Fraser fantasies

I can’t believe I’m bothering to quarrel with a report from the Fraser Institute, but sometimes it’s just too tempting to resist. The right-wing think tank released a survey yesterday that will be the foundation of its urban policy research agenda, headed up by that champion of cities, former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Among the findings, according to the Star’s report:

Sixty-two per cent of respondents said the city does not spend money efficiently and 63 per cent believe its tax policies are driving business away. Forty per cent worry Toronto is falling behind other cities such as Calgary or Vancouver.

Wow, sounds serious. Except:

The findings, based on the responses of 653 residents surveyed earlier this month, are considered accurate to within 3.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

I’d be floored if pollsters could find 653 residents of Toronto who could actually identify the key services the city funds — especially those downloaded services that still, more than a decade later, don’t really make sense as city-funded given the limited avenues of revenue generation permitted the city. I’d be even more amazed if any part of the 653 had any insight into how much those services should cost, and how much Toronto paid for them versus other GTA municipalities — which, by the way, have higher property taxes. So given that, I’m not particularly concerned about what 653 semi-informed residents of the city contacted by the Fraser Institute think, though the findings might give the mayor’s PR team another wake-up call. And, unlike former premier Harris, I’m not sure the findings suggest that Torontonians are looking for “leadership” or a “vision” for their city’s future — it sounds more to me like the findings confirm that 98% of Torontonians are completely unengaged with how their city is run and are blind to any vision grounded in reality.

(For an assessment of the city’s fiscal position and efficiency record grounded in research, check out the Blueprint for Fiscal Stability and Economic Prosperity submitted by a blue-ribbon panel of business and labour leaders in February.)