Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Elliott: Wynne isn’t coming with cash, so Tory should demand new city powers

Mayor Tory, shown here in this file photo, loves writing letters to the province, but it's maybe not the best strategy, says Matt Elliott.
Mayor Tory, shown here in this file photo, loves writing letters to the province, but it's maybe not the best strategy, says Matt Elliott.

When Mayor John Tory gets mad, he writes letters.

Lots and lots of letters. A maelstrom of mail. Last week, he delivered a missive to every Toronto MPP outlining the consequences should Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government not come forward with its share of the $2.6 billion needed to repair the city’s crumbling social housing stock.

Those consequences are dire. Each MPP’s letter highlighted the number of Toronto Community Housing units in their riding currently expected to close due to chronic disrepair. “In human terms,” the mayor writes, “more than 45,000 people are at risk of losing their homes” over the next five years.

Strong words. But it’s not yet clear those words will inspire much action.

But they did inspire a lot of frustration.

Scarborough MPP Lorenzo Berardinetti snapped back at the mayor’s letter almost immediately, calling it “disappointing and juvenile.”

Meanwhile, a similarly miffed Etobicoke MPP Peter Milczyn did what we all do when we’re mad: he made a PowerPoint presentation. Reporters on Friday were treated to a Milczyn-led media briefing with slides chronicling past and current provincial investments in Toronto transit and housing.

The message was obvious: the Ontario Liberals believe they have been a good partner for Tory and Toronto, and would really appreciate it if the mayor would shut up.

It’s not clear what happens next. Tory could continue to escalate this war of words, but what’s the end game?

After all this, Wynne and her party aren’t likely to suddenly change their minds and commit to the billions Toronto needs.

And the opposition party at Queen’s Park doesn’t offer a lot of hope either. The Progressive Conservatives, focused on balanced budgets and low taxes, seem unlikely to commit to big spending in Toronto.

Tory could opt to become a bigtime NDP booster – they’re most likely to fund Toronto’s needs – but orange isn’t exactly Tory’s colour, and leader Andrea Horwath is a longshot to become the next premier anyway.

With no realistic outcome in sight, maybe it’s time the mayor shifted strategies. Stop asking for cash and start asking for something different: power.

Instead of looking to the province to solve Toronto problems, propose a new deal for the city: sweeping reforms to the City of Toronto Act that bring Toronto’s ability to raise revenue in line with other major cities across the world.

The reform package should be broad and include allowance for a whole range of possible revenue-boosting measures – sales taxes, income taxes, car taxes, and, hell, maybe a tax on raccoons. The debate should not be about the merits of specific taxes, but rather about whether it’s fair for Queen’s Park to withhold these powers – powers long ago granted to cities like Chicago and New York — from a municipal government representing nearly three million people.

For Tory, demanding new responsibilities instead of new money will play better with the public – no one likes a government beggar – and could potentially win support from all three major provincial parties. Most importantly, new revenue powers offer a path forward for the city that isn’t beholden to the whims of Queen’s Park. One where Toronto can chart its own destiny.

Imagine it: a future where Toronto mayors can do more than write angry letters. A future where they can get things done.

This post was originally published at on 2017-06-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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