Saturday, August 23, 2014



Once upon a time, before the wasting of taxes became an epidemic, our politicians just didn't know how to screw spending up as badly as they do today.
Not only has the size of government exploded, especially in the care and feeding of the elected reps, so has the money thrown away on dubious projects.
Too many voters have become too blasé. The big question is will this change in the next election when it didn't in the last.
Consider that the outrage was over quickly when it came out that Waterfront Toronto had paid $946,140 for 36 pink metal umbrellas and two chunks of rocks to be placed at Sugar Beach.
 Sounds aptly named considering the monetary sugar lavished on people who sell beach umbrellas and rocks for a living.
Didn't we learn our lesson when we bought 700 tonnes of granite from a Muskoka farmer and plunked it down like a jigsaw puzzle from the Shield in a Yorkville park.
Many were as mad about that as they were decades later when the city kept tearing up any road near Bloor and Bay and kept doing it month after month after month while the stores wilted.
Our alleged transportation planners didn't have a plan because they didn't give a damn.
I can assure you as a veteran political observer, whether as City Hall reporter or daily columnist or  Editor, that this news about the silly beach decoration would have reverberated for months in the day and cost politicians and officials their jobs.
But not it seems in these urban days of waste.
Too many voters have come to accept this as the new norm. As more condemning proof, consider the hundreds of millions wasted by the provincial Liberals before they go re-elected.
There have been a number of references to past controversial urban decoration, such as Henry Moore's sculpture nicknamed the Archer. which is in the civic square near City Hall's doors.
 Just about every detail about it has been mangled, whether in the Star or various dubious Internet sources. Nathan Phillips Square was planned to have one major piece of art. So the city went after a creator of monumental art. The Archer cost $150,000. There was a fuss, and it didn't help that many didn't like its look.  So Mayor Phil Givens raised the money privately. Except the voters, who could still get mad then about such things, continued to believe that taxes paid for it and threw Givens out of office.
Givens was not a flash in the pan. He had been alderman and controller before mayor and later was a MP, MPP, police commission chair and judge.
Ironically, most of the media, especially the Star, have forgotten what came after that defeat, because it is significant in the history of one of the city's most important pieces.
William Campbell, the city treasurer, a wonderful steward of our taxes, got a phone call from Moore who was anxious to do a deal to avoid the English tax hit. Moore asked if the city would pay him over a few years. Campbell jumped at the opportunity. The pound fell against the Canadian dollar during the payment period and the distinctive sculpture that kids can ring like a gong ended up costing only $97,000.
So Campbell then paid to have the Archer put on a platform, then to have lights around it, then he bought a $6,000 Moore bust for the committee floor of the Hall, then...
It was an inside joke between the treasurer and me that he was such a great investor  he kept having to find more purchases for the Archer fund. If only we had officials like that today in government.
Ironically, the treasurer had a grandson named Rob Ford. Fifty years after the glib Givens was defeated by speech therapist William Dennison, indifference to waste had so festered that when Ford made a fuss about the waste at Sugar Beach, it was seen as just another hissy fit to support his pet bugaboo, derailing the gravy train at City Hall.
Yet one reason that even this clown still has some support with the electorate is that there are still people around who care less about his drunken excesses and more about his attempt to cut the drunken waste.
To me, that's the big municipal issue this October, the reason I told John Tory the other day that he should just keep hammering on the need to be much tougher on spending, to vow that council must stop being a patsy for the unions, in fact so weak in negotiation that spending just on police, fire and ambulance is now $1.7 billion, up from the one billion the expensive trio of emergency services cost each year just over a decade ago.
It's the taxes, stupid, voters must tell the candidates. Let the frothy stuff and the endless transit plans  be yammered about by editorial writers and activists.
Obviously there isn't a government department or agency at every level of government that doesn't have to do a better job in dealing with our money.  Just at City Hall you can run the gauntlet from the important mundane stuff to the exotic, from A to Z, and find ulcers.
A is for asphalt, and the terrible shape of our roads. They never have been this bad, not since we got rid of the mud roads of olde York. Yet at least one engineering expert claims one reason that all our potholes deepen and multiply like consultants is that they don't patch them correctly in the first place.
Z is for the zoo, where it seems for years that if the stories didn't concern shipping the three elephants
to another country, it was about the financial plight. Yet the preening zoo bosses took bows (and free trips to China) to get Er Shun and Da Mao, the two giant pandas that cost about $1.8 million annually to care for and rent from China. There's more cost and attention given their supply of bamboo food than the breakfast program in any humble school.
If you really wanted to fix the potholes, you would do it right the first time.
 If you really wanted to attract people to the zoo, you could spend a fraction of that $1.8 million and ship a couple of winners a month to Beijing as a gate prize and see the pandas there. Or buy them stuffed pandas.
 Chinese rulers are quite clever. They have suckered us into raising their cute bears that are endangered species because of their policies.
Unfortunately changes like this to the routine and the gimmicky would just save money, and as too many of our politicians at all levels prove most days, they only know how to spend. Their attitude is as certain as death and taxes.

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