An interesting little charade was taking place yesterday in Weston. The Mayor and Councillor Nunziata were here to extol the virtues of keeping property taxes low. Never mind that Toronto’s budget is facing a $516 million shortfall next year and that Council has a backlog of $33 billion in capital projects with possibly $11 billion still to be added for transportation. Never mind that in our city, the average detached home owner occupies a $1.66 million home.
To support the Mayor and Councillor’s viewpoint, a press conference was arranged in front of Weston resident Dave Bennett’s lovely home where Dave was quoted as saying that his property tax bill is ‘one of the biggest bills he gets’. Tory chimed in to state that property taxes were good for things like services but shouldn’t go towards capital expenditures (presumably like his completely useless $3 billion one-stop subway in Scarborough that we’re already paying for via a 0.5% property tax levy).
This is the mayor, aided and abetted by our own councillor who would rather cut city services across the board by 2.6% than impose a meaningful property tax increase. When services are cut, it’s the poor who suffer the most. TTC cuts, library cuts, parks cuts, police cuts, social program cuts and public housing budget cuts affect the poor disproportionally. Also look for user fees to be increased in the new year. In the meantime, those of us who own a home, from the most humble of condos in Rexdale to palatial mansions in Rosedale are spared an above-inflation increase in the lowest property taxes in the Province. Coming soon, (and this apparently is a good thing) tolls will be imposed on drivers using the Don Valley and Gardiner routes into town but instead of boosting the TTC budget in anticipation of higher passenger loads, a 2.6% budget reduction will ensure that fares are higher, routes are cut and buses and subways are crowded and even more uncomfortable.
Interestingly, York South Weston’s Ward 11 residents paid only $35 million in property tax last year compared to Toronto Centre-Rosedale whose residents paid $151 million. Most of Weston’s residents would dearly love to be in the fortunate position of directly paying property taxes* and contributing to the City’s budget but unfortunately they can’t afford to buy a home. User fees and transit costs will rise and programs designed to help people better themselves and eventually move onto the property ladder are being gutted by this idiotic strategy.
All this so that John Tory can say he didn’t raise property taxes above inflation and be re-elected in 2018.
Here’s an article and video of yesterday’s event from CP24.
*A whole other article; renters indirectly pay triple the rate that homeowners pay.
The late Rob Ford always chafed at the number of councillors at City Hall and thought it was an unmanageable (and expensive) number. He thought that Toronto should have the same number of councillors as federal ridings; i.e. one councillor per riding instead of the current two. From what I gather, the current number of councillors (44) may actually be increasing slightly as a result of population increases and needed boundary changes. By way of context, between the baseline year of 2011 and 2030, Toronto’s population is predicted to rise by 500,000 and the extra people won’t be evenly distributed.
The subject of ward boundary changes is a complex one. Dedicated citizens may take some time to absorb this document giving the background to proposed changes and asking for input. Quite simply, as wards’ populations change, the numbers of people represented by one councillor are increasingly out of whack. For example, the number of people living in the downtown core is increasing rapidly as more condos are built there.
It’s beyond most citizens’ abilities (mine anyway) to absorb all the variables as there are so many factors to juggle. Nevertheless, citizen input is being requested and then the boundary review folks will make their recommendations to council for a vote.
Before then, four public meetings are being held across the City in September, from 7pm-9pm:
The death of former Toronto Mayor and Ward 2 councillor Rob Ford created a vacancy which was filled last night by his 22 year-old nephew, the former Michael Stirpe. Last year Mr. Ford legally switched to the more recognizable maiden name of his mother Kathy and hasn’t looked back since. He won a trustee seat in the 2014 civic election and now this.
The by-election wasn’t close; Ford was pitted against an assorted collection of mostly fringe candidates and swatted them aside with almost 70% of the vote. By-election voting numbers are usually low and this was no exception. Ten-thousand fewer people bothered to turn up compared to last time and indeed, in 2014, Rob Ford alone garnered more votes than all candidates combined in 2106.
What can we expect from young Mr. Ford? Will he join the ranks of the Mammolitis and Di Cianos to be another right-wing vote on Council? The answer is probably yes. Mr. Ford presents as a thoughtful young man who appears to be in favour of social justice; yet, in spite of huge levels of poverty in Ward 2 that approach those of our adjacent Ward 12, Mr. Ford spouts the same idiotic mantra of lower property taxes. This is precisely the misguided policy that leads to cutting services that benefit poor people the most.
Only time will tell if Mr. Ford will learn the reality of Toronto politics and understand the need for local politicians to focus on maintaining services and providing opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Other desirable traits, sadly lacking in many councillors are to act for the betterment of the whole city, defer to good planning and help the weak.
Will he become yet another friend of the development industry and an enemy of services that help level the playing field for the less fortunate – or will he realize that keeping property taxes low only helps the rich and reduces social mobility?
There may be hope that he’ll be a thoughtful, progressive and hard-working councillor. Let’s focus on that for now.
For a while, there has been a movement to question the way politics is done in Canada – from the federal government to city councils. A major concern is that money from corporations, unions and the rich can move politicians to vote against the interest of ordinary people. It can be expensive to run an election campaign and commonly, federal and provincial parties have charged $5,000 or $10,000, for admission to an intimate soiree with a cabinet minister. It’s hard to justify such access for the rich, even if politicians claim it makes no difference. It looks as if the Wynne Liberals are seeing the light and may ban the practice.
At the Toronto City Council level, lobbying is another contentious matter. Currently all lobbyists must be registered and a list is kept of meetings between lobbyists and councillors. Some lobbyists have now taken to hiring other companies to lobby on their behalf to conceal their activities. It’s a constant cat and mouse game that council needs to address soon.
Donations to candidates’ election campaigns
Cash donations are allowed only from individuals, (and the candidate and their spouse) and may not exceed $750 per person. If a person wishes to donate to several candidates, for the same council, the total they can donate is $5000. The spending limit for a campaign on things like signs, office supplies and paid staff is calculated by the number of eligible voters. In York South-Weston’s ward 11, this was about $36,000 for the 2014 election. Surprisingly, contributions are not limited to Toronto but may come from anywhere in the province.
Questions about donors and donations:
Why do people donate to candidates?
Probably because they feel that they will be heard. They may like the voting record of that councillor. Politicians are quick to say that their votes are not influenced by individual donations but then one must ask why don’t more ordinary citizens contribute?
What is a typical donation to a Toronto Council candidate?
It’s quite high. Few donations to Toronto councillors seem to be under the $50 threshold which most people would be comfortable with. The only contribution below $200 in Ms. Nunziata’s campaign was one of $20 and that was from the Councillor herself.
Does a contribution affect the voting record of a politician?
All politicians will tell you that lobbying efforts and campaign donations make no difference. If that were true, lobbying and donations would dry up. Lobbying and donations are legal and effective ways to ‘bend the ear’ and possibly the vote of a politician.
Do contributors get a rebate?
The city will refund 75% of contributions up to $300 and 50% above that. A donor’s payment of $750 would cost him or her only $300 as the city would rebate $450. This means that donors from inside and outside the city have their payments subsidized by Toronto taxpayers.
What happens to money not spent in a campaign?
Unspent campaign money and money over the campaign limit must be donated to the City to assist with the cost of donor rebates (see below). Signs and office supplies may be retained for the next election but their value will be counted towards the next campaign’s expenses.
Can we find out the names of campaign donors?
The process of donations is on the public record and all candidates’ campaign donations and the names of donors are available online. In the case of Ward 11, which has 34,128 eligible voters,136 individuals, most of whom live outside the ward, donated a total of $47,320.
A breakdown of the donations to Councillor Nunziata’s campaign:
Only 136 people donated to Ms. Nunziata’s campaign.
No person gave less than $200.
45% of donor money comes from outside the City of Toronto.
Less than half of the donors were eligible to vote in Ward 11.
Some notable and large contributors of interest (I have attempted to find the commercial or political connections of the donors) include:
Rueben Devlin $200 – President & CEO Humber River Hospital
Robert Deluce $300 – President of Porter Airlines
Karla Ford $750 – Doug Ford’s Wife
Alex , Bela and Jack Matrosov $2000 – Checker Taxi
Frances Nunziata $20
Matthew Pantalone $750 – Developer
David Paiva $750 – Luso Canadian Masonry Ltd.
Cormac O’Muiri $500 – from Mississauga
Dero Sabatini $400 Mississauga – TD Bank VP (Etobicoke)
Marvin Sadowski $500 – Former Developer?
Stacey Scher $600 – All Canadian Self Storage
Bruno Schickedanz $750 – Developer and Woodbine horse owner
Conrad Schickedanz $250 – Developer
Tony Scianitti $750 – Developer
Darryl Simsovic $400 CEO – Trillium College (Private career college)
George Seretis $400 – Easy Plastic Containers Vaughan
John Ruddy $750 – Ottawa Developer
Alan Tonks $200 – Former YSW MP
Chris Tonks $300 – TDSB Trustee
Alan Tregebov $200 – Architect
Steven Upton $600 – Tridel
Susan Vavaroutsos $750 – Old Mill Cadillac (Lou)
John Ward $500 – Wards Funeral Home
Jack Winberg $200 – Weston Hub Developer
Hua Yang $500
It should be pointed out that every one of these donations is perfectly legal. What is up for discussion is whether extra influence is obtained by the few people who make donations and whether people from outside the city should be allowed to contribute or even receive a rebate.
When a tiny number of individuals provide the campaign money, do they have an undue influence? Should council candidates not seek donation money from the tens of thousands of ordinary people in their wards? Are companies able to exert undue influence when CEO’s donate privately? Should the donation limit be lowered so that councillors are forced to seek more individual donations? Should donations from outside the ward or the city be either banned or ineligible for a rebate?
Very few ordinary voters can afford $750 for a campaign contribution. For business owners, such a donation may be seen as a good investment regardless of the lack of a guarantee. Since there are so few contributors to most councillors’ campaigns, the $750 donors certainly stand out.
It would probably be a good idea to keep donations to a maximum of $50.00 to force a candidate to gather a large base of support.
Another bone of contention for some is the donations to councillors from non residents.
For a more in-depth look at lobbying at City Hall read this excellent article written last year by Dave Meslin. He is a big proponent of ranked balloting, another movement designed to improve the way elections are run. The Province of Ontario is allowing municipalities to use ranked balloting in their elections from 2018. Unfortunately Council in its wisdom voted to support ranked balloting and then shortly afterwards voted against it.
What do you think? Should the candidate donation limit be lowered from $750?
Frances Nunziata has been given a demotion at City Hall. John Tory has decided to sit on the Police Services Board and, according to the Star, “has not asked” Nunziata to keep her seat.
Nunziata has sat on the Police Services Board since 2010, shortly after Rob Ford’s election. She was appointed by Ford, as she was part of his inner circle of supporters. She had previously served on it in 2002–3.
Tory said “I am not at all satisfied with the overall state of the relationship between the police services board, the police service itself and the community,” at a news conference. Tory has the right to take one seat on the board; another seat is chosen (with the influence of the mayor) by city council.
Frances Nunziata has asked to remain the Speaker at City Council, as Roy reported.