The voters are restless

Anger on the right unseats Toronto's elite

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The Gazette, Wednesday, October 27, 2010

As we've just seen in Toronto, and in poll numbers in Quebec, the danger to governing elites isn't on the left, but from a taxpayer-revolt on the right.

Toronto's civic election on Monday was supposed to be a dead heat, too close to call, within a poll's margin of error. It was none of those things.

Rob Ford, the angry white guy from the suburbs, won by a slam-dunk, double-digit margin of 11 points, 47 to 36 per cent, over George Smitherman, the very personification of the progressive downtown Toronto elites. A resounding victory for Tim Hortons over Starbucks.

Why were voters in Toronto so angry that they would flock to the banner of a beefy redneck who thinks Canada's most multicultural city can't take any more immigrants, or at least any more Tamils?

Ford may be politically incorrect, but the Toronto election wasn't about a cultural divide, it was about taxes and value for tax dollars.

Consider: If you were to buy a $400,000 house -and in Toronto, it's hard to find one for less -you'd pay a municipal and provincial land transfer tax of $24,000. In Montreal, the equivalent welcome tax would be less than half that, because there's only a provincial tax. Ford has vowed to kill the municipal transfer tax in Toronto, which on a house in that price range would be $11,700, or about a year's worth of mortgage payments.

In Toronto, there's a garbage collection tax of $133 on the most popular trash bin. That's one more reason why Torontonians were infuriated by the garbage strike in the summer of 2009. They were paying taxes on garbage that wasn't being picked up.

If you have what's called a "parking pad" in front of your house you pay $325 for it in the suburbs, and $430 downtown. Plus 13 per cent HST. And if you don't have a parking pad, you have to pay more than $300 just to apply for one. Again, plus HST.

Finally, there's a vehicle tax of $60 in Toronto, the equivalent of a full tank of gas.

These are the reasons why Ford won. "The party is over," said the winner about the free-spending way of Toronto's City Hall, where 50,000 municipal employees are a big part of an $8-billion budget.

Over in Ottawa, angry voters kicked Larry O'Brien out of the mayor's office after only one term. His predecessor, Jim Watson, who had gone off to be a minister at Queen's Park, won by a 2-1 margin.

Both results should serve as a caution to Dalton Mc-Guinty, who will be seeking a third term as premier of Ontario in a fixed-date election next October.

McGuinty had some bad news yesterday in a report card from the Fraser Institute measuring the fiscal performance of Canada's 10 premiers. He came in dead last, with a score of 29.7 out of 100, while British Columbia's Gordon Campbell ranked first with a score of 89.1 (Quebec's Jean Charest ranked sixth at 53.7).

It is almost inconceivable that Ontario, famously run like a business under John Robarts and Bill Davis, would have such spendthrift management. Since taking office seven years ago, McGuinty has increased program spending by more than 50 per cent, and taken on $32 billion of new debt. There are extenuating circumstances -the Great Recession hit Ontario harder than any other province. Government receipts are down, and welfare payments are up.

In Quebec, the unpopularity of the Charest government is such that an unnamed and leaderless third party leads in the polls. From 30 per cent in a Leger poll two weeks ago, the non-existent "new party" spiked to 39 per cent in a CROP poll last week.

And last weekend, something called the Quebec Freedom Network (Reseau liberte Quebec), organized a daylong symposium in Quebec City. And 450 people paid $25 each to listen to presentations featuring the likes of Conservative MP Maxime Bernier and ADQ leader Gerard Deltell, who apparently stole the show. It was definitely a conservative rather than a Conservative crowd, and almost entirely French-speaking.

It's far from certain that Quebec, famous for entitlements like $7-a-day daycare and cheap university tuition fees, is ready for a hard right turn.

But there's one lesson all politicians can draw from the Toronto election. Voters want less government, lower taxes, and more value for their money. Incumbents beware.

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