Have y’all been listening to the podcast? Yes, I have a podcast with CKCU host Mike Powell, Technically Interesting. We’re covering the municipal election while simultaneously taking a shot at some of the city’s past branding. We are, as much as possible, speaking with candidates in some of the more interesting races (sorry, Somerset), and we have a set of questions we like to ask each candidate.
One of those questions is, “where should the city be spending less money?” This should be a pretty straightforward question for anyone who is running for council. I can think of a handful of things we could spend less money on. I’m not going to give candidates any suggestions (*cough* road expansions *cough*), though, because they really should be able to come up with something.
A few weeks back, we (well, Mike) spoke with the candidates in Innes Ward (you can listen to it here!). The answers to this question were…uninspiring. Laura Dudas didn’t really have a response; Tammy Lynch joked that Mike was trying to get her in trouble because any suggestion would make some voters mad at her; Donna Leith-Gudbranson avoided the question, talked about “efficiencies” and said we should spend more money on bike lanes (hey, that’s a great idea, but that’s totally not answering the question); and Francois Trepanier…damn, I forget. Just go listen yourself.
The candidates were on CFRA last week, chatting with Rob Snow. They went through a number of issues, but one thing stuck out. Snow asked about taxes and Watson’s pledge from last term to cap tax increases at 2%. He asked if the candidates agreed to this.
Trepanier had the best, most nuanced answer. He spoke about the need to understand the context of the budget, and he also mentioned that our taxes aren’t all that high compared to other jurisdictions.
Dudas kind of evaded. She spoke about the need for predictability, and that people aren’t going to want high increases (yeah, they really aren’t). But she stopped short of agreeing to the 2% cap.
Lynch and Leith-Gudbranson agreed with the cap, or at least adhering to it as much as possible. Leith-Gudbranson returned to her Doug Ford-esque mantra about efficiencies.
Okay, this is a problem.
I get that no one wants their taxes going up. And I get that candidates, especially in the (overly subsidized) suburbs, can’t go around championing significant tax hikes if they hope to win.
But Lynch and Leith-Gudbranson embraced the spirit of the hard cap (if not pledging to it explicitly), while not being able to identify one thing they would cut from the budget to make such a cap possible. In fact, they both want to spend more money. Again, Leith-Gudbranson, when asked about cutting something, talked up additional spending.
Now, I get that. I think we short-change a lot of things around here: transit, affordable housing, social services, libraries, community centres, bike lanes, pedestrian infrastructure, parks…even, I hate to say it, police. But we can’t fix these issues without either raising more money, or taking money from elsewhere.
(Okay, you may think we should be able to hold the line on taxes and just not increase spending without having to cut stuff…but that’s not possible in Ottawa. With continued sprawl and continued road expansions, the cost of maintaining service levels goes up significantly each year. Development charges for new developments do not cover the cost of infrastructure for them. Future property taxes on new suburbs do not cover the ongoing costs of maintenance–those suburbs are subsidized by existing dense, central neighbourhoods.)
Snow also talked about the special levies that sometimes come around, and there was some hemming and hawing about these (again, you really need to judge them in context)…but, make no mistake, there are no special levies that will cover the up-front and ongoing expenses of things like the Brian Cobourn extension–a really damned expensive infrastructure project that the candidates support.
Look, this isn’t just some bad idea or poor planning. This sort of contradictory platform should be disqualifying for voters.
You don’t have to agree with a candidate 100% to respect their platform and consider voting for them. Disagreements are going to happen. But what you should demand is that a candidate is thoughtful, that their platform has been crafted with care and that they’re not just throwing things out that people want to hear.
Your city councillor will have to make tough decisions. There will be trade-offs between projects, and between spending and taxes. Demand that your candidates have positions that can actually be enacted. If you want someone to hold the lines on taxes, you need someone who will be honest with you about what they want to cut.
Right now, two candidates in Innes are promising you rainbows and unicorns, and no possible way to pay for them. The campaign is long, so maybe they’ll get themselves sorted out, but for me, these are big holes they’re going to have dig out of.
Trepanier and Dudas are looking really good, right now.