Monday, January 7, 2013

The Magic Box Appears in Toronto, One More Time

During the 1950s when feelings of nationalism were stirring among many Africans, some people decided to capitalize on the situation. They went about the countryside selling "independence boxes".

They convinced purchasers that the boxes contained all the wonders of independence -- freedom, security, success, comfort, and perhaps an improvement in the weather. Your problems and anxieties will disappear, they promised, but on condition you do not open the box until the day of independence.

In 1973, a fund-raiser for the separatist party rolled into Quebec and sold $800,000 worth of boxes containing "completed things", "a culture and a country", "something good and creative", with the promise "you have nothing to lose."

In 1989, the box emerged in Toronto. It contained the multi-purpose SkyDome that would cost the taxpayer not one cent. In the hope of a return on their investment, Ontario citizens shelled out $360 million towards the building's cost of $578 million.  When the box was opened, fifteen years later, this financial boondoggle was sold to Rogers Communication for $25 million.

The magic box has reappeared in the form of a casino proposed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.  The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition promises that the box is loaded with wondrous things -- $400 million for a "fully funded subway expansion", one kilometre of subway tunnelling annually, and "the cornerstone of a fully funded subway expansion plan that doesn't raise taxes one cent."

The Coalition report promotes the casino as an opportunity the city "cannot afford to pass up". The mission statement of this three-year old group says, in part, "While taxes are a fact of life, properly tendering contracts and prudent fiscal planning, budgeting, and spending will dramatically reduce the tax burdon (sic) on our residents."

The taxpayer will not know what's at the bottom of the box until the casino is in operation. OLG CEO Paul Godfrey admits Toronto's share of the income will not know until after Toronto Council has made its decision. Sign a blank cheque, he urges. Only when it's too late will the income and tax and social burden be known.

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