Trudeau, Clark Budgets in a League on Their Own?

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I feel like I am trapped in an interactive show produced and directed by, and starring, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and featuring Mayor Charlie Clark as best supporting actor.  

The script is not unique and seems like a compilation of themes from other well-known movies. The storylinen is that each of these young men, who present as ill-prepared for their leadership roles, are on a quest to see who can create the highest per capita debt for their constituents. 

Neither of them has a clue about balanced budgets and both want to create a place that represents their own visions of Nirvana. When the extras on the set ask the boys where the money will come from to pay for their visions, they parrot Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, saying “tomorrow is another day.”

The play is still in progress, but might have a modified ending similar to the movie Thelma and Louise, where their eyes lock as they careen over a cliff into the great abyss and, if they don’t perish in the crash, will drown in a pool of financial debt.  

Sadly, the audience members (aka taxpayers) blithely watching the flick, while dipping hands into empty popcorn bags, don’t realize they too may drown with the performers.  

When Trudeau started his term, he announced he was going to spend, spend, spend and then balance the budget in his fourth year of office. He was true to his spending commitment, but his promise to balance the budget is unfulfilled.  

Yes, Trudeau has the crazy guy south of the border to deal with, new trade agreements to negotiate, and China nipping at his heels while possible issues of obstruction of justice loom, but that just adds to the drama.  

Knowing these scenarios were on the horizon, a skilled leader would have taken a more prudent approach to his budget. Instead, Trudeau’s most recent budget projects an operating deficit and an increase to the existing debt of $671.25 billion by another $127 billion over five years.  

I don’t think this is going to be an Academy Award-winning production, but if it is, his Oscar may look more like a caricature of himself dressed in Indian garb. Remember that?

In his role as best supporting actor, Clark is out to prove himself equal to Trudeau’s spending practices. For two years running, Clark (and his council extras) has delivered operating budget deficits of about $3 million. 

Not to worry, because council will offset last year’s budget shortfall through various reserves. Mind you, it means taxes or user levies will have to go up in the following years to replenish the reserves. Consider this part of the theatre admission ticket.  

A couple of weeks ago, it was proposed that out of the $10.28 million allocated for expanding bike lanes in the city, $4.6 million will be spent on making the downtown bike lanes permanent. Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of raised biking lanes on Idylwyld Drive because that cost is covered under a separate $14.3 million project.  

So, we are off and running on the Active Transportation Plan approved in 2016 and priced at $250 million. Silly me, I almost forgot about the plans for cycling-only bridges at $59 million each, although the city will run sewer lines under them. (I wonder if all those infrastructure charges we pay on our water/sewer bills will cover this project.)

The $250-million Bus Rapid Transit system is still in the works. Clark and company are still waiting for Trudeau to shell out $162 million toward the cause. It should be noted that these prices do not include train track overpasses ballparked at roughly $150 million each. This adds to the intrigue of the plot and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.  

I’ve lost count of how many tens of millions the waste management program is going to cost, but that should be adequately hidden in a utility bill after the next civic election. Just count on paying hundreds of dollars more each year for waste disposal. Every good movie needs a twist to keep the audience guessing.

Council spends $100,000 here and $200,000 there (adding up into the millions) to study and advise how we can spend all this money. It raises the question as to what the $100,000-plus club does at city hall.  

Latest on the list for consultants is for a new downtown arena to fill the soon-to-be-created zoning for an entertainment district. No one knows where the $400 million-plus will come from to pay for this new edifice, but council is contemplating adjoining a new downtown library to the project at roughly $100 million to sweeten the deal.  

There will be little or no downtown parking to support all these facilities, but everyone can ride their bikes or catch the BRT to get there.    

Over and above an arena and library, the city’s wish list totalled $593 million, which includes the transit plan referred to above, green infrastructure projects and community, cultural and recreational funding. It is looking primarily to the Trudeau’s government to help make the wishes come true.  

However, as in the past, the federal government will kick-start a project and leave property taxpayers to foot the balance (think Remai Art Gallery.)  Maybe it is Trudeau who should be nominated for the best supporting role. And we must remember that the city is always light on its budget projections.

I have no idea how much any of these projects will add to the existing city debt of $355 million, but my popcorn bag is empty.

Meanwhile, as the movie drones on, housing prices are in a slump, building permits are down and financial analysts speculate that the Canadian dollar could possibly find its way down to 62 cents.

Will there be an increased price on all our construction projects because of the new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum? Is council at all concerned about the growing number of properties listed as being in tax arrears? I could go on, but I hear my editor sharpening his pencil. 

This year we will have to vote on whether Trudeau will win an award for his performance, and next year we will vote on whether Clark will be an award winner.  The envelope please. Start a drum roll, maestro. And the winners are . . .

ehnatyshyn@gmail.com