Consensus is forming about the city’s priorities, writes Edward Keenan. Now we need to act — including arranging to pay.
By: Edward Keenan Columnist, Published on Thu Feb 18 2016
So, over the past year — and the past few months in particular — we’ve developed a real world-class To-Do list in this city. Anti-poverty strategy approved by council. Fantasy transit map put forward by planners. Affordable housing task force report in. New task force on reining in the police budget commissioned. Next year, the mayor says, we’ll have a serious conversation about raising revenue to deal with the unsustainability of the municipal budget. Impeccable strategies, mostly. Super plans. Top notch to-do list.
Game recognize game: I am, personally, a champion to-do list maker. I could show you a list of renovations and redecorations to be done on the house I bought five years ago that would break your heart, so complete and clear is that list; just reading it, step by spelled-out step, you can see the work as if it’s already done. It is hanging on my fridge, where I stuck it four and a half years ago, the last time I crossed an item off it. And there’s the catch. As a list-maker, I appreciate a good plan to get things done, but I also understand too well that there’s a point where making a list stops being preparation and becomes procrastination. I’m wary that, as a city, we are approaching that point. I’m not saying we’re there. But I think this is about the last budget cycle under Mayor John Tory where we can talk about the great things we’re going to do without really getting into paying for them and taking steps to make them happen.
Just to be clear, I’m not being sarcastic about our to-do list being good. The transit network currently being discussed — featuring not just LRT lines and the Scarborough subway extension and SmartTrack but also express bus lines in the north end of the city and a relief subway line — is genuinely inspiring, even if it’s not perfect. The plan to focus on service to affordable housing tenants, drastically overhaul management of the city’s housing agency and build more subsidized units is overdue and appears generally sound. The anti-poverty strategy approved unanimously by council (though not funded) is an excellent statement of principles. And so on. Police reform and revenue decisions are necessary, even if the promises to discuss them tomorrow, tomorrow (I love you, tomorrow! You’re always a day away!) are starting to sound a lot like kicking the can down the road.
They are good plans, is what I am saying. And it’s what I mean. And let’s acknowledge that we have made some real (not just planned) progress in the past couple of years: improvements to bus service; shelter provisions; a proposed property-tax levy for capital projects.
It appears, finally, that the era of pretending there are billions of dollars to be found under city council’s couch cushions is mostly over, notwithstanding a largely symbolic ban on buying new pencils and attending conventions. And it appears we have entered an era where the mayor and city council acknowledge the city needs to invest in itself. It even appears that city council has begun to reach something like consensus on what that investment should look like, hence that to-do list, articulating the city-building and city-managing goals.
But now that we’ve got that list, it’s time to make it real. We have a mayor who ran in an election promising to break polarized ideological gridlock and get things done. We have a premier who ran on a promise to spend $130 billion on infrastructure. We have a prime minister who was elected on a promise to double infrastructure spending in the next decade to $125 billion, including a banner promise to invest in cities and “social infrastructure” such as affordable housing.
We have those cheques written on the campaign trail by our elected officials at all three levels of government. We have this excellent to-do list, a perfect opportunity to cash those cheques. Now we get to see if any of them are worth a damn. If they’re not ready to deliver the goods very soon, they likely never will.
The mayor has one more budget cycle before he needs to prepare for re-election. The provincial government will be back in front of the electorate at about the same time. The federal government promised money for shovel-ready projects right away.
If our governments plan to deliver on the promises they made to us, the time to stop building the to-do list and start making it a done list is now.
Edward Keenan writes on city issues email@example.com . Follow: @thekeenanwire