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City Council debates new revenue tools

It should have been a simple discussion. Toronto City Councillors were asked to debate the validity of looking at implementing new revenue tools as a means to generate dedicated funding toward the expansion of Toronto’s transit system. However, councillors took the long road there. A three-day debate that required multiple votes is what ensued.

Let us be clear. Councillors were not debating whether or not to implement new taxes, or specific taxes, or what exactly would be built using this newly generated revenue. This debate was to settle a matter as to whether or not examining the use of transit tools would be advisable going forward. In the interest of democracy and public discourse this should have been a short debate. But the lack of leadership from Mayor Rob Ford (who did not attend the entire duration of the debate) and his inner circle took the debate in a direction that could only be described as school yard antics. However, it should be acknowledged that the lowest point of the marathon debate came from outside the Mayor’s circle when Adam Vaughan, Councillor for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), put forward a childish motion proposing a new tax on vinyl labels to personally attack the Ford’s private business Deco Labels and Tags.

Childishness aside, this debate comes down one fact: Torontonians want subways. A longstanding refrain from the Mayor, his promises of new subways during the previous municipal general election has yet to be realized. Councillors from across the political spectrum must come around to the understanding that transit expansion requires funding.

Central to the debate was the rhetoric of ‘revenue tools’. The Mayor’s inner circle felt this was a misleading statement. To be fair, they are correct. These are taxes. That word has a tendency to scare some. But this is a discussion of either-or. Either the City accepts new methods of taxation or it sits on the status quo: the best transportation system 1980 can buy.

There are a number of options to fund the expansion of the subway system of which the City is in desperate need. However, I want to delve into the option that I believe is most appropriate. That would be the proposal of Sarah Thomson, publisher of Women’s Post and Chair of the Toronto Transit Authority, that Toronto implement a 1% regional sales tax. For what it is worth, Councillor Vaughan put forward his own motion that outlined the implementation of a similar province-wide sales tax of 1%.

Small regional sales taxes are widely used to fund regional transportation plans. For example, Seattle, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles County and Denver have dedicated regional sales taxes. Many of these taxes were brought in by ballot referenda that clearly communicated the funds would be dedicated to build transit, including majority public support for these measures. Recent polling demonstrates there is public support in the GTA. A referendum in conjunction with the 2014 general election could settle this matter once and for all.

Transit-dedicated sales taxes in many United States cities of note had significant negative impact on local retail. Given that the 2008 GST reduction dropped total sales tax levels in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Region, there is certainly room for an increase of as little as 1%. Such a low rate minimizes the impact on retailers and consumers.

When voting on the matter was decided, Councillor Vaughan’s motion was amended to include the following:

  • “That City Council support the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue.” (Proposed by Councillor Glenn De Baermaeker, Ward 36 – Scarborough Centre.)
  • “That City Council request that the North York Relief Line (unfinished subway construction between Sheppard Avenue and Allen Road, and Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue) be recognized as substantive project priority for Phase 2 Metrolinx funding. (Proposed by Councillor James Pasternak, Ward 10 – York Centre.)

It should be noted, however, that City Council quickly chose to not support the 1% sales tax on the very next vote on a motion by Josh Colle, Councillor for Ward 15 (Eglinton-Lawrence). That motion carried to reject seven different revenue tools, including a sales tax.

At the end of the day, this council dropped the proverbial ball. Torontonians have been waiting far too long for the transit system we so desperately need and deserve. For the time being it appears we will continue to wait.

Reasonable political discussion in Ontario, RIP

Today I had the good fortune of coming across an old friend’s post on Facebook as it floated through my news feed. It wasn’t much more than what he usually posted: extreme support for the Ontario NDP, for whom he does work, and a stream of trash talk about the other political parties in the province.

Today’s posting happened to be a screen grab of the Toronto Star’s Facebook page where someone had forgotten to put quotation marks around an excerpt from an editorial, leaving it looking as if the Star had suddenly taken a caustic and personal stance against the ONDP leader Andrea Horwath.

His sentiments were along the same lines as everything else he’s ever posted. The Toronto Star has long been accused of being a mouthpiece for the provincial Liberal party, he explained, and this just goes to show that they harbour a resentment for Horwath that would go so far as to find fault if she saved a baby from a burning building.

Commentary on commentary.

I’ve never had one true political allegiance, having voted both Liberal and NDP in the past and even supporting some Conservative policy. More than anything I find the discussion and conversation around politics to be the most interesting part of the political cycle.

I found it particularly interesting that he himself would take issue with what he thought the Star was doing since his comments and postings might as well be dyed orange.

“As opposed to you,” I commented, “who would simply neglect to post on Facebook if Horwath went on a killing spree, eh?”

I even threw in a tongue-out smiley emoticon for good measure.

Commentary on commentary on commentary.

“His Facebook isn’t mass media,” came the quick response from someone else.

“No, the last major newspaper to share his views thankfully closed down shortly after the dissolution of the USSR.”

A cheerful jab. Maybe a bit sharp, but that is how old friends get on. A few milliseconds later I see a private message from my old friend pop up. “I don’t allow personal attacks on my wall. Would you prefer to take a minute to correct it or should I just remove your ability to post on my wall?” Uh oh.

I think about what to say here. Is he so closed minded that he actually can’t stand anyone disagreeing with him or even, as I did, lightly ribbing him? Is he so high on his sense of self righteousness that he actually, truly believes that everyone who works hard in the Liberal government and who works hard in the PC opposition are actively seeking to destroy our province? Is he so incredibly fragile that the slightest whiff of a differing opinion will destroy his whole world?

I figure he’s probably had a rough morning and give him the benefit of the doubt. I tell him my love for discussion and tell him one of my favourite quotes: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

A tirade of disagreements. “Just because there is an open forum for discussion doesn’t mean that you should take it to the limits,” he says shortly before deleting me.

While I was still reeling — not over the loss of a friend mind you, we were friendly acquaintances at school who hadn’t interacted in person for several years and he hadn’t crossed my mind since I had an awkward conversation with his boyfriend on Grindr last year — it dawned on me that this is the current state of political conversation.

This is the type of conversation I might expect from an American redneck perhaps, chewing on a strand of tall grass while lamenting that the president is a socialist Muslim out to destroy the country. This stark us versus them mentality isn’t just the property of the lowly masses of the right, either. I remember a time when George W. Bush was the president of the United States and people really truly thought that he was going to singlehandedly dismantle the country and that his policies were crafted with the specific aim of hurting people.

Here it has been adopted by on the far left like my old friend. The rhetoric is downright exhausting.

WE MUST STOP STEPHEN HARPER BEFORE HE DESTROYS CANADA! WE NEED TO END THE EVIL CORRUPT LIBERAL DYNASTY! WE NEED TO GET THE NDP INTO OPPOSITION SO THEY CAN CHANGE

So they can change…

So they can change their own constitution to remove any references to socialism to become more palatable to centrist voters. At least, federally. Here in Ontario where the NDP hold the crutches under the Liberals the chant goes something like:

WE NEED TO STOP WYNNE! WE NEED TO STOP HUDAK! …Eventually.

Behind the scenes at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill the situation isn’t quite as nasty as people on the street (or Facebook) might assume. Friendships exist across the aisles, parliamentarians and senators working together in committee with those you’d think would be enemies sworn by blood.

What is so surprising about the serious tone my old pal took is that, as someone who works greasing the gears, you’d think he might have some more insight into the true workings of the political world. The attack-ad attitude is designed to appeal to the lowest common voter, someone who isn’t likely to do their own research and just follow the other lemmings off the proverbial cliff and into the voting booth.

The kind of blind, stupid passion he exerts as a tireless support for anything and everything NDP is more in place with a hockey fan than a politico. His total dismissal of discussion and conversation as important to the political process is frightening. Apparently the commentary from the Star was wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. However his commentary on this matter was correct and should be accepted as fact. And my commentary on his commentary got me silenced through deletion, the online equivalent of being removed from the room. What a great friend. Keep your fingers crossed he never winds up being your MPP.

It seems that the ONDP can be added the list of people so “enlightened” that they never want to hear another word contrary to their beliefs, joining such rub-it-in-your-face-smug company as Green Party supporters, militant atheists, and Habs fans.

In the end the irony of silencing someone for a comparison to Soviet newspaper Pravda appears to have been lost on him.

This is the current landscape for political discussion in our fair province. I’m right and you are wrong and la-la-la-la-I’m-not-listening.

Reasonable political discussion in Ontario, may it rest in peace.

Ontario’s Budget Set to Arrive May 2nd

Charles Sousa, Ontario’s Finance Minister, has announced his first budget will be delivered on Thursday, May 2 at 4:00 pm.

It is expected this budget will include new funding to expand public transit in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Minister Sousa has promised the coming budget will show what new taxes, tolls or levies the province will use to pay for public transit expansion.

In a speech to the Economic Club today (Monday, April 22), Sousa revealed that the Liberal Party has cut $5 billion off the deficit in the last year; revising the provincial deficit to $9.8 billion, down from the projected $14.8 billion.

Minister Sousa also went on to give Ontario a bit of insight into what Thursday will bring. He promised the government will hold program spending to just 1% growth, maintain current level of corporate taxes, and possibly introduce income walls to the clean energy benefit.

However, it was transit that will be front and centre when the budget is tabled later this week.

Sousa reiterated Premier Kathleen Wynne’s promise that any taxes or tolls to fund transit in the GTHA would only apply to the applicable region.

“This budget is going to be just. This budget is going to be fair. This budget is going to be right,” Sousa said.

It is with that in mind that Sousa has pledged to incorporate the ideas of the other parties. Given the minority standing of the provincial legislature, Wynne and Sousa will have to secure the support of at least two additional votes to ensure passage of the budget.

The Progressive Conservative (PC) Party has already stated they will vote against the budget regardless of what it contains. This leaves the government dependent on the votes of the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP has given the government a list of five demands, with a cut to auto insurance rates and additional funding for home care being first and foremost.

“This won’t be a budget that reflects only our government’s priorities,” Sousa announced.

Will this proverbial olive branch be enough to maintain this government in the wake of rumours the PC Party is hankering for an election?

Only time will tell.

Both the PC Party and the NDP have come out against the creation of new revenue tolls for transit. Sarah Thomson, CEO and Publisher of the Women’s Post and previous candidate for Mayor of Toronto, has been leading the Toronto Transit Alliance in its call for a 1% regional sales tax.