$190 million to keep Toronto quiet

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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This will cure what ails cities, says Mang

It's tough to be sour about $190 million coming to your city in the form of stimulus bucks for physical upgrades and repairs.

Indeed, when Conservative Ministers Flaherty and Baird (the latter who told Toronto to "f--k off" when pressed on said stimulus bucks going toward public transit) arrived in Toronto, Mayor David Miller gushed: "I could get used to this".

I could too. Especially since the Federation of Canadian Municipalities noted in 2007 that Canada's infrastructure deficit (that is, all that stuff that's nearly broke and needs fixin') amounts to $123 billion. That, my friends, is a lot of much needed stimulus cash.

And Toronto, the nexus of finance, the epicentre of the economy, the hub of massive loot-making, gets a measly $190 million. You'd think with the heart of the capitalist body pumping on Bay Street, Conservatives would be more amenable to injecting large amounts of cash into the City's veins.

But the cash falls short. Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy said that based on population, Toronto should have received $312 million.

As noted above, Conservatives don't have much love for TO. Baird had four-letter words (albeit, ones he did apologise for) and Minister Flaherty, whose riding is in Ontario, once harrumphed that Ontario "is the last place" to invest. At least he lives by those words.

Not much for the Conservatives in Toronto by way of gaining seats, and all those sexy projects that could make Flaherty and co. look mah-velous (like wee Jimmy Flaherty putting a train in his own backyard) are largely buried underground and carry water and sewage.

One of my favourite urban columnists, Star penciller Christopher Hume, called the federal funds for Toronto a "$200 million slap in the face" (the Star reports $200 million in federal stimulus dough and the Globe reports $190 million). Hume frames the whole glitzy announcement with such stinging words as:

"To make matters worse, the lameness of the federal response is part of a larger pattern of behaviour; this is a regime that has little real awareness of or interest in city issues. Though Canada has long since become an urban nation, that doesn't seem to have dawned on anyone in Ottawa."


"And as is always the case with federal money, it comes with so many strings attached you could play them like a harp. Or else get hopelessly entangled. Because the $200 million is one-third of the total cost – the rest must come from the city – federal officials can claim the real value of Ottawa's contribution is $600 million."

And of course, Hume asks about the deadlines (the money must be spent and projects wrapped up by March 31, 2011) and if they are so crucial, why did it take so damn long to get the cash?

Maybe the delay was due to conservative Councillors like Denzil Minnan-Wong and Case Ootes lobbying the feds to spend stimulus money in those Councillors' Wards. Councillor Ootes scored $1.2 million for upgrades to the Todmorden Mills museum and apparently, a few projects not originally on the City's demand list, appeared after some lobbying by these Councillors. Minnan-Wong defended his actions by stating: "I'm not going to make any apologies for using my relationships to get infrastructure…"

But there's more. Stimulus money is designed to move the economy along, lift it up from its dreary depths. Yes, the $200 million creates jobs (some reports say 7,000 jobs, but I'll wait until we see those jobs actually being created before I quote this figure seriously) and yes the projects are necessary to keep Toronto functioning, but what about stimulus money for stimulating events? Like the arts (okay, I know the Harper government has a hate-on for the arts…), or museums (okay, I know the Science Minister isn't sure about evolution, and some museums present evidence that scares him), or festivals that bring Toronto a lot of visitors and in turn, a lot of tourist money?

Let's briefly meditate on that last point. The Gay Pride parade is a money-machine for Toronto, it's fun, it brings people together to watch a parade, and maybe it helps to foment tolerance. When Conservative Minister Diane Ablonczy decided to allow $400,000 in tourism stimulus funding for Toronto's Gay Pride festival, she was given the boot from further deciding such matters.

When questioned whether Ablonczy was dumped for authorizing stimulus money for Gay Pride, Conservative Minister Tony Clement's office said that the program was entering a second phase and would be managed by a senior Minister.

But according to a document obtained through a Freedom of Information request, this second phase involving a termination of authority came through Clement's office rather than through the department, which is where these arrangements are usually made. Thus, we have political interference coinciding with Ablonczy's decision to spend stimulus money on a festival that makes some Conservatives squirm.

So there you have it. Just the tip of the stimulus cash iceberg.

Perhaps the Conservatives are hoping Toronto is just so hungry to have a few dollars tossed its way that it'll shut-up, be happy and go blue in the upcoming federal election. Fat chance.

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