Building a Progressive Political Movement at City Hall

Luke Savage, a writer of the Broadbent Institute, published a piece in the Globe and Mail this morning titled “Biting cold exposes rot in city’s attitudes to poverty.” (January 8, 2018) He describes an internal debate in Toronto’s civic administration and then goes on to comment.

Expensive housing proliferates while the needs of middle and low income people are ignored

“This apparent conflict over data has ultimately exposed a much deeper rot, not only in Toronto’s overall attitude towards poverty and homelessness, but in the character of the political consensus that governs it – one that has elevated the market above all else and substituted real human needs for cold economic calculus. Indeed, the city has increasingly become a place of public decay amid private affluence; one where underfunded infrastructure and social services are allowed to co-exist with scorching condo booms and lucrative financial speculation; where an expensive rental market quite literally drives people onto the streets; where, amidst unfathomable wealth, some citizens are forced to suffer in the cold while officials prevaricate about the availability of shelter beds in overcrowded facilities.”

This is a powerful condemnation and Savage points directly at John Tory, Toronto City Council, and other politicians for, “a penny-pinching ethos … that has meant cutting costs and reducing the quality of public services while slashing taxes and public spending.”

This is a good summary of John Tory’s politics and the administration that he leads at city hall. In fact, this approach is typical of almost every municipality in Ontario – keep costs as low as possible, hold the line on property taxes, provide approvals for private developers to build condos and expensive rental accommodation, ignore demands for affordable housing and the crisis of poverty. This is the agenda of the majority of our municipal politicians at a time of unprecedented wealth, and the growing crisis of the poor, young people, and the middle class.

The question, then, is what are we going to do about it? This is an election year and politicians are already working the back rooms to raise the funds and the supporters to get re-elected. This we know. There will never be a change in Toronto politics until a majority of progressives are elected to city council.

There are many reasons why change is difficult: the lack of political party system, the power of incumbency, the low levels of political participation in the grass roots, particularly in the suburbs, and the lack of information at a community level that can hold politicians to account.

It is time to build a progressive political movement in Toronto, Hamilton and across the GTA.