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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.

Why is our boom town such a bust? Matt Elliott wants to know

For answers, look to leadership. These days, Mayor John Tory and Premier Kathleen Wynne are engaged in a war of words over funding for transit and housing.

After decades of pushing the badly-needed relief line subway down the TTC’s list of priorities, the Line 1 subway is overloaded each and every weekday – creating intolerable conditions for transit riders, writes Matt Elliott.

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After decades of pushing the badly-needed relief line subway down the TTC’s list of priorities, the Line 1 subway is overloaded each and every weekday – creating intolerable conditions for transit riders, writes Matt Elliott.

Decades from now, when historians look back at this time in Toronto’s history, they’re going to be so confused.

“So,” they’ll ask, “in 2017 Toronto was experiencing its greatest period of prosperity – a growing population, a ridiculously hot housing market and an economy helping to push provincial growth to levels outpacing all G7 countries?”

Yep, all true.

They’ll continue. “Okay, but during this boom time, publicly-owned housing units were left to crumble, the transit system saw only meagre bits of expansion, and critical programs supporting the city’s most vulnerable were chronically starved for cash? How does that work?”

I wish I had a good explanation.

But poverty in the time of prosperity is Toronto’s continued reality. Last week, the city’s budget committee approved a plan that will call for yet another year of austerity in 2018. “Projected revenues, while higher, will not be sufficient to cover growing expenditures,” writes City Manager Peter Wallace. He’s recommending city hall plan for a total freeze on department spending.

The hits don’t stop there. Wallace also reports that the city has reached its debt capacity, meaning there is no room for new spending on major public works projects. Unless Toronto City Council adjusts its debt limit or finds new revenue sources, the city is tapped out.

All this would be tolerable if anyone could think the city’s status quo with projects and programs is fine, but that’s an impossible story to tell.

Absent new funding for repairs, Toronto Community Housing units will continue to close due to disrepair. After decades of pushing the badly-needed relief line subway down the TTC’s list of priorities, the Line 1 subway is overloaded each and every weekday – creating intolerable conditions for transit riders.

And with an operating budget freeze, huge parts of the city’s shelter system will continue to operate at or above capacity. Critical programs tied to the city’s TransformTO climate change program will remain unfunded. And Toronto is likely to keep its embarrassing title as the child poverty capital of Canada.

How does this happen in a city where people are routinely paying a million dollars for shacks and hovels — a city that has raised more than $3 billion through real estate taxes since 2009? How does it happen in a province that’s touting its balanced budget and economic strength?

For answers, look to leadership. These days, Mayor John Tory and Premier Kathleen Wynne are engaged in a war of words over funding for transit and housing. Instead of worrying about tax rates and political calculus, both would be better served to think about the bigger picture — about those future historians who will, if nothing changes, look back at this time in history with complete and utter confusion.

Both Wynne and Tory should remember that getting something built is a far better political legacy than winning an argument.

And for the rest of us, let’s keep in mind that both Wynne and Tory will be up for re-election next year. When the campaigns start, instead of getting caught up in the small stories about scandals and personalities that can dominate election season, let’s ask the big questions. Start with this one: Mayor Tory, Premier Wynne, why is our boom town such a bust?

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