Election Issue Watch: city services à la carte
David Soknacki seems determined to turn himself into the swiss army knife of 2014 mayoral candidates, with a policy tool for every one of Toronto’s political problems. On Friday, his campaign released a new discussion paper with a few more proposals, one of which seems bound to invite questions as the campaign progresses.
Soknacki is proposing what he refers to as “regional service agreements.” Essentially, the idea is this: rather than trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all service regime for the entire city of Toronto—where everybody gets more or less the same type of garbage collection, parks maintenance, and so on—why not let each of the city’s four major regions set its own service levels?
So, if city councillors who represent downtown Toronto decide that downtown parks need better maintenance, they’d be able to enter into a regional service agreement that would pay for more downtown parks employees by adding a small surcharge onto the property-tax bills of downtown residents. (Or, at any rate, that’s how the system would work in theory. Even Soknacki admits that the idea would require a lot of refinement before it could be made into law.)
The city already does this, albeit unofficially and unevenly. As things stand, everyone’s taxes, regardless of where in the city they live, pay for suburban sidewalks to be cleared by city snowplows, while downtown residents are for the most part left to fend for themselves with shovels. In the fall, the entire city pays for curbside leaf collection in parts of Etobicoke and Scarborough, while everyone else struggles to fit their yard waste into brown bags.
It’s not clear whether city councillors would even use these powers if they had them: raising taxes is always a tough sell, no matter how good the reason. Regardless of what happens with this idea, though, the mere fact that Soknacki proposed it says something about his campaign strategy. He’s going to be the underdog candidate who makes headlines by coming up with policy fixes that his better-known opponents wouldn’t think to champion. It seems to be working for him so far.
On a related note, Soknacki did a Reddit AMA this afternoon, and some of his answers to the crowdsourced questions there are actually very good. Take a look.