Thursday, April 8, 2010

Looking Beyond the Next Ballot

When I was interviewed for an article in the Varsity a few weeks ago, one of the questions that came up - but which wasn't included in the final article - dealt with why I thought my being a science fiction writer was relevant to people following the municipal election. I answered then, and still think now, that the inherent forward-looking nature of that genre is something that's deeply necessary in politics. Just because so many politicians look no further than the next election, and sometimes not even then, doesn't mean that's a good way to run a government. Because it isn't.

Given the events of the last couple of years, I believe that a greater consideration of the future is of the utmost necessity. While I still think that transit will be one of the core issues, perhaps the core issue, in Toronto's 2010 election, it's becoming more and more clear that we can't run a city just by staggering from month to month, election to election. Neither can we pretend that foundations laid in the twentieth century remain sound today. We need to consider the future.

As cities go, Toronto is actually doing rather well - if not prospering, the government is able to at least stay afloat, while Cleveland is cutting its transit almost to the bone and Los Angeles is considering shuttering city functions for two days of the week to save money. Still, we're nowhere near solid ground. Very few people are, in this day and age. In particular, Toronto is hamstrung by provincial laws which dole out comparatively miniscule taxation privileges. While city- or county-level governments in, say, the United States freely levy sales taxes and hotel taxes, to pick two examples, the legal structure here leaves Toronto almost entirely dependent on two things in order to keep functioning - property taxes on one hand, and provincial goodwill on the other. Now that $4.5-billion of the province's once-assured Transit City funding has been cut (whoops, I mean "delayed"), it's become even more starkly evident that the city can't count on Queen's Park.

We need to look at ways to break this cycle of dependence. Sarah Thomson's proposal to levy tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway to finance transit expansion is the sort of thing we need to examine, to consider. We need to realize that with the new century we face new challenges, and that our old solutions can't solve them all today. We need to prepare for the next recession - there'll always be a next recession, and all we can hope for is that it's not quite as bad as this one - and to build resiliency into the system. With age comes fragility.

I don't know what the answers are. The possibilities are complex enough that it's too much for just one person to be able to see them. It's something that needs to be opened up, to be talked about widely, so that the foundations can be set down. Planning for the future must become a greater priority in City Council. For too long in this city, politicians have just let things slide because things were doing okay, and it seemed like they'd always do okay.

The problem is that at one point or another, the ground gets rough. We deserve better than to lurch from challenge to challenge, never able to look up.

1 comment:

  1. This last recession was a joke. It was bailed out by money that has yet to be earned. Nothing structural was fixed. The instigators got rewarded. This does not bode well. Much as we'd like to avoid the problem, the cost of oil is going to increase before it finally runs out. All our infrastructure is under threat. We need a plan!