Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

John Tory's first budget: Does he really know how hard the hard way is?

By: Metro Published on Mon Mar 16 2015

Presenting his first municipal budget to Toronto city council last week, Mayor John Tory made it clear that, for him, there’s only one path worth taking — the hard one.

“It’s the easy way out to say let’s just have three or four per cent put onto property taxes,” he explained, arguing that he and most of council were elected by people who didn’t vote for tax increases.

“I know they didn’t send me here — and I don’t think they sent any of us here — to take the easy way out.”

But his tough talk only left me wondering: Does Tory, still a newbie to city hall, really understand just how hard the hard way is?

Because this path he’s chosen is dark and full of terrors.

Even after factoring in an inflationary property tax increase and yet another TTC fare hike, Toronto is staring down a $305-million budget hole in 2016. Then another $276 million in 2017.

Meanwhile, there’s a giant list of bills coming due.

The repair backlog for major and local roads will increase to more than $1 billion combined by 2024.

Toronto is on the hook for the cost overruns on the Spadina subway extension — reported at about $400 million. And that’s on top of a long list of over-budget projects.

And there remains no plan to make the TTC completely accessible by the 2025 provincial deadline.

But even after inheriting this heap of challenges, Tory has so far only added more to the pile.

He’s pledged to deliver his SmartTrack transit plan, requiring at least $2.7 billion from city coffers. And, in the wake of provincial cutbacks to affordable housing, he endorsed a complicated plan that’ll see the city take a loan from itself — a loan that needs to be paid back with interest.

You could argue that Tory’s tough talk on holding the line on taxes makes for good politics. This kind of anti-tax rhetoric plays well with voters. But Tory had another politically savvy choice.

He could have used his first budget as a chance to solve at least some of these problems, pushing through a larger property tax increase. An extra five bucks a month from every household would have gone a long way.

By way of explanation, he could have blamed predecessor Rob Ford and the provincial government for creating such a fiscal mess. He wouldn’t have been wrong to do so.

Even if Tory’s popularity dropped, he’d still have three years to fix that — all while facing future budgets that’d be far less daunting.

That’s what I would have done if I were in Tory’s shoes, but the mayor chose a different path — a perilous one.

Let’s hope he understands what’s coming.

This post was originally published at on 2015-03-16T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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