Will suburbs squeeze city’s benefits from election?

John Sewell-

The sound of lips smacking with anticipated joy has seemed to occupy much of the city hall agenda since October 19. For city politicians there’s a luscious aspect to the victory of Justin Trudeau and Liberal Party, with promises of wheelbarrows full of money coming down from Ottawa.john1

Trudeau, after all, has promised an urban agenda and well as strong affordable housing policies. Both represent the real money that Stephen Harper had refused to supply to cities. Admittedly, that urban agenda has not been publically released, but only been hinted at by Trudeau and Adam Vaughan, the man who apparently has the ear of the Prime Minister designate on these things. But hope springs eternal, and surely a good urban agenda means the feds will quickly pass over the cash. I suspect the world may not be as rosy as many councillors wish. Let’s start with housing.

One thing the federal government needs to do is to renew the mortgages provided to non-profit and non-profit co-operative housing companies 35 and 40 years ago. Those mortgages have expired—or are about to—and those social housing providers need a good portion of those old mortgages to be renewed in order to stay in business.

It will be excellent if the new federal government provides stability to these important sources of affordable housing, most of which are located in the megacity’s central area, the former City of Toronto. That money will go directly to the housing providers and won’t be under the control or influence of any members of city council.

The federal government might also establish a program to create new affordable housing, which is greatly needed. Almost 100,000 households are on the waiting list for an affordable unit in Toronto.

But which members of city council will be willing to come forward as champions of this new affordable housing in their ward?

Probably only those in the central city where in the 1970s and 1980s Toronto City Council was supporting and building those units in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke. Councillors do not have a reputation of standing up for affordable housing, yet that’s where the land for new projects is most available. Maybe this is one part of a Liberal Party urban agenda that city council won’t be much interested in.

Then there’s the infrastructure program, with $60 billion promised over ten years, to be split equally between transit, social projects, and green energy initiatives. The Harper government devised programs which never met the needs of the big cities where it had few supporters, instead setting requirements which were better met by small towns and rural areas. There’s good reason to believe that a better program would not exclude cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

But those new infrastructure programs will be predicated on partnership between the feds, the provinces, and municipalities, to establish and fund the projects in question. Probably local governments will have to put up a portion of the funds: it won’t be free money. The city won’t be getting a free ride.

I like the idea that there is a 10 years’ commitment to funds, that governments should pay their own way, and I don’t object to the concept of partnership. There is too much begging at the local level. I want the local guys to put up their own money to pay part of the desired result, whether it its transit, recreation, housing, or a cultural facility. That will be a requirement of the partnership in the new infrastructure program, but it is sure to make many members of Toronto City Council uneasy since they dislike raising tax money to pay for their schemes.

I’m delighted the new government will declare that jets will not be permitted on the Island Airport. Congratulations to the large group of people who have spent so much time energy fighting that issue. I’m delighted the government will think of more support for cultural activities including the touring of Canadian artists – that’s a direct benefit to many in Toronto’s scene.

But as for city councillors getting money from this government to spend as they want, I suspect that won’t come to pass.

John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto. His recent book is How We Changed Toronto, 1969 – 1980.

Nov 2015