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Nabi: What Does Ontario’s Election Mean for our Cities?

September 6, 2011

With the release of the Liberals’ platform on Monday, the election race in Ontario has finally begun in earnest. The latest polling shows a tightening between all parties, with the NDP and Greens enjoying a boost of support. The Tories, meanwhile, are trying to wrestle the centre away from the Liberals. It’s certainly shaping up to be a close contest, and with only 8 per cent of respondents undecided, the parties have their work cut out for them to win votes.

That said, the most important issues in this election will be about more than education, healthcare, and HST. Many of the public services that Ontarians use every day are provided by municipal governments. So what will this election mean for Ontario’s cities?

The capacity of municipalities to provide services and balance their books is largely dependent on policies set by the province. After all, municipal governments don’t actually have any recognized status in the Canadian constitution. Municipalities exist only at the discretion of the provincial government, as we saw in 1998 when under Mike Harris, Toronto’s boundaries were expanded to absorb its surrounding suburbs.  

Municipal services have recently become a hot-button issue, with hundreds descending upon Toronto City Hall to protest service cuts by the Rob Ford administration. The irony is that cities actually have very few tools to gather revenue, so even without Rob Ford-style leaders, the result of October’s election could spell doom for city-run services such as affordable housing, waste management, nursing homes, and public transit.

The transportation and public works infrastructure that keeps our economy going is largely owned and maintained my municipalities. But transfers from the province are necessary to keep those operations in the black.

That’s why one of the key demands of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has been the elimination of downloading – the transfer of responsibility for provincial programs to municipalities. The government’s policies on downloading and uploading will essentially dictate municipal budgets for the next four years, so you can see why it’s important for voters to make the connection between provincial policies and municipal services.

According to AMO, Ontario has the highest municipal property tax rate in Canada. But even with this high tax rate, municipalities can’t afford the services they provide, plain and simple. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the expansion of public transit.  Toronto, York Region, Mississauga, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo are all moving forward with new rapid transit projects that will be impossible to fund from the municipal tax base alone. Provincial investment is needed to make that happen, and each party wants to approach it in a slightly different way.

The Liberals and Greens will set aside gas tax revenues to fund transit projects. The PC Party will do the same, but allow those funds to be used for road expansions as well. The NDP is proposing instead to subsidize the ongoing operating costs for transit.

The provincial government may not be the public face of the services we use every day, but it certainly works behind the scenes, making or breaking municipal programs with its funding decisions. When you vote on October 6th, remember that this is not just a provincial election. In many ways, it is also a municipal one.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 22, 2011 6:08 pm

    can you leave a eisier message for kids pls……. im begging u

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