The bureaucratic shield
The city needs new sources of revenue. What do councillors do? They request a study from city staff, who oblige with a series of reports laying out the options. Then what do councillors do? They schedule four public consultations, which they do not attend —sending the bureaucrats out to face the wrath. Toronto Chief Financial Officer Joe Pennachetti had a difficult time maintaining order in the room. From my observations, this is how city hall operates: elected officials have an idea, then they get city staff to do all the heavy lifting, even with the public.
To be fair: judging from the reports, yesterday’s consultation was hijacked by defeated right-wing candidates and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. So kudos to Budget Chief Shelley Carroll (Ward 33 – Don Valley East) for having the courage to throw herself into the mix. Mayor David Miller plans to attend one of the three remaining meetings. But the entire process is wrapped up in the pretense that the proposed new taxes—ranging from levies on booze, cigarettes, entertainment and motor vehicles to land-transfer taxes and road tolls—are a bureaucratic initiative, not a political one.
Miller’s administration has been hiding from this issue for more than a year now. The City of Toronto Act, which gave the city its new taxation powers, came into effect on January 1 of this year, but the legislation was passed in the spring of 2006, and they knew well before that which taxation powers they would receive. Given that the city is now perilously close to bankruptcy, we probably should have had this discussion at around this time last year, and the new taxes should already be in effect. Except that last year was an election year, and no one wants to talk about taxes during a campaign.
But I digress. The first issue at stake here is: what is a city councillor’s job? Politicians requested the report, so it ought to be their job to present that report to the public. If they want Pennachetti in the room to help explain the details, fine—but he shouldn’t have to run the meeting. The second issue at stake here is: how politicized is the city’s public service? That’s a bigger question I’m not prepared to answer. Not yet, anyway.