Free advice to any and all potentially serious, undeclared challengers to
Mayor David Miller in the upcoming election: It's the potholes, stupid.
Any candidate who understands that will be on target to make a big dent in the socialist hegemony at city hall - and not just because fixing potholes is always the simplest, most popular offering on any municipal menu. In Toronto today, their proliferation is the visible legacy of an intentional policy to spend money on everything but roads - especially transit.
Prepared carefully and served hot, a campaign to eradicate Mayor Miller's scandalously growing road-repair backlog could be the most successful gambit since Mel Lastman sold an unaffordable municipal merger for no money down.
You could call potholes neglected infrastructure if you want. Or little political gold mines. Taken as a whole, our crumbling roads say it all about city hall - revealing its priorities in the most dramatically negative light possible.
Here is this crazy do-gooder fruitlessly trying to save the world while he lets the roads go to pot. And if you don't buy it, just read what the long-suffering transportation department has to say.
When Mr. Miller took office in 2003, transportation officials calculated the unfunded cost of bringing city roads to an acceptable standard at $155-million. A year later, the backlog price tag had grown to $235-million. Faced with outrageous demands from the transit system, city hall abandoned a half-hearted attempt to pay it down in 2006. Today, officials report, Toronto roads need $320-million of maintenance for which there are neither plans nor money available.
Last year, council authorized an extra $10-million a year in debt financing to address the backlog. Its only effect will be to prevent it from growing to $600-million by 2018, according to officials. Even with the extra spending, the backlog is expected to grow to $540-million by then.
Spend an extra $20-million a year, they say - three times the current budget - and the backlog will remain level at $320-million.
I ask you, citizens: Is that good enough for Toronto? And I say no, Toronto deserves better. We must arrest this pernicious decline with a sweeping public-works program to break the back of the Miller backlog once and for all.
Here is where the political mind runs rampant: special non-union work crews with "Mayor Barber Backlog Buster" patches sewn on their crisp, neat uniforms. Billboards advertising the new pothole-repair hotline. A whole new paradigm at city hall. Balance in transportation. Blah blah blah.
Like I said, it's pure gold. But to be credible, a potential backlog buster would have to budget real money rather than promising, as previous losers never failed to do, to fund big initiatives by finding elusive "efficiencies" in other city operations. This is where the conventional challengers always fall down. The eventual winner will be the one who promises to spend real money to achieve real results.
If Conservative Stephen Harper can suddenly flood the national economy with borrowed money, why can't a local right-winger do something similar, albeit on a far smaller scale? The money Ottawa and Queen's Park are currently spending on commuter parking lots in the 905 would be enough. But because the city can't raise user fees to cover road repairs - as it is doing to fund a massive, $500-million overhaul of the entire water system - it won't do them.
And because people who are most likely to support a backlog-busting mayor are the same ones who would object most loudly to raising the debt to do the job properly, such a candidate will remain a dream.