The time for inertia is over.
Words by Don McVie
It’s a sad reflection on human nature that even decent, well-intentioned people like us require a great big jolt of reality before we will reset our priorities.
Our July 8 encounter with Mother Nature in all of her climate-change-fueled, midsummer glory was a shocker for Mississauga, and has proven to be a disaster for thousands of people. An equal opportunity disaster, it picked on people without regard to whether they could afford the consequences or not. Did we get the message?
In hindsight, the smaller but also damaging 2009 storm provided us with a dire warning. July 2013 simply made it abundantly clear that there can be massive human and financial consequences if we are slow to update inadequate, outdated or missing infrastructure or when we fail to create and then enforce sound policies to protect nature’s own remedies.
The disruption to people’s lives dwarfs all other costs. Quite clearly it took more than an earnest Cooksville Creek Task Force spawning a well-intentioned plan, the output of which is still only partially implemented four years later. Good intentions are not enough without money and political will.
While we must accept that this storm exceeded our worst expectations, the evidence is clear that we have done far less than we must if we hope to mitigate the implications of even more powerful weather conditions in the years ahead.
Our Mayor and Council started the process several years ago when they stood up to opposition and imposed a small infrastructure levy, and there is more of that to come. Our politicians have been very vocal in identifying the need for more help from other levels of government. This fall, Council will discuss a new property tax seeking a “contributor pay” solution to the growing challenge of too many “hard surfaces.” These are steps in the right direction.
What else can we do now?
Let’s figure out how to bring about necessary improvements on employment, retail and industrial sites without killing the goose that lays the golden egg. We do this by introducing incentives rather than simply imposing tax penalties or deterrents.
Let’s encourage redevelopment opportunities that enhance our infrastructure goals. The development process and the revenue it generates funded our original infrastructure. Renewal can be harnessed to overhaul and improve it in the future.
Let’s resolve to grow our tax base so we don’t overload our existing taxpayers. The City can take the lead by streamlining our approvals process and then moving projects along to completion faster.
Whereas development charges come up front, the real bonus for the budget comes when a project is completed and people move in—triggering a windfall in annual property tax revenue. We all benefit from spreading the load to more contributors.
Let’s do a better job of evaluating existing built form and landscaping to fix things that have been done wrong in the past. We can enforce our existing laws fully and improve our inspection standards to expedite renewal rather than hamper it.
Let’s determine which projects are urgent now and what it might cost to delay them further. We should be open to the economic fact that it’s significantly cheaper to borrow the money to achieve priorities now rather than face costlier disasters later. Remember the human cost of failure.
Mississauga is a hugely productive place. Every job we create, every sale we make, every business or family that does well here generates prosperity and also results in consumption and income taxes that benefit all levels of government. That is our strength and it needs to be at the center of a compelling argument we make to our partners at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. Our vast economic potential and impressive human capital make us a valuable ally worthy of their investment and their support.
In July, Nature came right to our doors and it nearly drowned some of us. It’s time to set our priorities and impose changes in the way we view things and the way we do things going forward.