It’s not up to city to alleviate poverty

Posted on February 9, 2016 in Social Security Debates – Opinion/Reader’s Letters – Re: City council must fund promise to reduce poverty, Opinion Feb. 6
Feb 08 2016.   Richard Cassel

I must disagree with Saturday’s guest editorial. The mistake that the writers made was that Toronto, or any municipality, has the mandate or ability to measure and tax incomes and redistribute money to relieve poverty. Don’t misunderstand me; I would like to see broader, better funded, more evenly distributed anti-poverty measures. I just don’t see any city in that business. Welfare is solely the responsibility of both upper level governments.

The executives from Maytree who wrote the article have their hearts in the right place but totally misunderstand “who does what” in Canada. The Star’s editors should have caught this. Certainly they should insist that Queen’s Park and Ottawa live up to their social obligations, but don’t drag Toronto into territory that it is not mandated to do and cannot possibly fund. A third player at the table will just worsen already inefficient systems.

Canada’s Constitution clearly spells out the responsibilities of the provinces and those of Ottawa. Typical federal duties include borders, immigration, defence and international relations. The provinces control health, housing, education and transportation. Personal and corporate incomes are taxed and split between each province and Ottawa with some very complicated formulas. Combined, for better or worse, these governments are mandated to ease poverty and have the only tools to redistribute income.

Toronto and every other city or town across our country was created by its province in order to provide local services such as roads, sewers, garbage pickup and any other frills that residents were prepared to fund, such as public transportation, parks and libraries. In theory, the charge for these “services” should be a user fee, like your water bill. Other municipal costs are funded with licence fees, levies and property taxes.

There have been council motions over the years that support nuclear disarmament, the end of wars, pure air and water, and now comprehensive poverty reduction. We are all glad to know that our councillors’ hearts are in the right place. That should not be taken as a promise to duplicate any other government’s responsibilities. Let each level of government focus on its own complicated duties. Duplication or triplication will only be slower and costlier in the long run.

Richard Cassel, Toronto

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