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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Will city come into the light?

By John Barber
Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003

What's that you say, Dalton? ''A new deal for Toronto.'' But that's so old! Dalton, why don't you just hand us over the money?Now!Yes, there is a menacing overtone in the bell-ringing welcome Toronto is preparing for the hero McGuinty and his horde. First, we will placate our new overlord by ritually executing all remaining Tories in the public square. Then, without either cleaning or sheathing our bloody weapons, we will smile and turn them on him. Time to collect the bounty.

And, in the ensuing negotiations, to hold off any announcement of a truce in the eight-year civil war between the province and its capital, something that would be far easier to achieve if the city's expectations were not so high -- nor its needs so great.

Two cents of tax revenue from every litre of gas pumped in the city -- the centrepiece of the new deal Mr. McGuinty promoted yesterday at the Toronto Board of Trade -- won't go far enough to satisfy either. When fully implemented after a planned phase-in period, the scheme will deliver about $40-million a year to support public transit, small change in that game.

What Toronto actually needs, according to budget chief David Shiner, is $250-million a year. That projected budget shortfall is due almost entirely to the Tory-era withdrawal of former provincial funding for transit, housing, social services and public health, according to Mr. Shiner.

"Property taxpayers shouldn't be responsible for making up the shortfall," Mr. Shiner said. "It's now the responsibility of Dalton McGuinty to restore that funding." If not, "he'll be breaking his promises to the electorate right through Toronto, where the candidates have committed themselves over and over again to restoring the funding that was taken away by the Tory government."

Others are less restrained. They envisage massive new provincial investment in the city and its region, especially in transit. Not just what we had before, but everything we wanted but never got during the Harris years . . .

Some pledges will be easy to keep. To fund his promise to build 20,000 social-housing units in Toronto, all Mr. McGuinty need do is to appropriate $360-million in promised federal funds that Mr. Eves and his friends perversely refused to spend when they were offered. There is a similar purse of federal dollars for child care in Ontario.

But the Liberals are being coy about their approach to a proposed hotel tax that would require visitors to help bulk up the city's weakling tourism promotion budget. Although local hoteliers have all endorsed the plan, the Liberals, unwilling to mar their victory with the immediate announcement of a new tax, have failed to follow suit.

Suburban demands also threaten to diminish the financial relief Toronto expects. Part of Mr. McGuinty's platform is a new regional transportation authority, which will require enormous amounts of cash to build up the missing transit system in the 905 suburbs. And continuing resentment about 905 subsidies for city social services will be well represented within the Liberal cabinet.

But the festive executions at least will be fun. Toronto can say goodbye to the unfortunate Paul Christie, previously permanent czar of the Toronto school board, the inexplicable Gordon Chong of so many appointments, Al Leach and his fellow troglodytic provincial appointees on the police board, Dave Johnson at the Ontario Municipal Board, and on and on down the swollen ranks of Tory placeholders who have done so much to impede and undermine the progress of this city.

The only thing that might possibly save some of them now is a John Tory victory in the coming mayoral contest. But that is unlikely. And the more likely victory of Barbara Hall will require similar wholesale changes at the local level, potentially creating an entirely new basis of co-operation between the two governments.

Even more than money, that is what Toronto has needed most during its recent, extended darkness. And more than money, that -- a new age -- is what the city is preparing to vote for now.



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