David Miller’s biggest mistake as mayor was not securing the city a large and steady source of new income within the city’s control. City Hall does not have the money it needs to make Toronto a place we can be proud to call home.
Almost from his first days as mayor in early 2004, Miller demanded that other governments give Toronto the extra money it needs.
Ottawa provides about $50 million per year from gasoline taxes. That’s real money, but small change in the city’s $9-billion budget. The province gave significant financial support for the city’s transit plan, but when Premier McGuinty delayed payments by a few years because of the province's own budget problems, Miller was furious and began an ad campaign against the premier.
But no politician wants to increase taxes and then give that money to other politicians to spend. It is not a winning strategy. Miller kept at it anyway.
The city needs its own sources of tax revenue, like its own sales tax. A one per cent tax on goods and services raises about $700 million in Toronto per year, and a two per cent GST would generate an extra $1.5 billion per year. (Stephen Harper cut the GST by two per cent saying he didn’t need the money.) Toronto needs it to repair roads, improve transit, build affordable housing, and expand social and recreational programs.
Miller refused to ask Queen’s Park for the legislation to levy that tax, even when the opportunity was there when the new City of Toronto Act was being drafted five years ago. Now the city is broke.
But Mayor Miller is fading away. We are now staring at a bunch of candidates for his job. None of them have said they will ask for the new taxing powers the city so clearly needs to deliver good government and strong programs. Will our new mayor be up to the challenge?
John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto; firstname.lastname@example.org.