Head-chopping city-fed headlines

Old newsstand outside of Greyhound terminal, from City of Toronto Archives

While the graphic Spacing editor Dale Duncan posted yesterday of Hazel McCallion wrestling Jim Flaherty definitely made me smile, the front-page headline on today’s Toronto Star — “PM to cities: Drop dead” — made me laugh out loud.

It’s pretty strong, sarcastic stuff for a non-Onion, non-editorial-cartoon header, and made me wonder if it was a little too close to deadline at the copy desk when that went through.

I notice that on the Star website the headline has been changed to the less inflammatory “Harper rejects financial aid for cities.”

Do you think, given the consequences of continuing federal indifference to cities, especially Toronto, that the more pointed headline was justified? I admire the Star‘s city reporting (and advocacy), and I’m frustrated with city funding issues too…but I’m still wondering.

UPDATE: This post was published before we were able to include the Star‘s original reference: A 1975 NY Post headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead”. Thanks to commenters below.

photo from Toronto Archives: series 71, item 4082

33 comments

  1. Sorry Sean, I was going to put that in but hit “publish ” too fast!

    Thanks for noting it.

  2. At the same time, even though it’s a play off that headline, it’s still (a) funny, (b) dramatic, and (c) open to different interpretations based on whether people know about that 1975 headline or not.

  3. Plus, the fact that someone changed it for the web edition makes me think that they might have judged it too over the top in retrospect…

  4. “…based on whether people know about that 1975 headline or not.”

    I didn’t get the allusion when I first saw the headline (although I did think it was awesome), but the helpful explanation in the lower right-hand corner of the front page filled me in.

  5. It’s not that surprising – it is the Toronto Star, after all. Only marginally more biased than most of the other stories published in that paper.

  6. Let’s get real here. The cities are the domain of their respective province. The provincials should take the opportunity to raise taxes and forward that money to the cities.

  7. I’ve swithed over to just reading the online versions of papers, but I was stopped in my tracks byt the headline. Very un-Star like and more like the Sun. Slightly irresponsible journalism, but effective nonetheless. I teach headline writing at Humber College as part of my classes and this will be used next week as an example.

    But to comment on above comment: Cities are not *exclusively* the domain of provinces. The Feds can send money to cities thru the province if they don’t want to directly fund cities. That’s what Trudeau did throughout the 70s.

    But raising taxes provincially is a poor idea if the Feds have a surplus: the funds are there: they just need to be properly dispersed.

    I wonder how much extra money now goes into the military to help Afghanis while that money could’ve been spent on our own infrasturcture and housing problems. I’m not against helping rebuild countries but I also hate seeing our own people become neglected.

  8. I missed the 1975 reference and still thought it was fitting, given The Star’s long-running focus on the financial crisis for municipalities. And it was definitely good for a laugh.

    You might be reading too much into the difference between print and web headlines. Similar pattern last Friday: the print edition was titled “Dead end for 1,100 jobs” but the web headline was “Chrysler cuts Brampton jobs”. Catchy headlines sell papers; a more descriptive headline is a better fit for the web.

  9. Re: “But raising taxes provincially is a poor idea if the Feds have a surplus: the funds are there: they just need to be properly dispersed.”

    How strange that this blog ignored the logic of this argument in advocating for approval of the LTT and VRT.

  10. Those things weren’t ignored — most of our writer also support the One Cent Now campaign which is based on a similar sentiment that taxes already collelcted at the federal level could be spent on cities.

    Also, the Province has taxes that grow with the economy, Toronto doesn’t. Ontario has sway with Feds, Toronto doesn’t. Ontario is not in financial dire straights, Toronto is.

    There is nothing wrong with believing that Toronto should have taxation powers outside of property taxes AND think that a fraction of the billions and billions in the GST surplus should be spent on cities. Even US cities get funded like this, and Canadians often portray our neighbours as knuckle-draggers.

  11. Somehow the “Drop Dead” headline seems like a good bookend to “Mr. Nice Makes History”, following the provincial election. Both made me chuckle as I walked past the box.
    Some credit the NYT head for influencing Ford’s later softening of his position. Is anyone willing to bet on whether the Star’s reprint will have any influence on Harper’s stance?
    The Star is improving street life for me. Too bad they chickened out later. I hope they keep it up.

  12. It’s interesting how in talking about media coverage of the fed/municipalities funding issues, the issues themselves of course come up… this post was more about media coverage, but since the point has been raised…

    Admitting that I don’t have the most indepth grasp of the ways city-fed funding has worked in the past, I can still think of a few ways that increased federal funding in a few areas could benefit Toronto immensely:

    1) A National Daycare Strategy
    Currently Toronto’s nonprofit, subsidized agency daycare spots are very few. Fed investment of surplus into a workable national daycare strategy (rather than giving a paltry $25 a week to all parents for same) would be of immense assistance to Toronto children and families. It would also at the same time relieve Toronto of daycare cost burdens.

    2) A National Anti-Poverty Strategy
    As Scott Sorli’s Common Sense Revolution project, currently in the window of the Toronto Free Gallery to November 17, shows, real welfare rates have plunged dramatically in the past 20 years, and, in concert, numbers of homeless deaths have noticeably risen. Improved welfare funding would take some burden off of Toronto’s street-identified service bureaus.

    3) A much-improved National Green Strategy
    And improved green strategy would increase the funding available to sustainable transport agencies such as the TTC, maybe helping to keep fares steady while improving service reach to less cost for TO City Hall.

    Er, OK that’s enough politics for me today.

  13. There’s this thing called the constitution, you might want to read it some time. The feds are supposed to stick to their jurisdiction, the provinces theirs. So if the feds have too much money, they cut taxes, and then provinces can decide if they need to raise taxes.

    I am at a complete loss as to why Spacing-ites would want the city to be dependent on the federal government. The larger the entity that is spending the money, the less responsive it is to local issues (i.e. those that are small yet important), and the more likely it is to be distracted by other considerations.

    So you have the cities initiative that includes all cities in Canada, rather than the few major metropolises that are fairly different from the others. We even see this problem in Toronto, where councillors for suburban wards derail critical urban infrastructure to serve a few of their constituents, and when 3 councillors can veto developments in the core of the city that affect the entire GTA, if not the Province.

    Toronto’s riding structure is guaranteed to elect Liberals and a few NDP. Thus no party has an interest in policies taht attract Toronto voters, while there is much to be gained in competitive districts by antagonizing or even attacking Toronto. Montreal has had the same problems, many if not most Quebec ridings have had these problems until very recently – barring the patronage of a high-powered cabinet minister or PM. Outside of a total reapportionment of Toronto’s districts to create actually competitive elections, the last thing that someone concerned about Toronto should want is higher levels of government controlling spending.

    Mississauga has an intelligent tax structure and (relatively) intelligent spending controls. They tax residences severely while having low commercial rates. Keeping city wages as low as possible ensures that service levels are high and that voters see actual returns to taxes, rather than just higher wages for the same surly bunch of municipal workers.

    Taxes are best raised by the entity that will spend the money, and taxes are best spent by an entity that is as close as possible to the problem. This is basic operational competence, rather than something ideological. Toronto, specifically, is guaranteed to be screwed by higher orders of government thanks to the redistributionist role of senior levels of government and their love of regional development initiatives. Spacing has written about this, at extreme length. So why would you want the people that are guaranteed to “shortchange” Toronto to tax Toronto and then spend money on the city?

  14. One more thing on a tangent. I actually think the One Cent Now campaign was a bit of a misstep. The non-Torontonian in me goes “What about one cent for Calgary? Vancouver? Halifax?” It’s that logic gap that’s sinks it for me.

    But I do believe the feds and the province should use their surpluses for a) the programs they’ve mandated and b) improving the quality of life of all Canadians rather than cutting taxes in such a way that the wealthy actually pay less tax than the poor – see “Taxing trend: Poor Carry Bigger Burden than Rich” http://www.thestar.com/article/274673. (Or should that be “Rich to Poor: Drop Dead”? Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  15. Once again, Leah. The Star was the only news organizatoin that covered a “report” from the CCPA. Big surprise.

  16. I’m not sure what you’re talking about Grant, the rich/poor taxes story was also covered by the Canadian Press, and the Globe and CBC picked it up from them along the way:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071108.wtaxes1108/BNStory/National/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20071108.wtaxes1108
    http://www.cbc.ca/cp/national/071107/n1107167A.html

    Did I miss something? Certainly not your implication that the Star would be the most “lefty,” and therefore “least trustworthy” of media, right?

  17. Reality Check > But jurisdictions often change, which is part of the problem here. Take affordable housing. Not so long ago, the federal government downloaded responsibility for affordable/social housing onto the province, which downloaded it onto cities (I’m simplifying things, here, but I believe that’s the gist). Now cities have to take care of social housing on top of everything else, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since, as you argued, local issues are usually best dealt with by local governments who have a better idea of what’s needed. The problem is that cities weren’t given the funds (or the ability to raise the funds) to match the new programs higher levels of governments made them responsible for. On top of all this, with amalgamation, our number of representatives were cut, as were staff.

    The one cent campaign (which MANY big Canadian cities are calling for) would provide Torontonians (and other cities) with a small percentage of the sales tax. These taxes are generated from goods and services that are bought and sold in cities. Since cities play a role in facilitating such interactions (through tourism campaigns, creating pleasent business districts, etc.) it seems fair to me that they get a piece of the pie to spend how they see fit. On average, across Canada, 50 cents of every dollar Canadians pay in taxes go to the federal government, while about 8 cents go to cities. I think it’s even worse in Toronto (I have to find that stat again.) In a way, then, the federal government is more dependent on us than we are on them. If Canada’s cities start failing, Ottawa will feel it.

    Many other successful cities around the world (including those in the states) get revenue from from their federal/national government. In Europe, cities receive, on average 32 percent of their revenue from their national governments.

    I also agree with Leah that National Strategies are in order. If homelessness is a growing problem nation-wide, for example, Ottawa should at least examine why it is consistently happening in cities across the country and how its policies may have contributed to it. Actions that the federal government takes, whether we view it as something that falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction or not, can affect cities immensely.

  18. Leah,

    Yes, certainly that is exactly what I would be implying. The Star’s cover this morning serves only to reinforce that point.

  19. I would also add, note the difference in headlines:

    CBC News/Globe:
    “Rich pay less percentage in taxes than poor, report finds”

    Toronto Star:
    “Taxing trend: Poor carry bigger burden than rich”

    Every day, subtle – but very real – differences.

  20. It helps to remember that the headline about New York was what helped elect Jimmy Carter.

  21. There’s this thing called the constitution, you might want to read it some time. The feds are supposed to stick to their jurisdiction, the provinces theirs.

    Please…constitutional jurisdictions have long been blurred. Otherwise, just for starters, we wouldn’t have federally subsidized health care.

    I saw that headline, and thought: damn straight – it’s about time the mainstream called Harper to the carpet. His indifference to municipalities is not only callous, it’s bafflingly tin-eared from a political standpoint. The fact that he would rather stick it to cities than help – when doing so would reap countless political rewards says something much deeper about Harper’s persona. And it isn’t positive…

  22. McKingford:

    On Harper: “His indifference to muncipalities….”

    Define indifference? What indifference are you talking about?

  23. “Reality Check”(we get it!)> Toronto is the, what, 6th biggest government in Canada? It, and some other municipalities , having some kind of direct relationship with the federal government is not unreasonable. In fact, it’s what the Canadian Federation of Municipalities is calling for.

  24. Harper is the pure example of a dumb politician still stuck in 19th century Canada. 80% of Canadians live in cities and the Conservatives not electing one single member of parliament from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal is proof on how disconnected they are from a huge portion of the Canadian population. I want a fair part of my taxes to stay in my city and community, not to help the Feds run surpluses to gloat about. Is that too much to ask for? The Star and to a certain extent the Globe have the intelligence to know what is needed for a dynamic 21st century economy and I praise today’s Star headline, I just wish that more people were educated on how the Feds are sucking us dry to the bone and are still able to pass the blame and responsibility onto others. If the Federal Government can’t do anything to improve where I live then what good are they? Damn our retarded irrelevant 19th century constitution, that useless piece of paper is being used too often as an excuse for inaction. Conservatives are among the most narrow-minded people I know, not even the American neo-cons are this stupid, the American Feds give a lot of support to their cities. You progress you grow, you stagnate you die, Harper has no idea how to be progressive (that is why they killed the PC). I am sorry for such rhetoric, but I needed to let off some steam… lol

  25. I don’t see why the Star would even bother commenting on Mr. Harpers supposed indifference to Toronto, other than their penchant for yellow journalism. Mr. McGuinty’s been indifferent to Toronto for 4 years now and doesn’t seem to be changing his tune.

    The feds have no responsibility for municipal affairs in this fair dominion as other posters have pointed out. Harper’s whole platform is to de-centralize government, give power back to the provinces, etc. etc.

    This is McGuinty’s mess to sort out, plain and simple. Toronto gave McGuinty his majority government on a silver platter. And Miller wasted our money on his “One Cent Now” campaign when he should’ve been riding roughshod over the provincal pols at election time. Harper has nothing to loose snubbing Toronto, his party has what ZERO seats to loose in Toronto ridings in the next election. We’ll dutifully vote for the Grits and the NDP as if it will matter. Martin, Chretien, Mulroney, Trudeau ignored Toronto, why shouldn’t Harper?

    Much as I agree the feds should help, as long as the province sits on it’s hands, it isn’t gonna happen!

  26. Re: “But raising taxes provincially is a poor idea if the Feds have a surplus: the funds are there: they just need to be properly dispersed.”

    How strange that this blog ignored the logic of this argument in advocating for approval of the LTT and VRT.

    Comment by x_the_x
    November 9, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

    “Those things weren’t ignored”…

    Which things? logic?

    “Most of our writer also support the One Cent Now campaign which is based on a similar sentiment that taxes already collelcted at the federal level could be spent on cities.”

    Yes, which is consistent with your statement above, unlike the support of the LTT and VRT, which is inconsistent. Small difference.

    “Also, the Province has taxes that grow with the economy, Toronto doesn’t. Ontario has sway with Feds, Toronto doesn’t. Ontario is not in financial dire straights, Toronto is.”

    So both Ontario and the Federal government not only have the taxation powers the city wants, and they currently exercise them, is a rationale for the city to get taxation powers? This is exactly contrary to your statement above – that taxes shouldn’t be levied by one level of government when taxes are being levied for the same purpose at another level – that it is both fairer and administratively simpler to have the other levels of government transfer the revenue.

    “There is nothing wrong with believing that Toronto should have taxation powers outside of property taxes AND think that a fraction of the billions and billions in the GST surplus” …

    There is no such thing as a “GST Surplus”.

    … should be spent on cities.

    No, nothing wrong with that view, but again inconsistent with your statement above.

  27. I agree that the headline was effective. As soon as I saw it, a Rosie Perez voice went off in head exclaiming “Oh No He Di’nt!” I went and looked at the story online only to be disappointed that the article was an unsurprising and conventional story.

  28. You cannot dismiss the significant constitutional issues with wishful thinking about the redistribution of powers which will not happen in my life time because it will require an amendment to our constitution.
    With that reality I too don’t comprehend why the concerted effort to enhance city funding isn’t being aimed at the Provincial government which, as I recall, has a significant surplus itself. Furthermore, some frameworks for moving fed funds to the province already exist (hasn’t BC just agreed a multi-billion dollar deal under the improved infrastructure program?). Hazel McCallion was critical of Toronto accepting the taxing authority under the City of Toronto Act as she felt it would limit municipalities when they went to the provincial government for funding in the future.
    McCallion’s recent involvement will assist as she brings some credibility to the movement that has heretofore been lacking. I would hope that she turns her guns on the province where they should be aimed and let them in turn turn up the heat on Harper and his band.

  29. “Damn our retarded irrelevant 19th century constitution, that useless piece of paper is being used too often as an excuse for inaction.”

    The constitution was written in 1982. Let’s just hope Dalton grows some balls (or a brain) and raises the PST?

  30. Just an update… The Star printed about ten letters this these last few days the topic of the headline. Most of those printed seemed to admonish the Star for not taking a harder line with McGuinty, and/or for irresponsible journalism. On the other hand, several expressed enjoyment of the headline, and/or appreciation for its 1975 reference.

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