Why Mayor Rob Ford’s gravy train has hit a dead end
TheStar.com – news/Queen’s Park – This dispute isn’t about transfer payments, it’s about anger transference.
Jun 25 2013. By: Martin Regg Cohn Provincial Politics
All aboard for the Gravy Train!
Destination: Queen’s Park.
The Gravy Train made an unscheduled stop with an unexpected passenger aboard late Monday: Mayor Rob Ford on a last-minute milk run.
Outside the treasury building, a small crowd gathered to watch Ford debarking, barking, braying, baying and bullying. Showing up for a showdown with Finance Minister Charles Sousa, he bellowed his latest demand.
Pass the gravy!
What better way to change the channel — and channel your anger — while you’re being besieged by the media for alleged substance abuse? Time to rally Ford Nation against grave abuses by Queen’s Park, which is supposedly shortchanging the city on gravy.
It’s a Ford fantasy. As much as the mayor revels in the role of taxfighter, his latest campaign to maintain transfer payments from another level of government won’t rouse Torontonians to the barricades.
Taxpayers don’t care how rival governments divvy the gravy among themselves: Anti-Ontario tirades never helped Ford’s predecessor, David Miller, at budget time. Nor have anti-Ottawa crusades ever helped Ontario secure higher transfer payments from Ford’s family friend, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
Inter-governmental transfers are too down in the weeds for any upright citizen to track. Bottom line, this isn’t about transfer payments, it’s anger transference.
“It’s disgusting,” Ford raged after Monday’s meeting with Sousa. “I’m furious.”
Ever the victim, he described himself, heroically, in the third person.
“They found out that Mayor Ford can turn this city around, but obviously these people can’t, and I’m getting punished for it.”
Never mind the numbers, this is a political play by Ford. He is now holding social programs hostage to his grandstanding — vowing to slash vital housing and hostel services unless the province hands over cash, because the mayor won’t back down from his own plan to cut his own taxes.
Once upon a government, when the Mike Harris Tories downloaded social services upon Toronto (with Rob Ford’s father, Douglas, serving faithfully as a backbench MPP), the cash-strapped city got temporary compensation. After 2003, when the Dalton McGuinty Liberals started uploading those services back, it was always understood the financial transfers weren’t forever.
Now that Toronto is coming out ahead financially, it’s time to wind down the compensation, Sousa says. Not so, counters Ford, who wants the gravy to keep flowing.
The mayor is being a predictably apoplectic hypocrite: He knows that today’s Tory opposition — the very party his father Douglas once served, and that his big brother Doug (now a councillor) aspires to join in the next provincial election — would cease uploading municipal services, burdening Toronto’s finances far more.
Yet Ford persists with his posturing, demanding an extra helping of gravy because he is addicted to the substance. It allows him to live in a hallucinatory world where he can cut local taxes and then demand, with a straight face, that Queen’s Park make up the difference.
You may have seen this movie before. You may even have read this column before. Two years ago, Ford asked McGuinty for an extra $365 million to cover TTC costs, after first promising to cut the vehicle registration fee and the land transfer tax.
Toronto won additional taxing powers in 2006 precisely so that it wouldn’t remain a dependency of the province. Instead, Ford gave up hundreds of millions in revenues with his misguided tax cuts and a property tax freeze upon winning power.
Now the taxfighter has discovered that cutting taxes comes at a price. Tempting as it is for a populist politician like Ford to pass the buck — by giving money back to taxpayers — it’s tougher to persuade another level of government to do the dirty work of raising tax revenue on his behalf.
At the end of the day there is only one taxpayer bankrolling both levels of government, as Ford and Sousa know well enough. Playing a shell game won’t fool anyone — not Ford Nation, and not the 6.6 million taxpayers of Ontario.
They all know there is no such thing as a free ride on the Gravy Train. If Ford won’t pay his own way — by maintaining his own tax base — he’ll soon discover the milk run to Queen’s Park is a dead end.
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