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Toronto Sun: City stumbles from crisis to crisis

Published: February 10, 2008
Source: Toronto Sun

To Read the article in Toronto Sun

Let's start with a point on which reasonable people can agree.

Toronto City Hall should not be run like an unscrupulous used car lot.

(Our apologies in advance to honest used car salesmen everywhere.)

The problem at City Hall is that almost every time it rolls out a new "product" these days -- in this case the 2008 operating budget -- there are hidden fees, cost add-ons and way too much small print.

Last week, it was a now-nuked 21.5% hike in permit fees to rent city-owned ice rinks, pools and sports fields that nobody, including Mayor David Miller, bothered to mention when he proudly introduced the city's proposed 2008, $8.2-billion operating budget last month, crowing it was the first balanced one in a decade.

Then, when news of the permit fee hikes almost 10 times the inflation rate leaked out early last week, even some councillors complained neither the mayor nor staff had alerted them.

Presumably, they could have found this defunct $2.1 million cash grab (which will now have to be made up somewhere else) if they had combed line by line through the budget. Next came increased fees for garbage pickup.

But the larger point is this is hardly the first time a fiasco like this has happened.

Taxpayers saw councillors quietly pass hefty pay raises for themselves in a 2005 "hide in plain sight" process that failed to pass muster with the city's integrity commissioner.

Then there was the collective agreement the city quietly passed with its firefighters' union last June, details of which the public only found out about in October.

But these aren't the only fiascoes at the three-ring circus known as City Hall.

Last summer, Miller lost control of his own plan to impose new land transfer and vehicle registration taxes on Torontonians, resulting in months of unnecessary confusion, chaos and political gamesmanship -- including near-hysterical rhetoric from the mayor, warning that if he didn't get his own way, the sky would fall.

This is what happens when you leave hapless city staff to explain unpopular tax hikes to the public, instead of stepping forward and facing the music yourself.

Real leaders don't engage in government-by-stealth.

When there's bad news, they deliver it themselves, lay out their plans for corrective action and accept responsibility. That's how a competent civic administration acts.

You do your job, make a decision, stand up to receive criticism or kudos from the public and trust voters to be fair at the end of the day.

You don't stumble from crisis to crisis in a fog of your own making.

Good government is about people actually living up to that popular motto of a famous hotel chain: "No surprises."

Sadly, what taxpayers are getting far more often from the mayor and his minions these days is government by chaos theory. And that act is getting pretty old and tiresome, pretty fast.

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Content last modified on November 08, 2008, at 08:37 AM EST