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Quick Hits, Volume LIII: Back in Action

Obviously I'm a bit slow to get back into the swing of things here. I thought I'd make it easy on myself and make my first post a collection of Quick Hits...

Calgary Grit has been providing funny but useful profiles of the various candidates for the Liberal leadership. Today he has endorsed Gerard Kennedy as his guy. Although there are several candidates I find interesting, I have to say that CG has made an excellent choice.

Two days ago Warren Kinsella provided a speech he gave listing ten reasons Why McGuinty's A Winner. I don't agree with all of it, but I do agree with the general premise. The Ontario Liberals deserve a B grade for their efforts so far, and that's going to make them awfully hard to beat.

While on hiatus, I enjoyed Andrew Potter's simple breakdown of the fiscal imbalance fallacy. He summarizes the provinces' argument as follows:

Feds: Tax-source rich, responsibility poor
Provinces: Tax-source poor, responsibility rich.

And it is false because the provinces generally have access to all the same taxes that the feds do. The truth is more like this:

Feds: Tax-source rich, responsibility poor
Provinces: Tax-source rich, responsibility rich
(...and in Ontario) Municipalities: Tax-source poor, responsibility rich

Of course, fiscal imbalance means different things to different people.

To a Quebec Premier it means that Ottawa is disproportionately important and should divert cash to Quebec City with no strings attached. To an Albertan Premier it means that Ottawa is a drain and should reduce their role and lower their taxes. And, to an Ontario Premier it means that federal redistributions to poorer provinces (under a variety of programs) is excessive and should be instead used to help Ontario pay for services without (further) breaking a no-tax-increase promise.

A reader wrote with a video link for an interview with PM Stephen Harper on issues of concern in Toronto.

He is asked about same-sex marriage, crime and punishment, funding for municipal concerns, the fiscal imbalance, and supporting the Canada Health Act in Alberta. Other than his statement that Dalton McGuinty has already been successful getting a new deal from Paul Martin on the fiscal imbalance question, not much is surprising in this interview. Certainly Harper's answers are reasonable and (other than the SSM revote) I fairly happy with them.

Interestingly, around the 1:24 mark Harper speaks on the issue of the Toronto Port Authority and the island airport expansion. He says that he's aware that there have been controversial decisions, that he's troubled by some of these decisions, and that they are determined to get to the bottom of it and then act.

In the same interview, Harper made a scary Bush-like statement (8:30) that he tends to avoid watching or reading about politics and issues in the media and instead relies on a summary. Thankfully, I trust that Harper's involvement in policy thinking is at the opposite extreme... but the insulation might still be worthy of concern.

Several Toronto-area blogs (see links list at right) had responses to the Ontario budget's promise of money to extend the Spadina subway line beyond York University into the centre of Vaughn.

Certainly I agree that if the TTC gets money, it's first priority can't be expansion. And I agree that if the TTC were to invest in expansion, subways probably wouldn't be at the top of their list. Furthermore, if the TTC was going to extend the subway system, this wouldn't be the wisest choice. Still, I admit that I am illogically happy that Queen's Park has made this promise. What can I say?

The few weeks or so has seen two columns by the Globe and Mail's John Barber and one by the Star's Royson James debating the issue of current-value property tax assessment.

Barber argues about the unfairness of current-value assessment. He agrees that, despite the big headlines, MPAC does a decent (if rude) job of assessing what homes are worth. The real problem is that CVA is forcing more and more of the tax burden onto downtown home-owners, while 416 suburbanites are actually seeing their taxes going down. In a city like Toronto where dense and urban usually correlates with desirable and valuable, CVA is a force that works as a tax against smart city design and healthy, vibrant communities.

James comes back with the equity argument, and points out that a shift away from CVA is a shift towards asking people with less wealth to pay more taxes.

Of course, the value of the house you own doesn't always correlate to your ability to spend, or to your income. That's one of the reasons property tax is not a great way to raise money, particularly for the sorts of income-sharing programs that were downloaded onto municipalities in Ontario. So why not address the real problem? I call for a coalition of columnists who will fight for the uploading of these costs back to Queen's Park!

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