Let me begin by saying what a pleasure it is to be here today at the Toronto City Summit.
The Toronto City Summit Alliance brings together civic leaders from the private, labour, voluntary and public sectors around a simple, shared goal: making our good city of Toronto great.
The Toronto City Summit Alliance has helped forge the consensus required to, as this year’s slogan proclaims: Make the Big Things Happen.
The existence of the Alliance helped put the New Deal for Cities on the federal map. We’ve made big strides together – like the City of Toronto Act – which grants us critically important powers to better serve Toronto and its people.
It’s fitting, then, that we take advantage of the 2007 Toronto City Summit to unveil our most important initiative yet: the One Cent Now campaign.
One Cent Now is a call to action.
It’s a call to the federal government to correct the real fiscal imbalance in this country – the one that exists between our national and local governments.
It’s a call to the federal government to share its revenues fairly with the communities where that money is generated.
It’s a call to the federal government to help build the kind of Toronto, the kind of cities and the kind of Canada that all of our citizens deserve.
A Canada that is forward looking.
A Canada that is sustainable – economically and environmentally.
A Canada that understands our people live in cities and that we must, in turn, give back to those communities at least a portion of what they contribute to their country.
Specifically, the One Cent Now campaign asks that the federal government transfer to municipalities the value of one cent of the revenues it collects every year from the GST.
For the City of Toronto alone that would mean more than $400 million this year.
For cities, towns and communities across this country, it would mean more than $5-billion per year – an amount that will grow as our economy strengthens.
As my colleague, Alan Lowe – the Mayor of Victoria – so ably points out: “With the demands on municipalities ever increasing, we can no longer just rely on property taxes to maintain a high quality of services for our citizens. A one-cent share of the GST would provide much-needed revenue to help the City of Victoria deal with the demands of our taxpayers.”
To the City of Victoria One Cent Now would mean $43-million this year.
For the City of Halifax, One Cent Now would put $47-million in the municipal treasury.
For Brampton, Mississauga and other GTA municipalities including Ajax, Aurora and Oshawa it would yield $437-million. Hamilton would receive $108-million.
This is funding we require urgently.
Funding that will help meet critical needs such as housing and shelter, better transit, safer streets and cleaner, stronger neighbourhoods.
Funding that will support our people in the places they live and work. Where they raise their families and build their futures.
In short, it is time for the federal government to give a penny, not just take a penny. It is time for One Cent Now.
The One Cent Now campaign is rooted in need and opportunity. The need to better finance our cities and the opportunity to make them among the world’s most green and liveable.
One Cent Now is a critical part of the three things that cities need most – the three needs I campaigned on last fall and that I pledged to take to Ottawa and Queen’s Park.
First, a national transit strategy, which we hope will be forthcoming from the federal government in this year’s budget.
Second, a proper realignment of roles and responsibilities between our cities and the provinces. Here in Ontario, it’s known as uploading. And we call upon Queen’s Park to pay the costs of provincial programs that were downloaded to every Ontario municipality.
And third, a share of revenues that grow with our economy and our cities – which is, of course, what the One Cent Now campaign is all about.
These three priorities are not luxuries. They are not bargaining chips to be traded off one against another. They are essential aspects of a new, more realistic approach to supporting our cities in the 21st century.
Let’s just focus for a moment on the sources of revenue we’re requesting.
The financial case for new, permanent sources of municipal funding has been made repeatedly in the last few years.
It’s been articulated by everyone from academics, to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to the Conference Board of Canada, to our country’s largest banks.
The economic benefits have been argued from the podiums of the Economic Club, Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade.
So to those who might be tempted to dismiss this campaign as just more whining for more money, I say that One Cent Now isn’t about greed. It’s about growth.
And above all, it’s about fairness.
It’s NOT a bailout.
It’s NOT a handout.
It’s OUR money!
Canada’s municipal governments receive approximately 8% of all taxes collected countrywide, as compared to 50% for the federal government. Yet, it is our cities and towns that have responsibility for almost every service that affects people’s every day lives.
By any measure, this is out of whack. Toronto alone sends $6.6-billion a year more to the federal treasury than it gets back.
Our citizens do not object to paying our fair share. We know those dollars are used to finance health care and education, equalization and important research and development.
Torontonians take pride in our contribution to the nation’s well-being.
But we also know that more of that money has to come back to our city. We need to keep Toronto strong if we’re going to keep Canada prosperous.
And the same need exists in Victoria. In Halifax. In Brampton and Mississauga. In Hamilton, Sarnia and Thunder Bay. In cities from coast-to-coast.
It is money that I commit publicly to handle with the utmost of care. Indeed, Toronto’s credentials for sound financial management have grown impressively in recent years.
In my first three years as Mayor, we’ve kept property taxes in check. We are creating a lower tax rate for small, neighbourhood-based businesses and we’ve grown key economic clusters that will form the backbone of our city’s future job creation.
At City Hall, we’ve cut red tape and increased financial controls over public funds. An administration that was once the stuff of scandal sheets is now winning awards for managerial excellence and service delivery. More than 50 awards in just the past three years alone. And just this month, Moody’s Investor Services renewed our AA1 credit rating.
In other words, we have our fiscal house in order. The problem is: Our house is long over due for renovations.
Which takes me to the opportunity that arises from the One Cent Now campaign. Canadians – and Torontonians – are justly worried about the state of our environment. They live with the effects of smog and air pollution – with increasing rates of child asthma and visible signs of global warming.
Toronto has been a model in its approach to environmental stewardship. Our recycling and diversion program, to cite just one example, has been heralded and imitated the world over. The results are on display already. The average Canadian has an annual carbon footprint of 22 tonnes – meaning they personally generate 22 tonnes of carbon pollution each and every year. In Toronto, we’ve managed to lower that to only 9 tonnes per individual. But that’s still far too high.
My vision for Toronto – a vision shared by the City Summit Alliance – is of a city recognized as the leading environmental example to the world.
Therefore, I couple my demand for One Cent Now with a commitment of my own. If the federal government will do the fair thing, then the City of Toronto will do the green thing. Give us One Cent Now and not only will it help us keep property taxes reasonable, meet critical capital budget needs and finance an overhaul in our affordable housing stock.
Not only will we be able to in invest in our neighbourhoods, in expanded community centres and updated libraries. We’ll be able to better keep our communities safe for families and create more jobs for our young people and to help our neighbourhoods.
Not only will we be able to keep our city on the move and our economy on the upswing. We’ll be able to support the public infrastructure that is expected of vibrant and creative city. Not only will we be able to do all this. We’ll be able to do one thing more – the one thing that families in Toronto care about most.
Give us One Cent Now and we will make Toronto the greenest of the world’s great cities. A city that serves as a model to others – one that grows according to green principles and lives by green practices.
We will increase the beauty of our city and the health of its people. We will increase the convenience by which our residents can travel on public transit. We will bring down greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the number of cars choking our city streets and lower the exhaust pumped into the air above our city.
In effect, I am proposing a bargain between governments for the sake of the public good. Give back to Torontonians a small percentage of the wealth they generate in their city and we will match that gesture with a greater, greener investment in Toronto’s environmental, social and economic wellbeing.
That is the pay off for progress. But there is a much bigger price to be paid for inaction. The Conference Board of Canada tells us that Toronto alone is facing an annual shortfall of more than $1 Billion – just to cover our basic needs and services. We see critical infrastructure falling into a state of disrepair – the risks of which were brought home with the bridge collapse in Montreal. And financial reserves for cities like our own are being drained – NOT to finance mega projects, but just to cover day-to-day operations.
This approach is not sustainable. It simply must be changed. The federal government must be made to face up to reality. They must hear our call for One Cent Now.
That’s why, in the weeks to come, you will see this symbol everywhere. On city buses, in the subways, in storefront windows, on the lapels and collars of your friends and neighbours. It will be hard to escape and impossible to ignore. To all those fashioning the federal budget we intend it as an unmistakable message: It’s time.
It’s time for fairness.
It’s time for vision.
It’s time for action.
And let me underscore that while I speak for Toronto, this will be a nation-wide effort. In the near future, the One Cent Now campaign will be coming to a municipality near you. It enjoys the full support of the Big City Mayors Caucus and many other municipal leaders. The reason is simple. It provides a fairer, more rational and more ambitious vision of our country. A vision that makes proper room for urban centres where over 80% of our families dwell and where so much of our economic activity is created.
The question now is whether we will see that vision reflected in the policies of our federal government.
Should we fail to find the answer we’re looking for from the Minister of Finance in his upcoming budget, we will not rest. We will ask candidates for each of the political parties to commit themselves to the One Cent Now pledge in the next federal election. We will happily support all those candidates who back this plan. So too, will we be quick to call out those parties and those candidates who oppose our proposal.
But let’s take a step back from politics and return to the principles at stake. Canada is a great country. And our cities are – for the most part – wonderful, clean and safe places to live.
But we cannot take any of that for granted. We have a duty to shape the future we seek. By acting. By joining. By being heard. By making a difference.
One Cent Now is a chance to do all that. But most important of all, it is a chance to deliver on the promise of great cities.
In Toronto, I sought re-election on a platform of prosperity, liveability and opportunity for all. We have put forward a plan to deliver.
But we cannot continue growing our city and building our future on the back of the property tax alone. It was never intended to support such weight and, simply, cannot.
The One Cent Now campaign offers a way forward. The fair way. The green way. THE RIGHT WAY!
And so I ask people to join our cause. To pin the penny on your lapels, put it up in your windows and sign our petition.
At the end of the day, this is about people – the people of Toronto, Ontario and Canada — and what we all deserve. Proper support to ensure Canada’s sustainable economic and environmental future.
Before I close, I ask you to listen not just to my words – but to the words of Torontonians who share our belief in what we can do if given our fair share.
These are the voices of our city. Of our people. Of our Toronto. In the weeks and months to come, we intend to bring those voices together and to raise those voices louder.
In the weeks and months to come, we intend to be heard.
Governing at any level – local, provincial or federal – must be about preparing the way for a better tomorrow.
That is what we are talking about – the urgent need to correct a problem today so that we can realize our full potential in the future.
That is why I know our voices will be heard by the federal government. Because I believe it wants to share in that obligation to the future and work with Toronto and other Canadian cities to make it a reality.
In closing, I simply say that our need is real.
Our cause is correct.
Our purpose is clear.
And we cannot be denied.
It’s time. Time for a better, greener tomorrow. A better, greener Canada. It is time for One Cent Now.