Comment 15117

By Tom Cooper (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2007 at 10:06:45

I agree with many of the comments (and thanks Ben for highlighting the column - it was a good read). Couple of thoughts though:

We have to remember Harris' rationale for downloading - basically placing funding for human services onto the plates of municipal taxpayers. Ontario remains the only jurisdiction in North America that funds these types of social services from property taxes. It is a completely regressive system and leaves cities extremely vulnerable during periods of economic downturn. Despite federal cuts to provincial transfers in the 1990s - no other province followed that example.


Harris' reasons for imposing local service alignment (what we've come to know and loathe as 'downloading') never made any financial sense - but then again it wasn't supposed to. Saddling property taxpayers -especially in older, high needs cities- like Hamilton and Toronto with those costs was a political decision. I don't think anybody in that government expected the exercise to be revenue neutral, but Harris knew his support base lay in outlying GTA municipalities with lower social service costs than those of the inner cities. Taxpayers in Oakville, Mississauga, Durham, York saw a net benefit (even with GTA pooling) - voters in Toronto and Hamilton who weren't voting Conservative anyway, were hammered by downloading. Harris was able to impose massive provincial income tax cuts as a result -despite the fact that it was just a shell game, with residents of high needs cities having to pay a bigger share (through increased property taxes or decreased municipal services) in the end.

Another line of thought follows: the process of downloading social services/social housing/transit/ambulance services also allowed Harris to upload education costs off the residential tax base. Harris wanted to control the education purse strings so as to more directly control the local Boards of Education. We can all remember the strife that existed within the education system during those years.

While I agree that the feds certainly didn't help matters for cities in the 1990s - and they shouldn't be let off the hook (eliminating all new federal social housing starts was one example among many other things), but downloading social services to municipalities was unique to Ontario - another failed component of the Common Sense Revolution.

I also think putting too much emphasis on federal responsibility in this matter allows the province to claim their hands are tied. They're not. Let's not forget the province has a pretty significant budget surplus too. Downloading must be rectified and it is the province's responsibility.

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