In Ontario, we just went through the annual headache that was the Dueling Budgets.
Conservatives and Liberals at federal and provincial levels did their best to paint the other guys as spending-crazy or savings-obsessed despite the fact that both governments went all in on infrastructure spending while selling off assets for quick cash injections.
While a coma-inducing debate over the relative merits of a TFSA vs. an ORPP is all very well, Ontario’s municipalities are quietly wasting scads of tax revenue, signing sweetheart deals, and generally conducting themselves as you would expect small-ball politicians with next-to-zero oversight would.
They get away with it, mostly because nobody’s paying attention. And while I’m unfamiliar with the inner workings of city councils across our great nation, I would hazard a guess that things aren’t too different in your neighbourhood.
For now though, let’s rehash some of the latest embarrassments at the ward level in the GTA:
- - York Region taxpayers are on the hook to the tune of $92M for cost overruns for a subway extension from Toronto to Vaughan.
- - In Markham, citizens got stuck with a check for $726K after the mayor tried and failed to bring an NHL-style arena to the city.
- - In Vaughan, longtime city councilor and ex-mayor Michael Di Biase did an end-run around public tendering processes and harassed staff into giving a construction company first dibs on jobs that included building the Di Biase family cottage.
This is the stuff we’re hearing about. There could be much worse hiding below the surface.
Most people don’t know that Toronto City Council, for all its faults, is one of the few places where:
- - complaints about city councillors’ behaviour can be referred to an Integrity Commissioner
- - a City Ombudsman oversees those shadowy municipal boards and agencies that have a bad habit of wasting money, and
- - a lobbyist registry acts as a check on the influence of developers and others who may be angling for deals.
It’s not perfect - it can’t stop former Deputy Mayor of Toronto Norm Kelly from bending the rules to expense 39 steakhouse dinners to taxpayers, for example - but it’s a lot better than these other out-of-the way ‘burby councils, where you’re lucky to have one of these three controls if any.
And there may be reasons to hope for more transparency and ethics in municipal governance.
Now that Mr. Ford has departed the Mayor’s chair, Toronto journalists are experiencing a lethal combination of boredom, mockery from other cities, and, most importantly, less people buying their product.
As a result, there’s been increased focus on getting their own back by lifting up the rocks that these councils operate under.
The development of multi-partisan Taxpayer Coalitions in cities across Canada is another important step in fighting waste at the municipal level. Such groups already exist in Toronto and York Region, and attempts to start chapters in Hamilton and Southwestern Ontario have been made. The biggest obstacle here, however, is the internecine squabbling between the various scattered waste-fighting factions that may include those outside the conservative fold.
For the moment, though, the opposition to gravy trains at your friendly neighbourhood city council will have to come from Viewers Like You, and, hopefully, sympathetic news outlets like The Rebel.
After all, taking down money-wasting city councilors or Mayors may not be the same thing as bagging Justin Trudeau or Kathleen Wynne, but it is a whole lot easier.
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