At the risk of inviting abuse on the comment string, I found myself wondering last week whether Jarvis Street is the hill on which the left wants to die.
For the record, I strongly disagreed with the Ford camp’s bid to erase the Jarvis bike lanes, although I also revisited my irritation at the fact that David Miller’s council took such a long time to implement the City’s cycling strategy.
Bottom line: Jarvis does represent a symbolic win for the brothers Ford, an election promise kept for the car war camp. In the long run, however, it may also prove to be a pyrrhic victory (look it up). Symbolic politics, as Miller knew well, cuts in both directions, and Jarvis may become a rallying cry for 2014.
But right now, Jarvis is not the main course, and council’s left would do well to move on, and quickly.
Whether by accident or design, the lengthy council fight over Jarvis played right into the Fords’ hands because it drew so much attention away from the KPMG core service review reports, which the city manager’s office has opted to release in installment form over the course of two weeks. (It’s like a made-for-TV mini-series, except you already know the story ends badly.)
So far, we know KPMG didn’t find much waste. Some services are delivered slightly above the mandated standard. Cutting certain expenditures, the consultants said in conspicuously neutral tones, entails risk. Other functions (daycare, the environment) may not be within the mandate of a municipal government.
Indeed, the question lurking around the margins of KPMG’s reports isn’t, “Where’s the gravy?” The true question is, “Should the City of Toronto be doing things like providing subsidized daycare?”
The debate isn’t just about accounting; it’s also about ideology. But we knew that already.
While much of the media coverage of the core service review so far has focused on the options KPMG has put forward, there’s been absolutely no hint yet as to what city manager Joe Pennachetti intends to propose to the brothers in terms of a menu of cuts and service reductions, as well as the associated savings.
I’m guessing his office has already roughed out its recommendations, but there are political niceties to consider, so the reports must still grind through the standing committees before Pennachetti and the mayor’s office get to the big reveal.
As a result, we have an interesting little pause in the proceedings, one that presents the left with two potential courses of action.
The easier one is to adopt a reactive, opposition party–style approach. Either the mayor’s office or Pennachetti will cough up a list of recommended cuts, whereupon the left will go into attack mode, warning darkly of the mean, uncaring city Ford is preparing to foist onto Torontonians.
The more difficult course is for the left to capitalize on the interregnum and draw up an austerity plan that does not aim to maim. As the members of Karen Stintz’s Responsible Government Group attempted during Miller’s second term, the left can pitch its alternative to the mushy middle instead of simply lobbing grenades.
As Jack Layton would advise: proposition, not opposition.
One could argue the Fords will make their political choices and face the consequences in 2014. But certain cuts implied by the KPMG reports (and we haven’t even seen the ones geared at the TTC, public health, or the library board) are so extreme that they point towards a radical shift in the role of local government.
Some centrists may already be feeling uneasy about the implied changes. But as long as there’s no fiscally credible and politically plausible Plan B out there for them to consider, they’ll be easy marks for the Fords’ whips.
By the way, if a Plan B hinges on an unspecified Provincial bail-out, it automatically fails the smell test. The story of the Ford administration is all about competence, so it now falls to his critics to show voters that they could lead the city within the context of the current fiscal vice-grip.
Photo by Padraic