Sunday, September 26, 2010


TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT? School Boards, City, Province Not On the Same Page

We keep hearing this election that our city is in financial trouble... or not.
We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem... or not.
We have assets that the city should sell to get revenue... or not.

It's a confusing situation with extreme ideas being thrown out by desperate candidates wanting to make the news with the latest outrageous statements, at least in the race for mayor.
"Here's my great idea... yes it costs... but we'll just sell..(fill in the blank..Toronto Hydro, etc)."

What it does show is how truth gets distorted by personal persepective and the immediate and short term needs of those who might govern us. No one it seems is taking the longer view and realizing that the status quo in how we are governed needs to change to meet our far future needs.

Take the example of closing schools - like West Toronto, right across from where I live.

We have one taxpayer whose money goes to providing them - buildings, land, maintenance, staffing, etc. Yet who is in control? The Province ultimately, because education is a provincial responsibility. The Province allows for a democratically elected local ward government in the form of School Trustees who make up a board of control. That board is required by law to balance budgets and if it gets out of line, the Province can step in (and has) and does what it wants. Then we have the City, also under the control of the Province with seperate elected Councillors and Mayor. The Province has a lighter touch with city government, but still has the control and can punish or reward cities for meeting their agendas (just look at Transit funding issues).

In the real, physical world we still have the one taxpayer who finances the acquisition of land and infrastructure - like West Toronto. Yet, we have THREE governing bodies with an interest in the decisions that affect that single physical thing.

The Province wants to balance its budget and to get a good return on that thing.
The Scool Board wants to maximize use of schools, balance budgets and that means selling that thing.
The City wants to ensure that there is sufficient community space for increasing population densities and that means trying ti gain control of that thing.

THREE governments with different agendas competing for control of one thing.
... kind of like three hands in the one taxpayer's pocket in a way, isn't it?

Schools are unique. They are geographically and strategically placed in our communities so they are at the core of local neighbourhoods. They are built in such a way that they usually have significant green space surrounding a large, accessible structure that can accomodate large numbers of people. Often they are easily areached by public transit or are in walking distance to large residential areas. They are natural 'Community Hubs' as was the topic of a Social Planning conference that I attended just this past Friday.

Schools are extremely valuable assets that we must not misuse or dispose of without a tremendous amount of forethought - the kind that looks DECADES into the future and not just the next budget.

Despite the complexities of competing government powers and short term demands of budgets, we MUST save our schools for the children and communities of the future. All that is required is political will to change what we need to to make this happen. We owe it to our collective future.... because ...