By Ben Bull
Published December 03, 2007
Good column in the Toronto Star today about Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's ongoing bout of flatulence.
In case anyone has forgotten, Flaherty, who has recently resorted to mocking Ontario's municipalities over their cash crisis, was part of the Mike Harris government that re-jigged the Provincial/Municipal downloaded equation ten years ago.
As Carol Goar notes:
Either Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has a very short memory or he thinks Ontarians do.
A decade ago, he was a senior minister in the Ontario government that imposed a massive restructuring plan on the province's cities. It forced municipalities to assume half the cost of welfare, disability payments and an array of social services. It downloaded the province's aging stock of public housing on local governments, with a one-time repair grant. And it cut off funding for child care and public transit.
The consequences? We know them too well:
In the late 1990s, municipalities started experiencing chronic budgetary woes. They delayed sewer, water and road maintenance to pay for basic services. Some raised property taxes, others drained their contingency reserves. Traffic congestion worsened, the homeless population swelled and the province's urban infrastructure deteriorated.
And what is Flaherty doing about it?
Flaherty, who now controls Ottawa's purse strings, accuses municipal leaders of profligacy. He lectures them about expenditure management. He mocks them for whining, sulking and being grumpy.
In other words - nothing.
Some RTH posters have suggested that the Feds are right to stay out of this debate. Municipalities make their own messes, they claim. Let them straighten it out themselves. To this Goar points out, "all the savings that sharp-pencilled municipal accountants can find won't put cities on a sound financial footing."
All the programs that penny-pinching councillors can cancel, from street festivals to tree planting, won't make up for the costly obligations that Harris downloaded on them.
Two things are clear to me on this subject:
Something has to change in the current funding formula equation, and
It's going to take all three levels of governments to do it.
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