I’ve always found it interesting (verging on insulting) that Rob Ford has geared his campaign and his propaganda around the taxpayers and not the people/citizens of Toronto. This is a very specific way of looking at the people who he works for: and it’s not entirely accurate. Nor do I think it should be the way we look at his relationship to the city. It does seem to be the way things are headed, and it is fundamentally a shift that I despise. I have to take a stand against it.
The total population of the city is 5.9 million as of 2012 estimates (National Household Survey, 2013), so I’d say we easily reached 6 million this year. But Mr. Ford does not see them as “people” or “citizens”; he sees them as “taxpayers”. There is a tiny bit of justification to this: all of us pay taxes to some degree, because there are taxes on almost everything we buy and woven into almost everything we do, but some of us pay more than others. Some pay significantly more. Those who earn more often pay more, though the richest can employ accountants who can wangle minimal payment. And of course businesses also pay taxes, though they have no vote. But Mr. Ford definitely sees them among his constituency.
On the other side are those who use city services, which include things like schools and libraries and parks and museums and recreational services. We still pay taxes, but we also use services. Mr. Ford aimed to reduce these to “pay-for” services as much as he could during his tenure, so that taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill for services they don’t use; and he achieved it in some cases, like that of recreational services: the renting of rinks and fields and the like. “By hiking fees for recreation programs, Ford took $24 million extra out of the pockets of city residents.” But he saved taxes. (Toronto Star, 2013) So it didn’t reduce a cost, it just transferred a point of payment. And now many of the poorest families can no longer afford to keep their kids in after-school programs, so they run the risk of gangs and violence. Such “efficiencies” are very short term.
Those who pay the highest taxes tend to use such services minimally: they send their kids to private schools and entertain on private estates: much like Mr. Ford, I suppose. Certainly he opens his palatial home to the lower classes once a year and enjoys their adulation for the cost of a barbecue and some beer: but I’ve never gone. My vote isn’t quite that cheap.
The point is, Mr. Ford sees those voting for him as “taxpayers” rather than “citizens”. We all have equal presence as citizens; Mr. Ford with all his BBQs and scandals is equal to the garbageman in the West End who earns too low a wage to own a house in the city because his once-unionized job was cancelled. We’re very different as taxpayers: some of us have more power and more standing before the mayor because we’ve paid more for the privilege. As long as this rhetoric and propaganda continue, they slowly shift our perspective: we cease to be people and instead are simply sources of funding. That is not what I am, nor what I want to be.
My pastor at church (St Johns York Mills) made a point like this, in his sermon this morning: and I have to admit I had to hold myself back from applause. Seeing us as “taxpayers” degrades our humanity to nothing more than our participation in a culture where buying and selling are the highest goods. The only goods. And that is a problem.
Note: And beyond this: the question comes: did Mr. Ford even save that much for taxpayers? Much though we hear a lot quoted by the Fords and his supporters about a “billion dollar” savings for the city, it seems that is more words than reality. Propaganda. “The city’s surplus this year is smaller than Miller’s was in 2010. City spending has gone up about $200 million per year under Ford, and he’s increased the taxes and fees Torontonians pay to the city by about $200 million per year as well.” (The Grid, 2013)