SCREWING UP AMALGAMATION
I still think making Toronto one big city in 1998 was a great idea. Too bad the mushy middle and radical left of urban politics went out of their way to sabotage it.
There are those who claim they never met a fan of Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution and one of its best ideas of scrambling the downtown and suburbs of T.O. into one big omelette that would be delicious for taxpayers because there would be fewer politicians and civil servants.
One of those who pretend that actually became premier too. Kathleen Wynne in the old days was a fellow traveller of John Sewell, the dour conservative/socialist/renegade opponent of any idea that wasn't his. She said she knocked on thousands of doors in her anti-campaign and never met a supporter of amalgamation.
Naturally that's exaggeration. After all, Grits are always liberal with the truth.
There were former mayors like David Crombie, former Metro chairmen like Paul Godfrey, former columnists like John Downing, and a host of people who now call themselves Ford Nation, who thought One Big City was a great idea.
We applauded Premier Harris for many of his initiatives to curb public unions and public payrolls and therefore reap a bountiful harvest in reduced taxation.
You'll notice that supporters were Conservatives of various red hues and opponents who love expanding government and aid programs are Liberals and New Democrats who basically think red tape and ever higher taxes are the most important product of any government as long as they gag Tories first before it strangles them.
Of course it was in the Toronto Star where I read about a report that massive government restructuring that decreased the number of municipalities in Ontario from 850 to 445 just didn't work. The Star always thought Harris and his CSR leading to amalgamation were the spawn of devils because Canada's largest newspaper believes that we have to steal from the middle class to give to the poor while letting the rich away with murder because maybe then they'll stop reading the Globe and become Star-lings.
Under Harris, amalgamation was to save a quarter of a billion dollars by reducing the duplication in jobs in adjoining municipalities and also a quarter of the councillors in Ontario. Except it hasn't. The lead researcher in this report, Timothy Cobban, a Western University prof, says: " The conclusion is very strong amalgamation didn't reduce the size of municipal government.
The crusher is this. When stats are compared for the years before and after amalgamation, the municipalities grew in cost and employment and expanded at a faster rate in the decade after the merging than in the decade previous. About 270,000 people now work in the municipal public sector in Ontario , compared to 160,000 in 1995. Spending of under $200 million in 1981 increased by 2011 to $750 million.
All you have to do is watching that dysfunctional body, Toronto council, on the community TV channel, and realize that we haven't cut enough councillors, and what's with all those officials making more than $130,000 a year sitting about in the lounge in case they may be summoned to the bear pit.
So I have a radical idea for Conservative leader Tim Hudak. When he wins the next provincial election, and he should because anyone who would vote Liberal is so out of it that they won't be able to find the polls, let's update the Common Sense Revolution and fix amalgamation.
There is too much about municipal government today that is still stuck in the horse-and-buggy age when it all began, except the horse is too fat, the buggy is too opulent and the driver is too busy stuffing his mouth.
The terrible reality is that our country has evolved from part-time politicians, whether MP, MPP or councillor, to where they make a better living than most people just being our "full time" representative. Except the quality of government has decreased even as its quantity has increased.
It's a case of Parkinson's Law run amuck. No matter how many we hire, their work expands to fill all available time. In the age of computer, we are still trying to climb out of a pothole.