Saturday, July 21, 2007

Toronto's Got a Lot to Learn

The rest of Salutin's column is at rabble. Miller did not renew his NDP membership so that he could be "independent". It seems that he has now become ineffective as well. The city government is playing games with the provincial government hoping to get more money but the threat to close down a subway route and also increase fares drastically make the city look quite foolish at a time when public transportation needs to be better funded and better utilised. Instead Miller's disastrous policies would increase the use of private cars and cause hardships for those not able to use cars.

Toronto's got a lot to learn
>by Rick Salutin
July 20, 2007
There was a classic failure of leadership here this week: a vote by Toronto's city council not to impose taxes on land transfers and car registrations. It's a textbook case, for study by future eras and civilizations.

Take as background an example of actual leadership. Here are the words of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in 2000, shortly before his re-election after years of attacks on himself and his city, by both Thatcher Tories and Blair Labourites. “The great shining lie of British politics is that you can have good public services without putting up taxes.” He uses the hard word, lie; he states the worthy goal, good public services, instead of shabby ones; and he portrays the route to it — more taxes — as a challenge instead of something to apologize for. Here's the response, described by a reporter: “The crack of palm on palm was thunderous.”

No guts, no glory.

It is this kind of truth-telling, along with the prize when it works, that Toronto Mayor David Miller avoided. His main argument for adding taxes, reportedly, was that other big cities do it too. That's apologetic and imitative. Nor did he try to carry the issue to the people. It seems that he and his inner circle feared he'd just provide a target for the neo-cons and tax-haters. This kind of timidity is always wrong, not because it's strategically not astute, but because it shows distrust of your fellow citizens. It's all strategy in the end; the real trick is knowing how to call on people's better, more communal instincts.

I'd say he had a winner in both new taxes. Land transfer taxes would mainly affect developers and speculators, the guys who ran City Hall during the Art Eggleton to Mel Lastman years and against whom David Miller campaigned. Downtowners (like me) who saw their taxes rise as their property value theoretically soared, but who never planned to cash in because we love our homes, would've seen some relief. The car registration tax reflects everyone's main concern: the environment.

Those opposed didn't even have the guts to vote the new taxes down. They “deferred” a decision till after the coming provincial vote in order to pressure the political parties into promising more money to the city. For years, Toronto demanded the right to raise money beyond property taxes. The current government finally granted that right, so these elected municipal geniuses don't use it — as a tactic. That's both uninspiring and stupid.

As for those who like their politics strictly in terms of the games being played: Any time you're mayor, and you lose a vote 23-22, and you didn't find a way to bribe or bully that one vote you needed, you should give it some thought

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