Sunday, August 17, 2008

City Hall needs to park the frills and do its job

Toronto needs a new perspective. Those priorities that our current leadership takes for granted -- expensive environmental and arts programs, massive public works projects, the dream of a car-free city -- ought to be set aside in favour of more practical, helpful initiatives.

Prosaic as it may seem, the city's job is to clear your snow and trash, keep parks and streets usable and safe, and spend your tax dollars as efficiently as possible. Once these rudiments have been mastered, perhaps there will be time to discuss saving the planet but, given the state of Toronto today, city councillors can keep their capes in storage for a while yet.

It is not the job of city government to make you a better person by coaxing you from your car or diverting your tax dollars to mime troupes. If you want to make the world a greener place or support local theatre, those are worthy things. But those are individual choices, and city government ought to make it as easy as possible for you to act upon them.

The new perspective Toronto needs will recognize what is important -- that is, the basics -- and incorporate the political will to make it happen.

Toronto's citizens should not have to spend one second worrying that trash won't be picked up or transit will stop working because of labour unrest or spending cuts. Moreover, Torontonians should be able to walk along any stretch of, say, Bloor or Dundas at any hour of the day without being surrounded by litter and accosted by panhandlers. We need to be able to move about safely, and at will.

Basic as the need for movement may seem, City Council's current attitude toward transportation proves the adage that, "Socialists love mankind in groups of a million or more." To every problem, from gridlock to pollution, they present some mass solution, relying on public transit and funding and eliminating the element of personal choice.

But the way an economy or a city works is by millions of people making different choices. From the perspective of transportation, that means people need to go in different directions at different times, for millions of different reasons. To suppose that citizens of Canada's largest metropolis can be moved about solely by mass transit is to defy economic reality. Toronto needs to be an easy city in which to get around, however a person chooses to do so. That is, by bicycle, public transit or, saints protect us, by automobile.

Like most governments, Toronto's fiscal woes have nothing to do with revenue. The city takes in plenty of money. The problem is how it is spent.

Take trash collection, for just one example. We ought to be able to offer this contract to union and non-union suppliers alike and, if a non-union shop offers the best deal, we should not have to pay them inflated, union rates as the city's so-called "Fair Wage Policy" dictates. The city answers to taxpayers, not union leaders.

Once again, this is basic stuff.

Not one penny should go to politicians' pet projects until all children in Toronto, regardless of ability or economic status, have places to play, all four seasons of the year. I don't want to hear one word about recycling bins so long as there is a single kid in this city who does not have a place where he can go and have some fun.

Safe, clean streets, places to play, and a healthy respect for your employers' pocketbooks -- this is the stuff of a marvellous city.

Hang the rest until you get the rudiments right.

The politician who embraces this vision will make no friends among Toronto's labour leaders or political elites, and he may have to push past a protest placard or two. But so be it.

The basics are important, and Toronto needs a leader who believes in them.