Power to the Cities

As if I didn't have enough on my hands already, I've launched another webring, this one dedicated to Bloggers in Ontario. Hey, I saw an empty niche and decided to fill it! The webring codes may not appear right away because Webring appears to be having some problems, but the new ring exists!

I like to believe that I'm an optimist, but thirty years of cutbacks have left me believing that government action can be an oxymoron, especially when it comes to our cities. I love our cities, especially Toronto, but there is so much that needs to be done, and it seems that the people and the money needed to do what needs to be done is never there.

However, the conciliatory noises from the Eves government, and the new urban taskforce report from the federal government are starting to rekindle my optimism. We've been pulled back from the brink on at least a couple of occasions. For example, this year started out a bad one for the TTC, with spiraling costs and a looming capital deficit that no one wanted to pay. However, last week the Federal government came through with $76 million, covering the TTC's capital expenses this year and forestalling a fare increase and service cut. This is a long way from what is needed over the long-term, but it's a start. By forestalling the crisis now, we have to think of a long term plan.

The number of Canadians living in our cities is approaching 80%. Cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax are proving to be the economic engines of Canada, and are feeding a lot more tax dollars into federal and provincial coffers than they're getting out in services. I don't mind this income redistribution -- it's one of the principles that helped build Canada after all -- but if the rest of the country wants to continue to benefit from our largess, investments must be made in order to maintain the health of these economic engines.

What kind of investment is an important question. Provincial and Federal governments appear to be favouring photo-op solutions to Canada's urban problems which, although helpful, is not the solution our cities need.

The big problem is that cities don't exist under the Canadian constitution. Only the stupidity of the action prevents provincial governments from abolishing cities outright. Cities need the power to obtain revenues creatively, rather than relying on the progressively overburdened property tax system. Our cities need money for such dull activities as sewer reconstruction, pothole repair and new transit vehicles, rather than the "big ticket projects" like subway extensions and convention centres that tend to attract political attention.

A permanent solution is new power for our cities: the right to raise revenues creatively. An acceptible solution is unconditional funding. We'll also take long term grants. My fear is that the governments will address this issue sporadically, throwing a few million here and there and generally ignoring the problem. Fortunately, the problem is becoming a lot harder to ignore, as the cities, the social groups, the banks and even the federal governments' own taskforces recognize the growing threats to our cities' well-being.

A decisive campaign could dramatically improve our urban centres by 2020. It would win the governments a lot of votes. Because of that maybe, just maybe, our governments will have the courage to be decisive.

Not much done today and yesterday, although I was back at the Gym yesterday afternoon, and walked a good portion into work this morning. I'm slowly getting fit. Chapter Five of Fathom Five is going slowly, but it is going well. The new version is less awkward and more interesting, and I hope this trend continues.

Over the week, I hope to make some changes to this website to make it more eye-catching and easier to navigate. So, stay tuned!

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