Andrew Coyne’s “Culture of Begging” is Bollocks

Andrew Coyne’s recent column, “Canada’s Culture of Begging” got me riled up this morning. Coyne argues that Mayor David Miller’s claim to a 1% portion of federal and provincial sales taxes collected in Toronto shows a lack of leadership on Miller’s part and is symptomatic of a wider culture of begging that plagues our fair land. What really set me off was the sycophantic cheering section among his commenters.

I say bollocks, because bollocks seems more polite than bullshit. I share my comment to Coyne’s blog here, and encourage you to leave your thoughts on Coyne’s blog.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,


I’m sorry, but this is utter bollocks. While the “culture of begging” may appeal to a base Toronto-bashing instinct beloved by many, it is a wholly inaccurate and unfair way to look at the relationship between the three tiers of government. It does not address the core problem, which is the mismatch between responsibilities and means. I would point your readers to the final report of the federal External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities. This independent advisory group recommended just such a double-devolution of taxation capacity and power, from federal to provincial and from provincial to municipal levels of government.

In an increasingly globalized post-industrial economy, local innovations and thriving creative cities are critical to the future competitiveness of the nation. However, we have not funded these engines of growth sufficiently, or given them the appropriate tools to innovate and solve their problems in locally relevant ways. The “begging” you observe in Mr. Miller is a symptom of that failure, and is the result of a paternalistic federal state and a rural political culture that is uniquely Canadian.

The crisis that some of your readers and commenters want to gleefully heap on Toronto will only hurt the rest of the nation. A Toronto in crisis should be cause for national concern, because it has national implications. Toronto is facing just such an imminent crisis, as continued rapid growth threatens to cause the urban infrastructure to seize and the Toronto city-region to collapse under its own weight.

Toronto bashers fail to understand the importance of our cities to our future prosperity, and fail to understand that many difficult problems can only be solved locally. They also fail to recognize that Canada is an urban country, with our population overwhelmingly concentrated in major urban agglomerations. The attitudes of those that point fingers at Mr. Miller reflect an idea of Canada as quaint, provincial and rural.

This idea of Canada is outmoded. We need to understand that a new relationship between our cities and the rest of the country is the central question of a renewed federation relevant to our 21st century global reality.

Failure to articulate these deeper structural issues is unfair to Mayor Miller, unfair to Toronto and does a disservice to your readers and the wider political discourse. I would hope for better from a writer of your considerable talent.

11 thoughts on “Andrew Coyne’s “Culture of Begging” is Bollocks”

  1. I was going to write a bit of a rant here, but I’ll keep it short. Have a look at this on page 2, and in particular, the big yellow wedge.

    _Most_ of that wedge should be uploaded back to the province and the city should constantly be agitating for that. There’s an infinite market for that stuff, because if you’re giving out underpriced housing people will move here to take advantage of it, solving no “Toronto” problem at all. What does North Bay need for social programs? A $60 bus ticket to Toronto, that’s all.

    I don’t like David Miller and I think he shows a very common personality trait in politics: he’s interested in power, but not responsibility. We’ve had a situation in the last decade where the tax burden has been shifted to a small segment of the population because of vagarities of the housing market. Giving Miller a share of the GST just gives him more money that he’s not accountable to anyone for, thus allowing vote buying without consequence. If Toronto needs GST money, do like other places: a line item on the bill that sames 1.0% City of Toronto Sales Tax so citizens know where the cash is going and who’s responsible for it.

    Oh, look, I turned it into a rant anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Thought of the day: Toronto voters are a lot like Toronto Maple Leaf fans – despite paying for all levels of government/packing the seats to capacity every night, we don’t particular demand anything for our dollar.

  3. David Miller reminds me of the pastor who preaches the same sermon week after week and when some members of his congregation complain he says “Well, you’re just not listening.”

    All you see in print and media these days is David Miller giving the same old veiled threats to both federal and provincial governemnts stating that their elections are fast approaching and they had better loosen their pursestrings if they want to win the hearts of the voters in Toronto.

    Does Miller really think he can deliver these votes? Or is his strategy to divert blame away from him in the event he doesn’t get the funding.

    Toronto has some legitimate beefs but when Miller made true on his campaign promise to cancel the bridge construction to the island and then gets the rest of the province to pay for it he really doesn’t engender himself to the non 416ers.

  4. Thanks for your comment.

    I understand the optics to people outside the 416 may not be optimal, but to be honest Torontonians are really getting fed up with playing nice and we demand that our leaders speak up for our interests on the national stage. I have had several conversations with community leaders with more than half-serious talk of a Toronto separatist movement to gain provincial status. In Germany, the largest cities like Berlin have state status within the federal system.

    It is a fact that Toronto’s citizens and businesses generate far more tax revenue to support programs and services throughout the rest of the province and country than they get back in services. To use the bridge cancellation issue as a wedge to say “look how Toronto is wasting our money” is disingenuous. Who’s money is it, exactly? If we’re going to be petty about it, Toronto should rightly be sending invoices to the small towns and families whose homeless, addicted and mentally ill youth settle in Toronto because there was nothing for them at home, no hope and no support systems to help them.

    For the record, it is the feds who are responsible for the bridge cancellation fiasco. The Toronto Port Authority is a federally appointed agency with no accountability to local citizens which foisted the Island bridge project onto an unwilling community. The costs of canceling it belong with the people that continue to prop up this unaccountable body. The whole thing reeks of corruption. The city plays host to many such senior government encroachments on community self-determination.

    Mayor Miller has a mandate from the people of Toronto and their support to say that we’re not going to take this kind of habitual abuse any longer. Toronto needs to be let out of its straitjacket. While the municipal government will no doubt need some maturing into its new powers and would benefit from internal reforms, the fiscal relationship with the rest of the country is far too important to ignore. Recalibrating that relationship is the very foundation of our current challenges and future opportunities.

    And let’s be clear about what is being proposed: 1% of the sales tax COLLECTED IN TORONTO. Giving Torontonians back 1% of the 14% sales tax collected from OUR pockets will enable us to build a world-class city the entire country can be proud of.

    If this very modest proposal fails to go through because of myopic politics appealing to an anti-Toronto sentiment, the alternative is to fuel a Toronto separatist movement to keep our tax revenues at home. That’s one way to address the fiscal imbalance.

  5. Geesh! I’m sure glad I didn’t slam Toronto. I wouldn’t be able handle the volley of venem that would descend upon me.

    Far from bashing Toronto I said it had legitmate beefs but the way Miller is going about it isn’t going to win him any friends.

    Sometimes the mind is likened to a parachute; it has to open up to be effective.

  6. Mayor Miller should stop saying silly things like “we will not take no for an answer”, because history shows that we will indeed take no for an answer. As I’ve complained about elsewhere, Torontonians tend to be spineless. I like David Janes’ comment about the Maple Leafs: great illustration of the problem. Montrealers don’t go to Habs hockey games unless the team is playing well, but Torontonians will accept anything.

    Provincial status would be great (I am so sick of getting something like 1/3 of the federal representation that a PEI resident gets) but will only happen once Torontonians start throwing their weight around politically the way that Montrealers do. The Toronto Board of Trade’s “Enough of Not Enough” campaign was a good step and now things need to be taken much further.

    But Mayor Miller is not the right leader for this. Anyone who decides to sole-source a contract for subway trains so that jobs stay in Thunder Bay is just another “nice” Torontonian. We could likely have obtained a better deal with competitive bidding, and Thunder Bay could well have still got the contract, with subsidization by the provincial and/or federal governments in the traditional manner. But he was a good socialist, looking out for the common good etc. I suspect that until there is an effective counter to the NDP at City Hall (the non-NDP councillors are fragmented and include such yahoos as Rob Ford) we cannot look to our municipal politicians to help Toronto. Maybe the Board of Trade is our best hope.

  7. Rohan, great comments. If another political bloc in city hall were to emerge, what would it look like? Conservative NIMBY types protecting status quo, morons like Rob Ford and anti-Millerites are not articulating a vision of how to make Toronto great. What would be a conservative or liberal Toronto party?

    As for the representation issue, Ontario gets screwed by the application of the Senate clause and the Grandfather clause in the Representation Act, 1985. Here’s a good explanation.

    Maybe we should put reform of the Representation Act in the platform of a nascent Toronto party?

  8. Mark, thanks very much for the link to the explanation of how federal representation is currently done. I learned, for one thing, that it’s only PEI that gets such a ridiculous increase in its number of MPs (4 instead of 1). Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are next up with about a 50% increase each.

    There is an attempt to create a counter to the NDP bloc at City Hall, named the Toronto Party. There is a good article about it, and about the general question of whether party politics are good or bad at the municipal level, in the National Post.

    I wish it weren’t necessary to resort to creating a new party. The Post story says that Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act “does not permit the formation of parties to field candidates in municipal elections”, but that’s misleading. As far as I can tell from searching the Act for the words “party” and “parties”, the Act says that federal and provincial parties can’t contribute to a municipal election campaign, and other than that simply ignores the notion of parties, presuming that all candidates are free agents. The NDP exploits this by doing everything “unofficially”: their candidates may not be on the ballot as NDP, but they’re chosen in the standard party manner, all use orange lawn signs just like federal and provincial NDP candidates, federal NDP leader Jack Layton campaigns for them, etc. My preferred solution to the problem would be for the Act to be revised to actively prohibit party politics, including applying the traditional penalties of fines and incarceration. This might be impossible to achieve in practice, however, given that the right of free association etc. cannot be interfered with and the NDP could be expected to come up with additional creative ways to flout the spirit of the law without violating the letter.

  9. Stephen,

    I would be happy to see an alternative bloc in city politics that can articulate a positive vision for the city and its place in a rapidly changing global economy. I agree that civic parties are an effective vehicle to present voters with clear choices.

    I agree with others that there are four pillars of vibrant, resilient and sustainable communities: economic, social, environmental and cultural. If The Toronto Party, or any other emerging political bloc, can articulate a vision for the city that is comprehensive and aspiring that hits all these dimensions it has the potential to engage the broad electorate in the project of building a great world city.

    However, any bloc that gives the appearance of putting property rate-payers or business interests at odds with the rest of the community or that comes across as a reactionary anti-party, a party of protest, will not be successful. City-building is not a zero-sum game, and I believe our challenge as a community is to transcend this mentality.

  10. Mark,
    The only way to influence the policy direction of a party is to join it.
    I doubt that most ratepayer or tenant groups act against the community. From my experience, these groups make heroic efforts in trying to help build Toronto.
    As for the business interests, Toronto’s commercial property tax rate is disproportionate to competing jurisdiction. As a result, Toronto has seen a net loss of 100,000 jobs in the last 15 years.
    In order to sustain a healthy and viable city, the municipal government needs to encourage and stimulate economic activity. This is currently not happening under Mayor Miller. I would refer you to the excellent research work of The Toronto Board,who have studied the current situation and put forth very good proposals.
    http://www.thetorontoparty.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *