Fri, Jul
12
2002

Breathe Easier

Fri, Jul 12, 2002

In the "well, that was quick" department, Toronto's garbage strike is over. The provincial NDP cooperated with the Conservative government and legislated the strikers back to work, on the condition that a set of independent arbitrators be appointed. That was a reasonable demand, and it's good that the Conservatives accepted that demand.

So, Toronto can breathe easier, at last. But garbage wasn't the only smell polluting Toronto's air. This strike stank of politics. The last bout of it surrounded Queen's Park, before the winds of conciliation blew it away. When Eves recalled the provincial legislature to end the strike, Conservative House Leader Chris Stockwell demanded that the Liberals and the NDP support the back-to-work legislation so that it could be passed quickly. Neither opposition party had seen the legislation, and so asked to reserve judgement until the legislation was written up. Suddenly, the NDP was not cooperating with the process. They were playing politics with the people of Toronto's suffering.

Kettle. Pot. Black.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Either that, or they woke up and smelt the garbage.

Even as the strike ends, people are wondering who to blame. My choice? Everyone. Well, not you, but everyone else.

Toronto's City Council has to take a big share of the blame. Mayor Mel's hotheaded remarks, and the remarks for and against on council, did little but ruffle feathers on all sides, and ensured that a resolution could not come without provincial intervention.

The Union has to share some of the blame itself; even I have to admit that. I can understand their anger and opposition to contracting out city services to private companies, but blanket opposition may not constructive. A more conciliatory approach might have won them more public sympathy, and done the city good. The privatization issue is not going to go away, and the union needs to accept this, and negotiate.

However, this strike might not have happened if the massive downloading of provincial services under the Mike Harris Conservatives hadn't screwed Toronto over. The city has been forced to shoulder far more of the burden now than it did seven years ago. Until recently, it has been solely responsible for the TTC's operating and capital budget, the police, fire, emergency services, social welfare, garbage collection, you name it, while being forced to take revenue only from regressive and backward property taxes.

Back in 1995, when the provincial Tories cut welfare benefits by 25%, the result was a winfall for Ontario's cities (something like 75% of social welfare benefits were paid for out of property taxes) -- except the City of Toronto, and three other localities. These four cities, which had a disproportionate number of welfare cases, had until the change a provincial subsidy reflecting their unequal burden. So, while all the other cities in Ontario were able to hold the line on their property taxes or better, Toronto ended up $11 million in the hole.

Mike Harris has not been good for this city. And the garbage strike is but one reflection of that.

I guess it's appropriate that, in a garbage strike, no one comes out smelling like roses.


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