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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

The Year Ahead: Let’s make 2016 the year of #payingforstuff at city hall

Two consecutive conservative leaders, faced with the fiscal reality in Toronto, turned to #payingforstuff as a solution.

This green stretch of Bellamy Rd., with backyards looking onto a four-lane thoroughfare, is part of a route being considered for the Scarborough subway.

Torstar News Service

This green stretch of Bellamy Rd., with backyards looking onto a four-lane thoroughfare, is part of a route being considered for the Scarborough subway.

Say it, and then say it louder.

Make up banners.

Put it on a t-shirt.

Hell, we should probably even hashtag the thing. Because everyone – and I mean everyone – has to get the message that 2016 at Toronto city hall needs to be the year of #payingforstuff.

It’s time for real talk on what it costs to run a big city.

I’ve been banging this drum for years, constantly urging the mayor and councillors to acknowledge that the improvements Toronto needs for transit, affordable housing and other city programs cannot be paid for through existing city revenues.

And though it’s been a simple message, it’s taken way too long for the wisdom of #payingforstuff to register in the minds of the people calling the shots.

But they’re out of excuses. Toronto has now seen two successive mayors get swept into office with tough talk about keeping property tax increases at or below inflation and eschewing new revenue tools. Paradoxically, both also promised to deliver expensive projects.

Both mayors failed.

First there was Rob Ford. He was fond of declaring that Toronto had a spending problem, not a revenue problem. He promised to deliver subways, subways, subways with no tax impact.

But after a couple of years shambling around city hall yelling about the cost of office supplies and commissioning reports on whether a private company would volunteer to pay for a subway extension, Ford eventually had to acknowledge the wisdom of #payingforstuff. He introduced a 1.6 per cent residential property tax increase to pay for the subways he wanted.

With Mayor John Tory it’s the same story. He said he’d find money for his campaign promises while keeping property taxes at or below inflation.

But after a year of searching for, I’d guess, a mystical monkey’s paw that can grant wishes, Tory too had to pay tribute to the reality of #payingforstuff. A few weeks back, he announced he’d ask council to approve a 2.5 per cent residential property tax increase to be phased in over five years.

The importance of this shouldn’t be underplayed. Two consecutive conservative leaders, faced with the fiscal reality in Toronto, turned to #payingforstuff as a solution.

It’s good news for Toronto. When politicians build strategies to get the money needed to pay for city projects, city projects actually get built.

But still, I fear there will be a major tendency for politicians to fall back into old habits – to embrace fantasy notions of funding anti-poverty strategies and parks improvement plans by reducing the number of paperclips used in city offices.

I won’t accept that kind of magical thinking in 2016. The mayor and councillors know the solution to a better city. It’s #payingforstuff. It always was. Spread the word.