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Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam bikes on a street in her ward. Wong-Tam proposes to have a network of streets across the city that go off-line for traffic for a period on Sundays. She got got the idea after seeing this implemented in Guadalajara City, Mexico. (Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail)
Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam bikes on a street in her ward. Wong-Tam proposes to have a network of streets across the city that go off-line for traffic for a period on Sundays. She got got the idea after seeing this implemented in Guadalajara City, Mexico. (Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail)

MARCUS GEE

Toronto councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam dabbles in public banking folly Add to ...

When a downtown leftie and gay-rights crusader gives the stage to the out-there theories of a populist monetary movement channelled through a 12-year-old YouTube sensation, you know things are getting weird at City Hall.

The downtown leftie is Kristyn Wong-Tam, a first-term city councillor who represents Toronto Centre-Rosedale. She wants the city to set up a publicly owned Bank of Toronto to free itself from the clutches of Bay Street. The YouTube sensation is Victoria Grant, a wunderkind whose talk about the evils of the banking system went viral earlier this year. The two came together at City Hall this week at a forum organized by Ms. Wong-Tam.

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The councillor first proposed the Bank of Toronto idea about a year ago, to widespread derision from financial experts. Unbowed, she started exploring it further and even went to a conference on public banking in Philadelphia in April. The result was Monday’s forum, which pulled in city staff, a handful of curious councillors and an expert from an obscure U.S. think tank called the Public Banking Institute.

The star was the awesomely articulate Victoria. “What I have discovered,” said the doe-eyed Cambridge, Ont., youngster, reprising a speech that she gave at a Christian-schools competition, “is that banks and the government have colluded to financially enslave the people of Canada.”

You see, the government borrows money to pay for things, banks charge it interest, governments levy higher and higher taxes to pay their debts and all the money goes to “pad the pockets of the banks.” Even Jesus drove out the moneylenders, said Victoria, and “the private banks are just like the moneylenders in Matthew 21.”

How much better it would be, she said, if the government could just ask the Bank of Canada when it needed funds. The Bank would simply create the money, pay back the commercial banks and the national debt would be wiped out. See. Easy.

When I asked Ms. Wong-Tam if she agreed that Canadians were enslaved by the banks, she conceded Victoria’s language was “rather excitable” but proceeded to talk about how the Bank of Canada had embraced the “Milton Friedman philosophy that you should go to the free market for money” and how “the creation of credit has been turned over to the interests of private bankers.”

If Toronto set up a Bank of Toronto to pay for its needs, “The interest we would charge ourselves would be nominal,” she said. See. Easy.

But Ms. Wong-Tam might want to consider the sources of this theory. Victoria quotes from Gerry McGeer, a Depression-era mayor of Vancouver, later an MP and senator, who argued that “the bankers have us in a prison.

Mr. McGeer railed against “money power” and said that international bankers conspired to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. His thinking drew on social credit, the movement founded by British engineer Major C.H. Douglas who argued for a national credit office that would create money and issue a dividend to all citizens – social credit. His ideas were taken up by William (Bible Bill) Aberhart, who mixed Christian conservatism with social-credit theories and became premier of Alberta.

Ms. Wong-Tam says her interest in public banking has nothing to do with social credit or the Christian right. She adds her ideas on banking are quite different from Victoria’s. Regardless, the idea the city can create its own magic piggy bank to pay its bills is a fantasy. A sharp councillor like her should know it’s not that simple.

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