In a strange and troubling tactical move during his election-call speech, Ernie Eves defined his campaign in the negative, turning his guns first on Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty and then on the city of Toronto.

Whatever the wisdom of his decision to run against the Leader of the Opposition rather than on his record, Eves’ decision to flog Toronto as the enemy of the province is less surprising than it is sad. In the eight years since the Common Sense Revolutionaries swept into Queen’s Park, the provincial government under Mike Harris and Ernie Eves has continually and intentionally horsewhipped the city for reasons both ideological and political. While it’s true that no one ever lost an election by overestimating the rest of Canada’s distaste for its largest city, the Ontario Conservatives in the past decade have turned Toronto-flogging into an art.

Even an abbreviated enumeration of the sound screwing they’ve delivered to our city makes for impressive reading: they imposed amalgamation on the former municipalities of Metropolitan Toronto against the expressed wishes of over three quarters of its voters, an expensive mess that has yet to be straightened out; they downloaded responsibility for social services such as welfare and housing onto the city without providing any means of funding them; they withdrew all provincial funding for mass transit in Toronto; they first neutered and then suspended our elected school board, insisting that Toronto schools (which have a higher than average need for ESL and special-needs education programs) should make due with the same per-pupil funding as schools in small towns. The list could go on and on.

And, if Eves’ platform (see review page 13) and early rhetoric are any indication, the list of grievances will only get longer if the Tories are elected to a third term.

Eves has announced that, if re-elected, his government will further cut the budget of Toronto’s school board in order to boost funding in outlying boards. His policy tying immigration to crime and demanding that Ontario be given the power to choose its immigrants and deny them legal aid and welfare seems targeted at Toronto, where 77.4 per cent of Ontario’s immigrants live. His attempt to further handcuff city governments by requiring they hold referenda on any property tax increases would strangle a slowly choking Toronto mega-government. Plans to cut taxes on mortgage interest would reward homeowners and punish tenants, who tend to live, not so coincidentally, in big cities. Apparently, Eves and his advisors have decided that they can continue to govern without winning any of Toronto’s 22 seats in the 103-seat provincial Parliament.

The race for the premiership is, of course, not the only election going on in Toronto right now, and the five major candidates for mayor have all spoken of the need for a new deal for Toronto. One fringe candidate has gone even further: lawyer Paul Lewin is running on a platform that would see Toronto secede from Ontario and become a province of its own.

This unseemly idea is not as absurd as it may at first seem; the city is large and strong enough to go it alone. Toronto’s is already the sixth largest government in Canada, governing a population larger than that of the four Atlantic provinces and three northern territories combined. This city is the cultural centre of the province and the economic capital of the country, accounting for one sixth of Canada’s jobs and home to 40 per cent of its largest companies. An independent Toronto would immediately be one of Canada’s largest and richest provinces.

The rest of Ontario, though it elects Toronto-bashing politicians with alarming regularity, never suggests that the province would be better off without Hogtown as its crown jewel. That’s because losing us would mean more than finding a new capital building: the GTA contributes $3 billion more in taxes to Queen’s Park than it receives in spending. The rest of the province depends on us. Without us, they’d be economically and culturally crippled.

Most Torontonians know this and feel for Ontario, recognizing the human and economic value of the agricultural and mining communities and the smaller cities that make up the rest of the province. We don’t throw our weight around like a schoolyard bully. You generally don’t hear us complaining about the raw deal we get from Queen’s Park at the expense of these other communities — we’re willing to contribute more than our fair share for the benefit of the entire province.

But even the most convivial Torontonian can be moved to consider independence when considering another term of the kind of relentless skewering we’ve received from the Tories. The solution is much simpler than secession: Ontarians from across the province should recognize that enough is enough. We should elect someone else.

Originally published as an unsigned editorial in Eye Weekly on September 11, 2003.

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