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Only NDP offers hope for Toronto

Oct 05, 2007 04:30 AM

Royson James

If the NDP election plan for urban centres, particularly Toronto, is too good to be true, then city lovers might consider the others and weep.

John Tory, who boldly stepped out into the faith-based funding morass that most politicians dreaded, is not nearly as adventurous when it comes to funding cities - even his own, the very Toronto he wanted to lead as mayor.

The Tory party’s offerings are too little, too undefined, too late.

Liberal Dalton McGuinty talks a good game about Toronto. It’s Ontario’s economic engine, he says. And it’s a wonder Toronto has survived, bound as it is in a fiscal straitjacket. But is he about to free the city? Maybe. Maybe over the next two decades. And here are a few dollars to show good faith and secure the silence of Mayor David Miller during the election.

The Liberal party vision is too much of the same old slow, sad song.

With that reality staring Toronto in the face, you’d think Miller and city councillors would be out beating the drums for a Howard Hampton government next Wednesday.

Humble Howard is everything cities have been asking for, willing to spend $3.6 billion over eight years to put municipalities back on a sound fiscal footing. Toronto gets about $900 million of that.

First, he’d freeze TTC fares for two years, effective next year. Next, he’d pick up half the operating cost of running the TTC, between $110 million and $160 million next year.

Most enticingly, he’d reverse the awful downloading of social services onto cities. He wouldn’t dump services like housing and not provide funding to pay for them. He’d pay the full share of court security costs and child-care per diems.

Hampton would also take back the full costs of the Ontario Disability Support and Ontario Drug Benefit programs by 2011, matching Dalton McGuinty’s promise. These two outrageous costs downloaded to cities are worth $175 million to Toronto alone.

And by 2015, he’d do what every study has suggested Ontario do, to bring it in line with the rest of the provinces and most jurisdictions in the western world: assume the full costs of social housing, welfare payments, public health, ambulance and child care.

Nothing could be better for cities, so one is skeptical.

But McGuinty and the Liberals have had since 2003 to do at least half that and failed. Citing budget restraints, not philosophical differences, McGuinty has given small doses of aid. If successive budgetary accountings hadn’t revealed a huge provincial surplus, one might understand his caution.

Now, he says he’s waiting for a review of the fiscal relationship between the province and municipalities, due sometime in February, before acting. And the word coming out of those sessions is that whatever help the province offers will be phased in slowly. In other words: unsure and unsecured.

Stunningly, Tory has opted for the same go-slow approach. He says he will wait for the review and give Toronto the help it needs in time for the 2008 budget.

That’s too much to ask of voters. The Conservatives have nothing to point to as collateral - except all the collateral damage the Mike Harris downloads caused. Tory needed a clear, unequivocal, pro-cities platform - framed as help for towns and cities - so all voters concerned about the fiscal health of their municipalities could run to the polls and vote Conservative.

That security rests only with the NDP. Vote and hope they hold the balance of power in a minority government. Maybe we’ll then see their desperately needed platform promises rise to the top of the legislative agenda at Queen’s Park.




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