This article was originally published in the Toronto Sun on January 11, 2021.
Imagine crying poor while lighting money on fire at the same time. That seems to be Toronto Mayor John Tory’s favourite pastime these days.
He recently asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford for a cool $1.5 billion to help Toronto balance its operating budget for this year. That’s no small ask. It’s more than 11 per cent of the city’s budget from 2019.
It would be easy to use COVID-19 as an excuse for the city’s financial woes heading into 2021, but the financial accountability office of Ontario recently released a report stating that the province’s “municipalities are projected to run a combined budget surplus of $6.0 billion in 2021.”
So, what’s going on in Toronto?
While some increased spending during a global pandemic is reasonable in areas such as public health, the city has no excuse for the examples of wasteful spending that taxpayers have witnessed not only during the pandemic, but for years prior to it.
For example, the city of Toronto spent $160,000 installing 25 kms of bike lanes in Scarborough as part of its pandemic response in the spring of 2020, only to spend $80,000 just five months later tearing them out. The average property tax bill in Toronto was $3,020 in 2019, meaning the city just wasted the entire property tax bill from nearly 80 households on this stunt alone.
But pouring $240,000 down the drain on ripped-up bike lanes is peanuts compared to the lavish spending plans this mayor still has in store despite the city’s devastated finances.
Tory confirmed in June that he wants to proceed with building Rail Deck Park, a park built up in the air above the railways on the west side of Union Station. The city’s latest estimate pegs the price tag for the park at $1.7 billion, but a report released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation shows the park will cost at least $3.8 billion, more than double the city’s estimate.
Such irresponsible spending should hardly come as a surprise from a city that operates five golf courses that lose money year after year, face declining usership, and need $10 million in improvements, according to a city report. It’s hard to take Toronto’s begging for money seriously when it so frivolously wastes what it already has.
But the biggest area of spending for most governments is usually the cost of its employees. While Toronto deserves some credit for trimming costs in this department earlier in the pandemic, it should have trimmed the fat long before COVID-19 struck.
The city of Toronto had 6,805 government employees who are paid more than $100,000 per year appear on its sunshine list in 2019, a number which has more than tripled in 10 years. The city also has 375 employees on payroll who are set to receive two pensions, according to a report from SecondStreet.org.
The problem with Tory asking other governments for bailouts is that they’re broke too. The province has a deficit of $39 billion this year, and its debt is approaching $400 billion. The federal government has a deficit of $382 billion this year and its debt has surpassed $1 trillion.
Ultimately, there are three levels of government spending money and only one taxpayer footing the bill. Debt today means taxes tomorrow, and Torontonians already owe over $50,000 as each individual’s share of the combined debts of the federal and provincial governments.
Tory and the rest of Toronto city council must stop wasting taxpayers’ money and get their spending under control this year.