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Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s promise to hand the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa more powers could be a dangerous gateway to higher taxes and runaway government spending.

Hardworking taxpayers wouldn’t trust one person selected by someone else to unilaterally manage their household expenses and retirement savings, and yet that’s essentially what Ford might have up his sleeve for the residents of Toronto and Ottawa when it comes to the cities’ finances.

Ford has yet to officially outline all of the “strong mayor” powers he intends to give to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, but unilateral taxation and spending powers and mayoral vetoes appear to be on the table.

Giving mayors the power to tax and spend is courting disaster by gambling on who is in the mayor’s chair.

Take yourself back to 2009. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, General Motors was still making Pontiacs and David Miller was the mayor of Toronto.

Toronto taxpayers are still scarred by the historic property tax hike Miller forced on homeowners that year. Miller managed to convince members of Toronto’s city council to impose a 10 per cent hike in property taxes.

If Miller had the power to set tax rates and spending levels unilaterally, a 10 per cent property tax hike could have ballooned even further. Toronto taxpayers could have been staring down a 15 per cent or 20 per cent hike to finance Miller’s costly government spending schemes.

Some may argue that a fiscally responsible mayor could use unilateral taxation and spending powers to keep taxes low and government spending in check.

But for every fiscally responsible mayor, there’s a David Miller. That reality means handing mayors unilateral taxation and spending powers is a terrible idea. Without city council to keep a mayor in check, there’s no telling how high taxes could be raised or how much wasteful spending could be approved.

Mayoral vetoes would raise similar concerns. Ford has said publicly that part of his “strong mayor” proposal would include a mayoral veto, which could be overridden by two-thirds of city council.

Once again, whether these new powers would be good or bad for taxpayers depends on who is in the mayor’s chair.

A fiscally responsible mayor might veto wasteful government spending proposed by council. But a mayor willing to engage in reckless spending could also veto a fiscally responsible budget plan.

There’s also another risk: mayoral candidates could sell themselves as sound managers of taxpayer dollars, but embrace runaway taxes and government spending once in office.

Toronto Mayor John Tory is a perfect example. When he ran for mayor in 2014, Tory pledged to restrict the growth of property taxes to the level of inflation. But Tory has since embraced higher property taxes. This past January, Tory threw his support behind a proposal to raise property taxes by 4.4 per cent.

Even if voters think they’re electing a mayor who will responsibly manage the city’s finances, there’s no telling how much a candidate will change after being sworn into office.

The bottom line is that handing mayors new powers to get around the check-and-balance role of council is a dangerous gamble. Depending on who is in the mayor’s chair, taxpayers could benefit or get soaked with higher taxes and reckless government spending. The risks simply aren’t worth the potential gains.

Ford should shelve his plan to give new powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa. Instead, he should focus on reforms that could bring real relief to taxpayers through more responsible city budgeting.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Every year, I’ve taken to these virtual pages to offer my take on the year that was — via a “hot or not” column — and offer my foolproof, very accurate predictions for the year ahead.

Last year, I was uncharacteristically wrong when I said there wouldn’t be an election in 2021 — although I did have the caveat that there certainly wouldn’t be one in the spring, as was then speculated, but the autumn might be more 50/50. Turns out there was an election in September. And it returned virtually the same result as 2019.

What do I think will happen in 2021?

Well, first and foremost, I am holding out hope that the omnicron variant will mark the end of the pandemic. I’m obviously not a doctor or epidemiologist, but I hope that a variant that is more transmissible but hopefully less virulent is how the virus punches itself out.

The federal government seems to be a stable minority. They need to take the cost of living rise more seriously, but they also cannot mistake the inflationary pressure as being the result of government spending, when it is caused by pandemic demand and supply chain disruption. Now is not the time to pull back on plans to invest in infrastructure and climate resiliency, as well as needed social infrastructure like child care.

The big political flashpoint will be the Ontario provincial election. Gun to my head today, I expect Doug Ford to win. His opposition is divided, lacking a message other than “not Ford” and, despite his flaws, the Premier has a certain je ne sais quoi appeal to many voters. He’s running on fixing traffic and building housing, messages that will appeal to the suburbs as the NDP fights to hold off the Liberals in Toronto. I’ve said before, but the best assets Ford has are a divided opposition, with two opponents who seem unable to… excite the public, to put it diplomatically.

The municipal elections will see continuity for the most part with a dash of change. I expect both Toronto Mayor John Tory and my friend Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie to run for re-election and win handily, again. Both have done good jobs, and a third term would cement their legacies. That leaves the open mayoral seat in Ottawa as the one to watch. I expect a dark horse candidate from the business community or even another level of government to emerge, denying the mayoralty to the councillors and ex-mayor already jockeying to succeed Jim Watson.

In Ottawa, look for Mark Miller and Anita Anand to quietly be the “get stuff done” cabinet ministers who move the ball down the field on two tricky files, Indigenous reconciliation and national defence. Both are competent, unflashy ministers who put in the elbow grease and build relationships with their sectors.

In terms of zeitgeist, I perceive a pent-up demand to get results on infrastructure — particularly housing, transit and those critical community amenities like trails, parks, community centres, urban renewal. COVID-19 has kept us close to home, and we’ve seen the flaws in our neighbourhoods, even as we have grown used to not having to commute every day. Put those things together, and there is a real desire to fix perennial infrastructure problems. Plus, there’s been a migration of young people from the city to the suburbs and exurbs, and that comes with a new demand for quality service in our medium-sized towns.

Recovery and progress: if there are two thematic desires I have for the New Year, those are them.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

“What fresh hell,” the PM said, channeling us all as we stare down the threat of this omicron variant interrupting another holiday season.

“What fresh hell,” say I, as I prepare to write my annual year-end “hot or not” and prediction columns.

Here’s the first: my little annual tradition (defined, from my collegiate days, as “anything two men of college recall happening more than twice”) of who’s up, who’s down, and who really bothered me this year.

Justin Trudeau: Hot

The PM’s act might be wearing thin on a significant segment of the population, but his gamble to call an unnecessary election paid off, giving him his third straight win, and second straight almost-a-majority-but-not-quite mandate. He seems a bit disengaged, but his handling of COVID-19 has been a solid “good enough”, and whether he tries to keep governing for the long term or is into legacy mode, no one can deny he might be a bit greyer, but it’s still working for him.

Erin O’Toole: Not

He lost, when his job was to win. He also seems blithely unaware that he lost. I heard him speak, introducing former PM Brian Mulroney at the Churchill Society. It was unfair — the Tory grandee outclassed him in a way that was almost, inadvertently, mean.

Chrystia Freeland: Not

Count me as one Liberal not sold on her as heir apparent. She is losing the opening round of her tussle with Conservative rabble rouser Pierre Polievre. He might be over the top, and generally wrong on the economics, but he has a message about the cost of living most normal people can relate to, and even cheer on. Freeland, meanwhile, seems kind of annoyed that she has to explain why she is right, and others are wrong. Lecturing isn’t leading.

Pierre Polievre: Hot

See above.

Doug Ford: Hot

Love him or hate him or really hate him, the vast majority of Ontarians think he’s done OK this past year. It’s been far from perfect, but his heart is seemingly in the right place, and he gets things right, even if it’s on the third try. He also has a real message about housing affordability and traffic congestion. If he could fix his government’s seeming disdain for kids’ education and future, he’d be cruising to reelection. As it stands, he likely will win reelection next June, thanks in no small part to the utter lack of any spark in his two main opposition parties (see below).

Andrea Horwath & Steven Del Duca: Not

The two opposition leaders in Ontario are either invisible and being outflanked by the Tories on labour rights and housing affordability, or unexciting and without a seat. Rather than taking the fight to the Tories, the NDP and Liberal leaders seem to be shadow boxing each other for who comes in second, fighting over a downtown progressive vote at the expense of the suburbs, and trailing a Premier they despise in all key leadership metrics, from caring to competence. It’s not good. Neither oppo leader seems to have a message other than reacting to what Ford does. If they split the vote, as seems likely today, Ford will run up the middle. His opponents may be the best assets he has.

Rachel Notley: Hot

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the former Premier shows all opposition leaders how it’s done. She’s kicking Jason Kenney’s butt, and has a clear contrast message, clear leadership qualities and seems ready to govern if given the chance. Her only problem? The election isn’t tomorrow.

The Curse of Politics: Hot

The best political podcast in Canada — David Herle, Jenni Byrne, Scott Reid and a lot of swearing, Marvel comics references and old war stories — continues to delight, inform and make jogging or car drives more enjoyable. If you’re not listening, you should be.

John Tory: Hot

Calm, competent, kind, shows up to everything, cheerleads the city — the guy has grown on me, and the majority of his voters. If he runs for a third term, he’d win, and cement a legacy as Toronto’s longest-serving mayor. If he doesn’t, there’s no real heir apparent to step into the big shoes he’d leave. I hope he runs again.

Anita Anand: Hot

She’s the cabinet MVP, and the woman who got us all vaxxed, and she’s already righting the ship at DND.

Agree, disagree? Let me know…after the holidays.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.