Toronto Budget 2014: Death Of The Renter

It’s budget time, Toronto.

For the record, this post is not about Rob Ford, the man. It is an attempt a reach longer than Ford, whose political raison d’être, I argue, is merely a symptom of an infection that affects the entire municipal body politic. He is, here, just a metaphor ─ a personification of the agenda he espouses.

Wikimedia Commons/Jérôme Decq

No, this post is about exclusionary neoliberal theory, such as that espoused by Rob Ford. This post was written because we are told by those who would seek to replace Ford in the mayor’s chair that there is still support for his agenda, even if there is little interest in that agenda being pushed by the man himself. This is the final budget of the Ford 2010 regime.


The Taxpayer

The politics of exclusion have a long history in Western governance. In ancient Athens, women, slaves and foreigners held no political agency in the city-state. In colonial Upper Canada, wealthy land-holding elites dubbed the Family Compact controlled finance and government. And even today, a Canadian is only qualified to sit in the Senate if he or she has amassed $4,000 in property.

The upshot is this: citizenship has proven historically to be derived from capital control, be it land, money or labour.

When politicians in Toronto employ the word “taxpayer” as a synonym for “resident”, they are practicing political exclusion. Taxpayer is not a synonym for resident. It means taxpayer — specifically municipal property tax payer. This, as I’ll argue, is a class distinction.

The property tax (and to a lesser degree, the land transfer tax) is the tax relevant to municipal budget discussions. It is a tax based on the property you own, not how much you make, such as federal and provincial income taxes.

Who then does this exclude? It excludes those who do not pay property taxes; those who do not own property. An example is real estate-less apartment dwellers.

Wikimedia Commons/SimonP

A reasonable, if disturbing, inference can be drawn from this: Non-taxpayers have been marginalized in a city that aims to “respect the taxpayer.” Their needs, for which they are more likely to look to municipal social programs to fulfill, have become “gravy”, the spoils extended to the unproductive by the landed elite. I’ll have more on this in the second post.

But who are these non-taxpayer residents? According to a document prepared by the City of Toronto in September 2013, 476,085 or 45% of all private dwellings in Toronto are rented. 

That is a lot of non-taxpayers.

Interestingly, not too long ago, apartment dwellers were once city taxpayers, if they owned vehicles. This status however, ended when City Council voted 39-6 to end the Vehicle Registration Tax in 2011. The lone dissenters were councillors Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, Pam McConnell, Joe Mihevc, Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan.

Sure, the argument can be made that we all indirectly pay business taxes when shops pass on the costs of municipal licensing, etc. to us. But do you really think the politicians employing the word “taxpayer” are  being that nuanced?

I don’t believe you should.

I argue the logic of the current mayoral administration’s efforts to put suburbanite against downtown elite fails.

The reality is that based on the very agenda parameters set by the administration, a renter at College and Yonge is no more elite than a family living in a Scarborough apartment, a basement dweller in Downsview or someone in a high-rise tower in Rexdale.

A thought experiment: Let’s take a conservative estimate and assume one person lives in each of the 476,085 rented properties in Toronto. Of that, let’s assume 2% (a completely manufactured figure) own some other property in Toronto and choose not to live there. Also, let’s assume a 2.1% vacancy rate (based on Precarious Housing and Hidden Homelessness Among Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Immigrants in the Toronto Metropolitan Area working paper, 2011).

That still leaves 457,598 people left to twist in the political wind by politicians who make policy for “taxpayers.” 

In 2010, there were 1,526,642 eligible voters in a city of about 2.6 million — about 59%. If we unscientifically apply that percentage to Toronto’s apartments, we get an estimated voter total of 287,797 non-taxpaying voters. That’s more than 10 per cent of Toronto’s population.

Remember, these people don’t exist in taxpayer-exclusive municipal policy. They have suffered political death.

Some conclusions:

  • Renters are arguably a class that face serious marginalization transcending ward boundaries as long as Toronto’s politicians keep making policy exclusively for taxpayers.
  • Rob Ford was elected with 383,501 votes. He could be easily challenged by a united renter class — especially if a mayoral representative of this class can bring some progressive taxpayers into their tent.
  • You, renter, are not a municipal “taxpayer.” You are a resident. A Torontonian. And you are deserving of inclusion. Demand it of the politicians in this city. Tell them to stop pushing this taxpayer-exclusive agenda. Tell them to make policy for everyone. Let them know that you and others like you are part of an important group of people that will not be shunted to the side as irrelevant in this budget.

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