THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Globe and Mail - Sept. 13, 2008 - By John Barber, email@example.com - comment.
MISSISSAUGA'S BAD EXAMPLE
In reality he can only suffer in silence as she leads a vigorous campaign to humiliate him and his like into humbly serving more gold unto her and her like. She has already made him regret his curt response to her previous appeals - when he said that the national government was "not in the pothole business" - and this week she made him squirm with another thundering jeremiad.
It's great theatre, and that's what matters in an election campaign. As policy, however, it does more to expose the weakness of the urban agenda than to advance it. We are presented with an image of Mississauga - and, by extension, other Canadian cities - as facing imminent collapse. What we see is a dog in the manger.
For decades, Ms. McCallion proudly held up Mississauga as the exemplar of cities, a super-managed citadel of fiscal rectitude, a low-tax haven "paying as it goes," building paradise by squeezing nickels - above all, debt-free. Now she tells us it's a financial wreck in desperate need of federal rescue. Something doesn't jibe.
Give her credit for recognizing the conceptual potholes that have opened up as her town matures from soulless sprawl into almost-place. The simple positivism of the old boomtown no longer applies. Ms. McCallion sees the problematic new reality - but has no idea how to respond. In this world, the case for cities only showcases the pathology of their dependence.
Consider the animated appeal Ms. McCallion made in her annual state-of-the-city address this week, imploring citizens to ignore all issues other than Mississauga in the current federal election, to abandon their loyalties in order to elect the party most willing to subsidize her municipal operation. "Just because your father or mother were Conservatives or Liberals or NDPers, forget about it, eh? And deal with the issues. My gosh, there's some people that would die rather than vote [for another party]. It's time they die."
That's a lot to ask, considering that Ms. McCallion preposterously refuses to take the next logical step and recommend a party to vote for. What good is that?
Rather than being an effective call to arms, boosting the "urban agenda" that hopes to make Canadian cities a national issue, Ms. McCallion's appeal becomes Exhibit No. 1 in the case against it, showing why the urban agenda is once again failing to take hold.
Exhibit No. 2 is Mississauga's financial position. The city is not only debt-free, it has more than $1-billion in the bank - straight cash saved from past surpluses, just sitting there, doing nothing to finance the projects that Ms. McCallion says are desperately needed. Rather than putting her own hoard to work, she wants an indebted federal government to borrow more money on its own account and hand it over.
"Every Canadian is entitled to a roof over their head," she said this week. So why has Mississauga never set up a housing company or invested any of its ample cash in affordable housing? To a dog in the manger, housing for the poor - one of the most basic municipal services - is emphatically somebody else's responsibility.
Why does Mississauga have such threadbare public transit? Simple: It's debt-free, stingily refusing to make necessary investments to serve the needs of future generations. In this bizarre conception of municipal government, every high-order municipal service becomes somebody else's responsibility.
Other mayors can make a much better case, but the pattern doesn't change. It's one long whine, all too easy to dismiss. Rather than engaging senior governments in positive local initiatives that deserve support, they focus their energy on throwing off the burden of government.
Toronto Mayor David Miller's relative quietude in the current campaign might be said to reflect a more responsible attitude - one gained by means of significant hikes in local taxes and fees, a long tradition of engaged government and hard-working public debt. Premier Dalton McGuinty is properly focusing on gaining a fair share of social spending from Ottawa. By contrast, Canada's senior municipal tribune wants every pothole to be filled with somebody else's gold.
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