If one thing is becoming clear, it is how the Ottawa-Ontario and the Ontario-Toronto legs of the "fiscal imbalance" are related.
Not too long after that, Mike Harris turned around and did the same thing to municipalities in Ontario. I still maintain that he had a choice -- either slow down on the tax cuts, or create a municipal fiscal imbalance -- and he chose to
In both cases, the senior government left the junior government in the lurch for certain programs, while continuing to collect taxes from those jurisdictions at an increasing rate. This is true of both Ottawa and Queen's Park.
The difference, however, is that Ottawa is generally shifting money from Ontario and Alberta to provinces that have some need for the money, while leaving all provinces with the fiscal tools required to meet their needs. Don't get me wrong -- there is certainly an unwelcome political aspect to Ottawa's financial shifts, as well. But, the contrast with Ontario is that in this province some needy areas (i.e., some municipalities) are left without the fiscal capability to sustainably solve their own problems.
Nevermind the fact that the Toronto Star and Royson James were primary cheerleaders for the megacity amalgamations that made downloading possible, at least they get this right:
Let's review a selection of Royson James' 101 Reasons:
Right problem, but not exactly the right solution. These difficult demographics don't really require special treatment. They just require programs that are paid out of federal or provincial income tax instead of local property taxes.
Reasons 23 and 29 suggest something that I've been arguing for a while. Canada doesn't need a new deal for cities as much as we need to reverse what was done in Ontario in the late 90s.
Compare reasons 36 and 9 and you'll see why the downloading that sent social-service costs to municipalities while maintaining income and sales taxes at the federal and provincial levels has been so tough on, and unfair to, the city.
Reasons 63 and 64 are infuriating and indefensible, but I won't repeat them here.
But I do have some additional reasons of my own:
102. Dumping social costs onto property taxes, and collecting provincially pooled taxes on the basis of current value assessment, together create significant discouragement for urban life, and drive sprawl.
103. Besides the ecological damage and inefficiency of sprawl, thinkers like Jane Jacobs have shown that it is the diversity and complexity of cities -- and the interactions and opportunities that result -- that encourage innovation and drive much of our economy. If government policies discourage cities by driving up our taxes and leaving social needs underfunded, this hurts our future.
104. Many feel that sprawl and suburbia represent a diminished enjoyabilty of living. Others disagree. But why should those of us who like living in the city pay a government-created financial penalty for doing so?
Anyway, the Toronto Star claims credit for leading the New Deal campaign over the past 4 years. If today's paper is any indication, they are gearing up the fight as we work towards the new legislation. Let's just hope they keep their eyes on the ball, because the difference between a great reform and a weak one will just seem like nuance to the casual reader. The Star, as they did today, needs to keep the focus on the changes that matter, so McGuinty can't pass off something similar but unsatisfactory.