Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Money for nothing and the infrastructure's for free

London's sinkhole may be succeeding where Storybook Gardens has failed in attracting interest in our city. If the attention is deserved for the graphic if superficial illustration of the deficit in basic infrastructure renewal in London, it is much more so for the illustration of the city's superficial if graphic administration.

At the same time Londoners are assured that the city's administrators and politicians have been "good stewards" of infrastructure, its defects and failures serve as a vehicle for blaming and pleading with senior levels of government for funding as though they have any constitutional or legislated responsibility for municipal infrastructure. The assurance appeals to the out-of-sight-and-mind nature of most of infrastructure problems that permits politicians to carry on acting as though they were cruise ship directors instead of governors, showering gifts of funding to special guests and catering to Londoners' every entertainment desire. The offloading of responsibility, on the other hand, is an acknowledgement of the looming and post-dated costs of repairs and upgrades that by themselves do not usually attract votes.

It's an astonishing position for the city to find itself begging for funding, given the meteoric rise in tax revenues and spending over the past decade, and a manifestly deceitful one for a council that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and incurred hundreds of millions more in debt over that same decade on massive and frivolous capital projects and is now even contemplating spending tens of millions on a performing arts centre. Nevertheless, as long as infrastructure can be patched over in a makeshift fashion to put off the day of reckoning, politicians and senior administrators are simply responding to the incentives of an Ontario Municipal Act that places almost no restrictions on cities' powers or jurisdiction except a plurality of popular support once every four years.

As long as those incentives remain — and they will not be amended by a provincial Liberal government that prospers under the same philosophy of governance — they are an obstacle to natural and rational fiscal remedies to the infrastructure problems in London, such as divesting itself of assets that it has no business running and that it just as naturally squanders. And it will shortly become inescapable that there is no alternative for cities like London except for a massive bailout by the national government. And when it happens, it should be called exactly for what it will be — a bailout.

Given the pernicious mismanagement of cities by their local governments and electorate, however, a bailout by itself may ameliorate infrastructure conditions but will do nothing to solve the problems of governance that brought their deterioration into being. Moreover, unconditional blanket transfers of tax revenues between jurisdictions, although by no means unprecedented, provide no remedy or relief to taxpayers and, in the long run, are injurious because they create an ambivalence among taxpayers about jurisdictional responsibilities. Nevertheless, these revenue transfers to cities are inevitable, and if it should gall us that irresponsible municipal politicians should be the beneficiaries of bailouts, it should dismay municipal politicians to find strings attached to the funding!

In an imperfect country, and in a province that will in no case make even a token acknowledgement of the circumstances that have brought this situation to pass, Publius of Gods of the Copybook Headings makes an innovative and extraordinarily politically adroit suggestion for the national government in its handling of immature and recalcitrant junior levels of government. Although fraught with the potential for abuses by future national governments and ineffectual political compromising by the current Conservative government, an initial precise and expert handling of a Ministry of Cities could prove to be a well-grooved path for future ministers and a hard nut to crack for political detractors.

Since cities are both responsibilities and creatures of the provinces, the federal government can only set minimum standards and direct federal funds. This is the approach taken in health care and to a certain extent in post-secondary education, though the latter in a very small way. It is an approach, admittedly, fraught with constitutional and public policy problems for conservatives. It flies against the spirit of decentralization, it oversteps Ottawa's role as laid out in the constitution and even runs counter to a recent federal government proposal to limit its spending in provincial jurisdictions. Another way of describing these problems is "maintaining the status quo." We wouldn't be creating more violations of these principles, simply carrying on in the time honoured tradition of violating them in the same old way. That's a bleak and cynical assessment, it's also politics. There is also a very powerful advantage to creating a new ministry, it will preempt spending in scores of different areas that would be even greater violations of the above principles.

The new ministry must, at all costs, insist on targeted and matched spending. This is itself fraught with problems of inter-government relations, no one wants money with strings attached. Before we get to bringing the provinces and cities on side, the point about targeted spending needs to be expanded. Simply adding to the general revenues of Canadian cities will not solve the key issue of aging and obsolete infrastructure. […] Municipal politics is the most unaccountable of Canada's elective institutions, save perhaps school boards. Voter turn out is low even by the levels shown in recent federal and provincial elections. Media attention is fleeting and often superficial, and this is again by the already low standards displayed in most coverage of the two senior levels of government.

When the Harris government pushed through municipal amalgamation in the late 1990s it had estimated the move would save a considerable sum in administrative costs. They miscalculated. While there were now fewer politicians and bureaucrats in some executive positions, these comprised only a small fraction of the overall administrative costs of the municipal governments. The savings realized there were more than offset by a policy of standardizing wages and benefits upward. If old City of Toronto employees were paid more than their counterparts in North York, as they often were under Mel Lastman's frugal management, then the North York employees were in many cases given pay and benefit increases up to the Toronto levels. This policy, essentially a sop to insure peace with the unions, shows the nature of local government. David Miller demanding more revenue generating powers will not solve the problems of crumbling roads and bridges, that money will find its way elsewhere. Targeting money insures it's spent on services actually demanded and needed by urban residents, not free needle sites and public housing projects that soon degenerate into ghettos. Matching, demanding that cities foot part of the bill for new projects, prevents or limits municipal governments from creating new programs with the money saved from not having to pay for capital expenditures on existing services.

Targeting not only side steps municipal mismanagement, it also undercuts the package deal being spun by David Miller and like minded local politicos. They point to actual deterioration in basic services as an excuse to hike taxes and obtain increased subsidies from the senior levels of government. That money is in turn spent on placating unions and creating new programs, neither of which are big vote getting policies, even traditionally left-leaning urban centers like Toronto and Vancouver.

[…] The provinces will naturally oppose targeting but the federal side must insist on this point. Simply throwing more money at the junior levels of government has a very poor track record. Including municipal leaders in this process is essential. A conference on cities without municipal representation would be instantly ridiculed - and rightly so. The municipal element could also act as restraint or moderation on recalcitrant provincial governments. In turn the final appeal can always be made to urban voters. The federal level can always reply: We have offered so much money for these projects; list mass transit, more police offices and so forth, but hint at specific proposals so as to have a greater impact. The focus must always be on basic issues and services.

The Left in Canada has seized on urban issues and made it their particular niche. Promoting an urban agenda that focuses on real urban issues, such as infrastructure, crime and public health (control of infectious diseases) can undermine the Left's dominance in these areas while limiting the scope of government by diverting money from new programs into old ones.
If it could be done politically, I would require provinces to institute a limited governing constitution for cities instead of an Act that gives them carte blanche, but since that will never happen I could at least be satisfied watching Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best's protests against any sort of bailout oversight.


Elaine said...

....so, basically you are saying that London council needs a babysitter? That is probably a good idea when it has been proven they have been incompetent in dealing with the major essentials such as sewer and water maintanance.

I am not one for more government, but there has to be a provinical or federal body that can point out to cities when they see them doing stupid stuff.

When you have a mayor of a city promising a big fancy ferris wheel as the fix to rotting infrastructure.....well you know your city is in its last death throes.

Elaine said...

Mercy! what a slimey move on the female socialist cabals part trying to paint a few of the males on council as abusers.

'Bullies' versus the Bs-lfp

Already labelled by some as a bully, Gosnell was accused yesterday by Controller Gina Barber of creating a scene that left her wanting security on council chambers. -lfp

"He was yelling at the mayor and she said, 'You can't bully me, Tom'," Barber said. "I was nervous at that meeting, I thought we were going to have to call security." -lfp

Does this mean that Gosnell and Caranci have to attend "changing ways" classes and be told repeatedly how evil males are?

Sneaky of Gina using it as vehicle to get her overpaid Integrity commissioner.

"You're bullied into silence," she said. -lfp

That's also the feeling of Bryant and Baechler. -lfp

"(Gosnell is) trying to undermine my credibility. I don't call him a liar and I don't call him names, so it makes it really hard for me to respond to that," Baechler said.-lfp

...well you can Joanie. If you don't have the gonads to be in politics, it is best you go home and tend to your garden. This isn't a tupperware party, where you get a prize for being the most congenial hostess.

Gosnell isn't the only one who sometimes acts inappropriately, Barber said.-lfp

Coun. Roger Caranci uses similar tactics and her toughest encounter, she says, was when Controller Gord Hume came into her office, questioning her appointment to a committee he chairs.-lfp

Looks like Hume is getting a good spanking from the girls too. No doubt anyone would cringe having Gina on a committee where things were expected to be accomplished....but Gordo losing his cool and actually telling her. That would have been a gift to see.

...meanwhile, back at the hole. It is still there.

MapMaster said...

Babysitter? A correctional facility is starting to appear more appropriate.

NIAC said...

Reading the post and the comments leaves me with questions...

1. If 'Gina Bigmouth was "bullied into silence"...why is it in print? Sounds like she was either bullied into reporting it to someone other than the authorities, who WOULD have done something about it, or she is having a public trial because she can't get her way.

2. I want to call it "misappropriation", however, can someone (some group) really be misappropriating if they are really that oblivious to what is going on? There's a huge difference between using your milk money to buy chocolate...but dropping it down the sewer (no pun intended) because you were concentrating on staring directly at the sun and just let go, absent-mindedly...

3. I have always strongly disagreed with closed door council meetings: It HAS to be illegal, somehow. We aren't talking Homeland Security issues...we are talking about who's brother gets a maintenance contract, who's son gets a construction contract, how much it would really cost to put rocks on Oxford and the MVP and give it a cool name. Am I wrong?

4. Is there anyone who would run for mayor who might actually do the right thing? What about the rest of the coven?

Elaine said...

niac, I don't agree with closed door meetings either. I also don't agree with females who pull the "we are weak, helpless and defenceless, and the boys are bullies" tactics either.

You couldn't expect anything more from the female socialist cabal, but it is a diry tactic.

It is not like they could use their brains, and some assertiveness.

Everyone and their dog will be running to rescue those poor weak damsels in distress.

The boys on council now are going to have to now, bow their heads and keep repeating, "yes dear," whenever they figure one of the socialist cabal has pms, or a bad menopausal moment.

No wonder nothing can get done in this city.

...meanwhile back at the hole. They are making it bigger.

Elaine said...

Holy shit Sherlock!

I just was reading the letters to the editor at the freeps.

Tom, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye. The hen-pecked men on white horses, and the socialist banshees' are coming to save the damsels in distress at city hall.

This needs major dammage control Tom, so listen up.

You know how the mayor has those big billboards up all over town, with some of the guys looking oh so hot, stating they are no longer going to beat their women.

Well go home and dig your wife-beating shirt out of the back of your underwear drawer, and put it on.

Call a news conference and be standing at the door with both hands on your hips stating you ain't going to do dat no mo.

It is the only way you are going to redeem yourself in the eyes of the weak women folk on council, and the pussified fellows.

Anonymous said...

I am not one for more government, but there has to be a provinical or federal body that can point out to cities when they see them doing stupid stuff.

The feds and the provinces already have a hand in these municipal fiascos because they give tons of money to cities for various projects. The feds also write the entire criminal code, provide federal cops to police a large part of the country, and the provinces take care of most of the courts and prisons. There's no doubt about it - cities are welfare bums. Like all welfare bums, their bad behaviour is encouraged by subsidies.

And why would any level of government point out and/or correct the stupidities of any other level of government? Governments (that is, the people employed by governments) don't thrive when problems are solved. They thrive on crises and disasters. They throw billions of dollars of tax money down ratholes of badly concieved and executed programs - so that in response to all the screams to "do something to fix this", they can grab even more money and power.

That's why government housing creates ghettoes, drug use and violence go up under prohibition, foreign aid produces basketcase countries, and people get stupider the more the government spends on their education. It ain't a flaw in the system - it's the purpose of the system. If it really was a hand up instead of a handout, they'd be out of a job.

See Catherine Austin Fitts' "Tapeworm" essays for an awesome - but depressing - overview of how and why this is the way it is.

MapMaster said...

The bailout is already under way, so that the least that can be hoped is that it is targeted for actually essential infrastructure and to make fiscal requirements of cities. Unfortunately, that's not happening so far, and it probably won't, but it wouldn't require governments pointing out the stupidities of other governments. That's what we unpaid pundits are for.

Anonymous said...

The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs will investigate written complaints of alleged municipal malfeasance.

If they're specific and well-documented and the complainant has an understanding of the Municipal Act, they have a chance of being given a fair hearing and investigation.

Ontario citizens can also call for a Public Inquiry by the province by petitioning the government. Problem is, many complainants have little understanding of the law and expect the province to hold an expensive public inquiry if one by-law enforcement officer shakes down a citizen.

Disagree with the above poster that municipalities are welfare bums.

Of the three levels of government, municipal government is the most accessible, accountable and transparent.

Regarding closed door civic meetings, some are obviously necessary to protect the corporation and the taxpayer.

Such issues as some legal, property and personnel matters.

MapMaster said...

Malfeasance is one thing, profound mismanagement and misgovernance is another.

Of the three levels of government, municipal government is the most accessible, accountable and transparent.

True, but that isn't saying much. While documentation of much of the city's affairs is publicly available in the literal sense, they are lodged in so much material that they are practically inaccessible even to an interested observer. Try, for example, to follow precise departmental spending. Not to mention that minutes of council and committee meetings often take weeks to be published. The effect is to make much of the process of decision-making by politicians and bureaucrats effectively opaque.

On principle, nothing involving public resources ought to be private, but I can accept that under the current system a few issues may need to be decided behind closed doors. However, those issues must be decided under a more rigorous protocol, and one that is itself transparent to the public. London has had its wrists slapped over this problem before.

NIAC said...

LOL, Elaine...

That was so close to "Damage Control to Major Tom...Kiss your ass good-bye, and put your beater on"

Elaine said...

Mapmaster, can the higher levels of government say to city council, "See that big hole in the middle of your city, use this money to fix that, and forget your fucking ferris wheel."

What is the city takes that money and does something stupid, like hire body guards for the girls on city council? I don't want city council wasting money on that. I prefer for those weak women to be scared speechelss. If they don't open their gobs except to whine and cry on what the bullies are doing to them, I do believe this city will be a better place.

MapMaster said...

They could, but if they were to do it directly it would remove focus from the message content and put it onto the wrapper. Better to silently bribe them to be less stupid.

Anonymous said...

If anyone thinks any of the women on this citycouncil are weak, they're delusional.

Even Cheryl Miller is one kick-ass broad, even though she's in the opposite camp of the assertive women who are now running the show at city council -- The Killer Bees.

The Killer Bees have honesty, integrity and courage of their convictions behind them, noting that all of them except for mayor Decicco-Best opted to reject ordering "Support Our Troops" decals on City vehicles at taxpayer's expense, realizing that such action should be a matter of personal choice on privately owned vehicles.

The entire stunt was a scheme cooked up by development consultant Gosnell to try and embarass some members of council, but it din't work and in fact, backfired.

If I wanted people at my back or front during a dangerous crisis, it wouldn't be Gosnell, Polhill, Caranci and company.

Those beady-eyed boys would take flight at the first sign of trouble because they're all about self-interest.

The Killer Bees are all about the public interest and it shows.

By the way, the much-touted urban planning guru, Larry Beasley, admitted at the Aeolian Hall last night that if he were on London city council he'd be labelled a "Killer Bee" because he favours controlled growth and his last name starts with "B."

He described unfettered urban growth as cancerous and a taxpayer's nightmare. Unsustainable.

So if you support non-stop upward spiralling property taxes, keep chanting the mantra of development consultant-dinosaur Tommy Gonsell that we need unchecked growth in all directions to keep jobs in London.

Unchecked growth will actually result in far fewer jobs in London in the long-run.

Elaine said...

Bullshit Barry.The female socialist cabal are sneaky bitches.

Using the old "he's an abuser! a harasser! just because they couldn't get their way.

They are scared speechless, until it is time to whine to the press, and call for security at city council meetings.

The socialist cabal are anti-growth, which boils down to, anti-economic growth. Most of us with a brain can see that causing frustration amongst some on coucil.

The socialist cabal are pushing the working man and woman out of London, so they can have some sort of utopias glowtardian village.

They don't have the balls to stand up to the boys on council, and they are calling in the calvary.

They are trying to make it look like Tom, Roger and Gordo are down there slapping them around in closed door meetings. It doesn't get any sneaker, pathetic, nor cowardly than that.

They know a man can't defend himself against the label of an abuser. They know they hold the power to destroy Gosnell, Caranci and Hume.

That is why it makes me queasy when I see weak ineffective sneaky women in politics.

Anonymous said...

Anyone of them could kick your ass with both hands tied behind their back, elaine.

They'd eat you alive then spit you out like the dog's breakfast.

They're smart, savvy and assertive women, unlike you who shivers like a leaf at the thought of taking on a cause.

Perhaps you should take some gumption lessons from the Killer Bees, elaine. Are you up to it?

Elaine said...

hmmmmm,....Barry, they are asking for security during council meetings because they are afraid of the boys. The boys make them cry because they ask them questions they have no answers to. Yeah, they is bad, they is fearless.


Anonymous said...

elaine, they're carrying the day and getting their way because their ideas are superior to ol' mutton chops Gosnell and company who hasn't embraced a new idea since he washed his old London Lords jock strap in 1971.

Gosnell is yesterday's man.

The Killer Bees own him lock, stock and barrel and he knows it.

You're betting on a horse that's slated for the glue factory.

Elaine said...

You are wrong as usual Butch. The girls are trying to stop economic growth. No one paid too much attention to them, seen them as harmless ornaments on council. Not like they have did anything of any value for the city.

They are going down. You can't run a city like a 4H county fair, where you get a prize for the cutest goat. Business is looking elsewhere to set up shop, and that is hurting London.

The movers and shakers are getting sick of the socialist cabal talking in their little girl voices, whining about nothing. They are going to playing hardball with them now. Not a doubt in my mind who will win.