And why the rest of Canada should resist the temptation to cheer
BY JOHN LORINC
THE CITY OF TORONTO is stumbling toward the end of 2011 mired in a deep civic funk. Mayor Rob Ford, a renegade small-c conservative from the suburban ward of Etobicoke North, bulldozed his way to victory a year ago on a simplistic pledge to slash municipal waste. His mantra: “Stop the gravy train.” While he has yet to identify instances of reckless spending, he has ordered city officials to extract almost $800 million from Toronto’s $9-billion operating budget, the sixth-largest public purse in Canada. This punishing and potentially ruinous process may entail shuttering libraries, firing police officers, and scaling back everything from snow removal to grass cutting to transit. Municipal services — such as public housing, environmental advocacy, and even zoos — that don’t conform to the mayor’s narrow vision of local government may be eliminated, privatized, or significantly reduced.
Toronto’s woes, however, go well beyond the mayor’s fiscal populism. The Greater Toronto Area — a 7,100-square-kilometre expanse of 5.5 million residents who live in a band of municipalities extending from Burlington to Oshawa to Newmarket — finds itself increasingly crippled by some of North America’s nastiest gridlock, congestion so bad it costs the region at least $6 billion a year in lost productivity. Sprawl, gridlock’s malign twin, continues virtually unchecked, consuming farmland, stressing commuters, and ratcheting up the cost of municipal services. Without reliable funding, transit agencies can barely afford to modernize, much less expand, straining the GTA’s roads and highways to the bursting point.