"Democracy at its finest," those were the words used by one City of Toronto councillor yesterday in a deputation marathon that lasted 22 hours. The City of Toronto needs to find $775 Million in savings in next years budget (2012), or it will need to raise taxes or cut services or both. Yesterday 334 people had registered to speak in front of City council to plead their case for saving their particular pet service (see picture) or support the cuts. In the end just under 200 got to speak (many just left during the night) and only one of those spoke in favour of cuts to spending. That is a sobering statistic.
This outbreak of parsimony is now wide spread in Western Democracies. In Europe, nations are teetering toward default on their financial obligations. Our American neighbours are in danger of defaulting by next week. At the Provincial and State and municipal levels across North America, governments of all stripes are coming to grips with massive debt, all of this in the midst of a weak recovery from a severe recession. Recession part two could be a result. The chickens are coming home to roost, the curse of the spendthrift legislators threatens everyone.
But look at Toronto, mobs of rent-seekers stepping up to ensure that they are cared for in the way they have become accustomed. "We want our services, and we want someone else to pay for them," that is the message of the debate.
Last October the new Mayor was elected to "stop the gravy train," to stop what he presented as the excessive fluff that citizens were forced to subsidize. He also promised not to cut services, perhaps naively. Certainly there was some fluff, and maybe the Mayor was aware that his promise was just that. The Mayor and council hired independent auditors KPMG, to suss out the "core-services," things that are required (by their definition) in a big city so that the $775 million shortfall could be eliminated without much pain. Right.
So here we are, for me the lesson is clear, despite all the evidence that you might think favours our cause, we are still at the bottom of a mountain. For those that hope that the libertarian utopia is just around the corner, give your head a shake, then take a deep breath, and prepare for a generational fight.