Mayor John Tory stands firm on low taxes in the face of massive budget shortfall, declining city services, and growing public-sector employment.
Last week, I sat down for a lengthy conversation with Tory, who was being interviewed on the weekend by the CBC. As the interviewer was wrapping up, he asked the mayor a question: “But what about the cost of your own services?”
Tory stared at his cell phone. “I’ve got to get back to that,” he said.
In the intervening months, Tory’s office had to deal with many crises, ranging from the city’s growing debt to the public perception of the city. As he faced the next challenge, he responded by reiterating the city’s fundamental belief in the importance of city governments remaining sustainable and fiscally responsible. But Tory knows that such a position will not play well for many voters, particularly those who have felt the squeeze in recent years.
Tory’s answer to the CBC anchor is not, however, a complete break from his past. The mayor has always maintained that the only way to address the city’s staggering debt is to find new ways to raise revenue. In fact, his own staff has spent the past two years developing a new tax to help pay for the water treatment plant.
Still, what has been striking about Tory’s answer to the CBC anchor is how directly it mirrors what he said in the summer, as Ontario’s new government moved to layoff thousands of public service workers (it was later cancelled).
“We need to get people back to work, to provide vital services that are essential to our daily lives and to protect the tax base. That requires a public sector that is efficient, responsible and sustainable,” Tory said.
“Those are the only ways to deal with our debt. To be fiscally responsible means not borrowing money. You have to have a balance between what you have and what you can afford.”
“That’s why we’re saying no to all the tax increases that the current government has proposed. The goal of the council and the mayor is to preserve the tax base.”
He then spoke directly about the city’s debt, which is now over $10 billion, or three times what was incurred when city council adopted a half-a-cent tax on each bottle of ice cream and soft drink sold within Toronto.
“It’s hard to believe anything the mayor says as he