very little in the way of cash to help bridge the current $500-million gap in the proposed 2006 $7-billion operating budget. No share of provincial sales or income taxes. No relief from the high provincial education taxes city businesses now pay. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
Budget chief David Soknacki says this continuing shortage of financial resources could cause Miller considerable political trouble during an election year.
"The reality is, the act sets even higher expectations for what the city ought to be doing, without providing the means for doing them," the councillor for Ward 43 (Scarborough East) points out. "It's exciting that powers are coming toward the city. Yet at the same time, it leads the average resident to have a higher expectations of what the city can do."
The way things stand, there's little the city can do besides raise property taxes well beyond the anticipated 3 per cent, cut programs and sell off municipal assets.
And because about $300 million of the city's operating budget shortfall is related to the provincial downloading of transit and social services onto municipal property taxpayers, Miller and Soknacki will be forced to go to Queen's Park cap in hand again this year for financial assistance. The provincial Liberals may be less inclined to help once the New City Of Toronto Act has been passed in the new year.
"I can't see how anything in the act would make the city financially sustainable," Soknacki says. And that fact could make it much harder for Miller to sell it to voters as a meaningful accomplishment once they've received their municipal tax bills next spring.
cynthia lai must have figured she had Bas Balkissoon right where she wanted him after the Ward 41 councillor (and would-be Liberal MPP for Scarborough-Rouge River) quietly voted himself a tidy little pay increase recently. "This is not the kind of representative the people of Scarborough-Rouge need at Queen's Park," Lai, the Progressive Conservative candidate in the November 24 by-election to replace longtime Grit Alvin Curling, said in a news release last week.
"Bas Balkissoon will fit right in with the McGuinty Liberal team, who just don't seem to understand that the people of Scarborough Rouge River deserve some relief to help them make ends meet," Lai added.
Unfortunately for Lai, Balkissoon had some pretty good ammo of his own to fire back at the PC hopeful -- namely, a letter from Tory leader John Tory inviting Balkissoon to run for the PCs. Said he in a news release of his own: "I find it surprising that they would go after my credibility and record when just a few weeks ago John Tory was trying to personally recruit me as a candidate for his party and praising my commitment to accountability."
Incidentally, NDP candidate Sheila White and the Green party's Steve Toman are also in the race.
around the hall this week
On Wednesday (November 23) at 6 pm in the council chamber, a special meeting of the Roundtable on the Environment discusses green roof implementation options with Mayor David Miller and the city's tree advocate, deputy mayor Joe Pantalone.
The meeting will include a presentation on the benefits of green roofs and an overview of what other cities are doing to encourage green roofs. Contact Frank Baldassini at 416-395-7352 if you're interested in making a deputation or would like a copy of the discussion paper Making Green Roofs Happen, which is also available at www.toronto.ca/greenroofs.
The folks from Community Air invite one and all to attend an open house at the Radisson Admiral Hotel (249 Queens Quay West, Salon A) on Tuesday (November 22), 7 pm, where the Toronto Port Authority will go public with its latest plans for expansion of the Toronto Island Airport.
Time was, the TPA insisted a bridge to the financially troubled landing strip was needed to make it a going concern. City council killed the fixed link, but now the federally supported agency wants to spend $15 million on new infrastructure, including a new ferry between Bathurst Quay and the airport's terminal. We like Community Air's proposal: the 87-hectare airport property should be converted to public parkland.