How a “common sense” revolution knocked Toronto seriously off stride: a cautionary tale

Did “common sense” put Toronto in near-terminal decline? That’s the disturbing conclusion of veteran Toronto urban affairs writer John Lorinc, who traces Toronto’s crumbling transit infrastructure and fractured politics to Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution of the 1990s.

With Suzanne Anton’s NPA crew offering voters a Vancouver version of Harris’ “common sense” platform in the Nov. 19 election, Lorinc’s deep analysis of “How Toronto Lost Its Groove and Why the Rest of Canada Shouldn’t Gloat,” published in the latest issue of The Walrus, makes for unsettling reading.

Harris’ first blow came in 1995, according to Lorinc, with a botched amalgamation of a dozen cities into the Greater Toronto Authority, a “smaller government” scheme that left the region with 25 mayors, 244 municipal officials and a destructive competition among larger municipalities for economic development and senior government funding.

The second hit came in 1997 when Harris “relieved” municipalities of education funding obligations but handed them the cost of public transit and housing. (Although Lorinc holds up Metro Vancouver’s governance system as a model, it arguably has many of the same deficiencies.)

Of course, Vancouver is not the GTA and a Vancouver election is not the same as an Ontario election. But the “common sense” philosophy is a direct link between Harris, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and the NPA platform. All in all, it’s a cautionary tale.