Consultation shows public wants services before tax cuts
TORONTO—The results of a public consultation with Torontonians released in mid-July has dealt a blow to Mayor Rob Ford's agenda.
The Core Service Review - Public Consultation released by the City shows that public opinion of the City's budget deficit is in direct opposition to the Mayor's agenda. Over 13,000 Torontonians completed the consultation.
Ford, who campaigned heavily on reducing City 'waste' and freezing tax increases, has faced a dilemma partly of his own creation. While Ford inherited a large surplus from his predecessor, his decision to freeze taxes in 2011 and eliminate a number of revenue streams has the city facing a deficit of over $700 million for 2012.
The Mayor has commissioned audit firm KPMG to find savings in various departments. Meanwhile, the size of the deficit has forced Ford to recently backtrack on one of his 2010 campaign promises. He initially claimed that a property tax increase would not go over 1.8 per cent. But he recently said, “At the very most, I’ve said you can raise property taxes, at the most, 2.5, maybe 3 per cent.”
Ford had urged his supporters (dubbed 'Ford Nation') to overwhelm the public consultations to promote an anti-tax, cutting-spending agenda. However the results of the consultation have turned out quite differently.
The results of the consultation conclude that:
Torontonians' number one priority is 'Transparent and accountable government.' The third highest priority is 'Meeting the needs of vulnerable people' while 'Fair and affordable taxes' was ranked dead-last out of nine available options.
Public Transit, Fire Services and Water Treatment were deemed to be the most necessary services for the City. The management of Exhibition Place and the Toronto Zoo by the City were considered to be least important.
Survey participants overwhelmingly supported increasing 'property taxes to keep the same level of City services.' Not increasing 'user fees or taxes even if this means reducing the level of service' had the least support.
According to the report the mean recommended 'property tax increase for all participants was 5.15 per cent.' Over 20 per cent of participants recommended a 5 per cent tax increase. A 10 per cent increase was recommended by 19 per cent of participants.
With the publication of the results, some of Ford's allies on City council have stated that they will not follow the recommendations of the consultation. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong stated, “It’s not statistically valid, those people self-selected, they decided to fill that form out as opposed to if you were to take a representative sample and have a pollster do it.”
Statistically, participation in the consultations was over-represented—compared to other consultations in the Downtown core—by computer users (higher income, higher education, youth), parents and low-income Torontonians.
Enid Godtree is a journalist with the Toronto Media Co-op. This article was first published with the Toronto Media Co-op.