Councillor Josh Matlow

City Hall Diary: Urban votes should count for more

Josh Matlow City Hall Diary

As last week’s deadline to file my federal income taxes approached, I fantasized about having control over exactly how Ottawa spends my earnings — imagining there were boxes I could check off on my tax form to indicate which priorities I’d like to fund.

But while I knew I couldn’t realistically make my voice heard on my tax form, I appreciated the fact that I’d soon be able to at the ballot box.

I live in Canada’s economic engine. Toronto’s home to the headquarters of many of our country’s major institutions, but its municipal government is broke. And yet I begrudgingly have to send most of my tax dollars to Ottawa.

Even with some support from Queen’s Park, along with Rob Ford’s hunt for “efficiencies,” Toronto will still be facing a nearly $800 million budget shortfall next year. So why don’t the feds spend enough of my money on Toronto?

All three major party leaders should appreciate how I feel as they represent ridings in big cities. Layton and Ignatieff are running for re-election in Toronto and Harper in Calgary (and grew up here in Toronto). And they all want us to send them to Ottawa — another big city. I wonder if they think about urban priorities while they’re stuck in traffic themselves.

Meanwhile, the feds are providing massive subsidies for rural concerns, while city hall doesn’t have the funds it needs to fix our city’s aged infrastructure, expand rapid transit to serve all residents of Toronto, provide high-quality daycare for young families and affordable housing for those in need.

And we’re not alone. In fact, 80 percent of Canadians live in urban areas, and most large municipal governments are facing similar challenges.

So why is Canada the only member of the G8 that doesn’t have a national transit plan for its cities? Why don’t we have a comprehensive national affordable-housing program?

My riding of St. Paul’s has a population of 111,000, while Labrador has 26,000, yet citizens in each elect one MP. I have no doubt that the issues in Labrador are unique, but they couldn’t be four times more important than those facing my community.

In the 905, fast-growing ridings now have populations of 170,000 people and are in desperate need of adequate transit and other infrastructure. In comparison, the average riding in Saskatchewan has about 70,000 people and ridings in PEI are well below 40,000.

I believe it would be in Toronto’s, and Canada’s, interest for Ottawa to allocate ridings that more accurately reflect the population concentration in urban areas. Perhaps that change could deliver an effective and predictable funding model, rather than the current ad hoc ribbon cuttings, that allows our nation’s cities to develop long-term plans that will support urban Canadians and our nation’s economy.

I may still have to send most of my tax dollars to Ottawa. But as a Torontonian, I look forward to the day when the federal government considers my vote as important as the cheque I’ve sent them in the mail.

Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.

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