Shooting The Messengers

March 27, 2015

What the fuck is up with city council?

Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor wtf– What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.

It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.

What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. metooBut it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).

Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.

I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. pokeintheeyeThis has never been a question of competence or performance.

So, what then?

There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.

Such were dynamics of the day.

Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) suffocateIt’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.

With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?

We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.

Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, brooma senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.

dubiously submitted by Cityslikr


More Casino Dreams And Other Long Shot Gambles

March 26, 2015

I am agnostic, in the noncommittal kind of way, about a casino project going in at Woodbine Racetrack. whateverBack last debate on the issue – what? 1, 2, 3 years ago now? – I was fairly adamant in my opposition to a waterfront/downtown casino as something that would bring no value with it. In fact, it might even detract from the new development going on from the Ontario Place site east through the Don and beyond.

With Woodbine? I don’t know. Gambling’s bare bones are already there. I haven’t heard any other ideas for enhancing the area. Reasonable people are making reasonable sounds about a casino helping to bring about jobs to an area hammered hard by lack of opportunities.

So, with the Executive Committee requesting a report on the prospects of a casino at Woodbine expect to hear renewed debate about the quality of those jobs, the positive and negative effects a casino will have on the area, new revenue windfall pouring into city coffers. Pretty much, the same old, same old. Essentially the same cast of characters, saying the same words only about a different location.

“This is not a pot of gold for Toronto,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said during the meeting (in all likelihood a refrain she made at the last casino debate). rollthedice“It’s a sustainability strategy for the province.”

That’s one absolute we can make about a casino in Toronto. The city’s cut of casino money will not build us affordable housing. It will not build SmartTrack. It won’t even make much of a dent into the $86 million operating budget shortfall we’ve borrowed money to pay.

Whatever leverage Toronto had with the province to up the percentage take for hosting a casino somewhere downtown will not be in place for Woodbine. Location, location, location, am I right? We will take what the province offers and, if recent interactions are any indication, somehow the city will wind up owing Queen’s Park money in return for hosting a casino at Woodbine.

At best, I imagine, if a Woodbine casino does comes to pass, we’ll be left debating whether or not the revenue it generates for the city covers the social costs inherent in expanding gambling.

Similarly, such fiscal pros and cons will be front and centre with the TTC Chair Josh Colle’s Executive Committee motion about going the public-private partnership route when it comes to building the Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. “It is our basic responsibility to look at other ways to manage these,” Mayor Tory said, as part of the administration’s scrambling response to the reports earlier this month about cost overruns and delays with the Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. rouletteThe TTC, it has been concluded, is no longer up to the task of managing and overseeing these big capital builds.

Maybe…Maybe…

Another way to look at this particular situation is that maybe the city should shy away from building subways where subways aren’t warranted, building subways for purely political reasons. Let’s stop pursuing bad ideas with similarly bad ideas. Start following best practices and expert advice instead of the ideology of ‘deserve’.

If Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Colle were truly worried about money and excessive costs to the city, the latter would never have supported replacing the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway in the first place and the first thing the former would’ve done after becoming mayor is reopen that debate and reverse the outcome. Colle did and Tory didn’t, so neither really is in any sort of position to caution us about fiscal responsibility or whatever reasons they’re touting for pushing the P3 model to finance subway construction that shouldn’t even be on the table.

So, whatever. Go nuts. Pursue the P3 dream. Everything else about the Scarborough subway is based on a finger-crossed wing and a prayer. nomoneydownWhy not throw P3s onto that particular vanity bonfire.

But please don’t tell us it’s a sure bet. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the P3 model, just like it is on the benefits a casino delivers to municipalities.

The only thing we should know for certain is that politicians championing casinos and P3s are pitching us the lure of easy money and easy answers. We can have whatever it is we want and not pay the full freight. Nothing upfront, interest to be paid eventually, by somebody else.

feeling luckily submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Hoist Up The Mission Accomplished Just Yet

March 25, 2015

wetblanketNot to rain on anybody’s parade, and get their blanket wet in order to dampen out their enthusiasm, but a ranked ballot system of voting is not some silver bullet that’s going to singularly slay our election and governance woes.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of ranked ballots. Any improvement on the corrupted first-past-the-post manner in which we currently elect our politicians will be a good one. A system is fundamentally broken that allows a person/party with the support of less than 2-in-5 voters to make 5-out of-5 of the decisions.

And I heartily applaud Mayor John Tory for his enthusiastic endorsement of the ranked ballot initiative currently awaiting final approval at Queen’s Park. It’s one thing for a politician, elected the old fashioned way, to mouth platitudes about an electoral system that will possibly make it more difficult for them to get re-elected. Another thing entirely for that politician in power to actively push for that change.

Still…

I worry about our collective sigh of relief if ranked ballots do come to pass for the 2018 municipal election. There, that’s now done with. magicwandEverything will immediately be better.

While I have absolutely no reason to doubt the immediate impact the move to ranked ballots had on the municipal election in Minneapolis in 2013, I’d warn against any assumption of an automatic transference of similar success in Toronto. Variables between cities are many, starting with a big size differential between Minneapolis and Toronto. Toronto’s city council is 3 times the size of the Minneapolis council. Does that make implementation easier there than it would be here?

My guess is ranked ballots will have an instant effect in places of the city with an already highly engaged resident base. They know the issue. Some have helped fight to make it a reality. Ranked ballots will be an easy take in these places.

But as anyone who’s knocked on doors during an election campaign will tell you, such a heightened level of civic engagement is not uniform throughout the city. fallowgroundIn many spots, disengagement is the norm, and much of it has little to do with how we elect our members of city council. Indirectly, it’s not even about who we elect to city council. It’s about the low level of expectations residents have about what City Hall does to make their lives better.

Any notion that an improved voting system will suddenly re-engage a deeply disengaged citizenry is nothing short of wishful thinking. To imagine the voter who can’t tell you the name of their sitting city councillor will enthusiastically embrace a list of names to pick three from seems, I don’t know, overly optimistic. Just more names and more choices of do-nothing politicians who will only make an appearance when they want your vote.

Knowing Dave Meslin, the prime mover behind RaBIT, I can confidently state that he doesn’t view ranked ballots in this magic solution manner. I’m just afraid that too many of us will see its implementation and get complacent, figuring the deadweight city councillors that sit heavily on Toronto’s politics will be swept aside by the tides of history. Here’s a hammer, people. RaBITFinish building the house with it.

It’s fantastic to offer up the possibility of how to change the system. There’s little reason to expect ranked ballots won’t deliver the opportunity to shake things up. But true civic engagement lies with convincing those not yet convinced why they would want the system changed. The how to won’t fully work without the how will. How will electing new faces, more diversity on city council, improve the lives of residents, their streets, neighbourhoods and communities?

Answering that question will take a lot more than changing the way we vote.

not unenthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr


A Matter Of Accountability

March 24, 2015

If John Tory, upon taking over the mayor’s office, had really wanted to signal a break with his predecessor’s administration, he’d have gone all in in supporting City Hall’s accountability offices. hulksmashSerious breaches of city council’s code of conduct were numerous and investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Public complaints about ‘the administration of city government’ to the Ombudsman’s office skyrocketed. Both offices were overwhelmed with work and requests without the proper resources to fully respond.

Yet, he didn’t. His support for both offices through his first budget process was tepid, at best, calculated at worst. At the budget committee wrap up meeting, a motion was passed to cut requests for increased staff in the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner’s offices to zero, none, zip. Public pushback resulted in Mayor Tory’s motion at city council the following week to restore, ever so slightly, a fraction of those requests, including 1 new staffer (of the 6 asked for) for the Ombudsman. Just enough to be able to say publicly, We love the work these offices do! while still being able to keep a straight face.

The current Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, was so grateful and impressed by the gesture that she subsequently decided not to seek reappointment to her post in the fall, a reappointment that should’ve happened two years ago, a full reappointment denied her by city councillors not happy with some of her findings. thanksfornothing(That is another sad, sordid story completely.)

“Council is not living up to the commitment of fairness and independent oversight that was promised in the City of Toronto Act,” the Ombudsman said during yesterday’s announcement. “The debate on my reappointment next week promises to be divisive, and I feel this will hurt the office, and its efforts to ensure fairness for the city’s residents.”

Mayor Tory could’ve stepped up and championed the Ombudsman, tried to dampen the divisiveness. He didn’t, only applauding Ms. Crean for a job well done with “gusto and determination”. Don’t let the door hit you… Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?

Now, I’m not going to impugn the mayor with questionable motives for his lukewarm support of the Ombudsman but I will say, just in terms of optics, you’d think Mayor Tory would want the perception of his defending of the city’s accountability offices rock solid and airtight. whatsyourhurryGiven the number of potential conflicts of interest he might be subject to, largely through his connections to Rogers, (I mean how many votes did he sit out for that very reason at last council meeting?), the last thing he’d want is to appear lackadaisical in his views of the oversight officers. Last term was beset with the tumult such an attitude from the mayor’s office established. Mayor Tory could’ve delivered a real break with that.

He didn’t, and my best guess is that he (or his staff) is listening to all the wrong people on the issue. Councillors with an axe to grind with either or both the Integrity Commissioner or Ombudsman. Councillors unhappy with being under the oversight microscope, and taking their findings personally rather than professionally. Thin-skinned public servants unhappy with public scrutiny of their performance.

The company you keep, am I right?

“I had hoped, following the recent election, that the political climate surrounding the ombudsman’s office would have changed,” the Ombudsman said. stainedshirt“When I saw the divisive nature of the debate at budget committee, I made the decision over the past week that I would not seek reappointment.”

Mayor Tory had an opportunity to change the tone between city council and its accountability officers, from adversarial to a more cooperative one. He didn’t. He merely shrugged, unwilling to spend any political capital on the matter as if it wasn’t really that important to him. Now he gets to wear the Ombudsman’s departure because it’s all on him.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


Sifting For A Sign Through The Garbage Entrails

March 19, 2015

As symbolism goes, garbage packs a pretty potent wallop. The outside workers’ strike of aught-nine, with its mountains of festering garbage piling up in city parks, is often seen as a symbol of the beginning of the end of the David Miller regime. garbageIn too deep with the unions, handed them the key to the vault, kick the bums out!

The veracity of that interpretation of events is contestable but the effect the strike had on the election seems pretty straightforward. Garbage stinks. As a politician, don’t put yourself in a position where you could be covered with garbage, even figuratively.

So how to take the news that garbage clean up in the city costs us about $25 million annually, according to staff? Here we are, always eagle-eyed about how City Hall spends our hard-earned tax money, literally (litterly?) throwing millions of dollars onto our streets every year. “If nobody littered in the city, that’s potentially $25 million in savings,” claims Robert Orpin, the director of collection operations.

$25 million? That’s more than double the amount we’re told we save from having contracted out waste collection in the western half of the city in 2011. Simply by not just throwing trash on the ground.

Which, as the snow recedes from our sidewalks and curbsides, reveals we do a lot.

I am of the vintage who remembers firsthand the PR push to get people to stop littering. Give a hoot! Don’t pollute! giveahootOr the tear-shedding Native American, Keep American Beautiful! We laugh now at the Mad Men episode where the Drapers just shake their picnic blanket free of debris onto the park grass. Ron Burgundy and friends tossing their fast food wrappers on the ground as they stroll down the street.

That was a thing we might’ve thought had been relegated to the… ahem, ahem… the dustbin of history. Evidently not, judging by the flotsam and jetsom strewn about the place, manifesting itself most every spring. When did we stop giving a hoot?

There’s more to it, obviously, then just people littering. Anyone walking around the city, especially at the end of a weekend, can tell you about inadequate receptacles along the street, the ones you do encounter, stuffed already to overflowing. Or broken bins. Mr. Orpin claims that bins are serviced once a week although all it takes is a few hours of non-functioning along a busy stretch of street and garbage has become unsightly litter.

On Tuesday, Mayor Tory suggested the city should be “collecting things more often” and was going to look into it. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but ultimately comes down to spending more money. cigarettebuttAnd we don’t like spending more money now, do we.

So here’s the thing. We, as residents, could actively contribute to reducing spending by not throwing our shit on the ground as we move around the city. Relying on by-law enforcement passes the buck. What’s the cost-benefit ratio to having enough officers in place to be able to catch people in the act of littering? We could park one outside every bar and restaurant in town and put an end to cigarette butt flinging in a minute but would it be a good way to spend money?

Never mind the cigarette butts but how many of us have seen someone walk out of a convenience store with a new pack of smokes, unwrap the cellophane and fling it aside like nobody’s business? And gum? Who the fuck just spits out their gum on the ground when it loses its flavor? What are you, 4 years-old?

Ultimately, what’s it symbolize about us as citizens that we complain loudly of paying taxes for the general upkeep of our city but, apparently, don’t have much of an issue with making the city clean up after us because we’re too lazy or distracted to take care of our own garbage?

filthily submitted by Cityslikr


Selling Us Short

March 17, 2015

Frankly, I’m beginning to suspect Mayor John Tory’s business smarts as much as I’ve become dubious of his approach to 21st-century urban issues.suspect

According to the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat, on some morning talk show today, the mayor expressed the notion that, what Toronto needs are ‘big events’ to get people to come to the city. You see, he’s heading down to Austin in a couple days to attend the South By Southwest Festival and wants to sell Toronto as a place that could do that kind of business. Forget for the moment that Toronto regularly does do that kind of business. Why, in fact, the city’s home to more than just one music (or “pop culture”, as the mayor refers to it) event a year. There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve how you do it, learn from other places.

It’s just… these “big event” mayors and their circuses.

What does it say about their view of the city they represent? In order to draw people here, we need to lure them with big ticket events. Musical and film festivals. Sporting events. Casino and ferris wheels.circus

How many destinations, cities especially, do you visit for one thing? I mean, you go to Atlanta because it’s hosting the Olympics. Is that what really draws you to London? Yeah, yeah. I hear you. Toronto’s no London. Fair enough but, how about Chicago as a comparison. If you go to Chicago, do you go for just one reason?

Cities attract tourists for a combination of reasons. Places to see. Things to do. Ease of getting there and getting around. And an unquantifiable quality of delivering something, a vibe let’s call it, visitors don’t get at home.

Does Toronto possess that vibe? I don’t know. It’s tough to judge from the inside but I’d say in fits and starts. But I’m pretty sure some ‘big event’ isn’t going to be the tipping point that secures us that ever so elusive label of ‘world class’.liveablecity

I’d be much more enthusiastic about the mayor’s push for attracting more tourists if, instead, he was out advocating for the city’s ability to implement a hotel tax. Use that money directly to help pay for our desperate infrastructure needs that would go a long way to improving the city’s ability to attract visitors. Maybe while Mayor Tory is down in Austin, he can ask the mayor there about that city’s Hotel Occupany Tax.

And maybe on his way back home from Austin, our mayor should do a quick layover in Minneapolis. Set up some meetings there with company mucky mucks, ask them if they keep their businesses in the Twin Cities because it’s – How did he say it on the radio today? ‘Technology jobs come because it is a cool, hip place to be’?

Really? Is that businessman John Tory’s read on things? austinCompanies with their 21st-century technology jobs set up shop where it’s groovy to do so? Somebody needs to take that Richard Florida book from the mayor or, at least, try explaining it a little deeper for him. (That isn’t what Florida meant by the ‘creative class’, is it? I haven’t read it.)

“No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well,” the Atlantic says of Minneapolis-St. Paul in its article, The Miracle of Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area is richer by median household income than Pittsburgh or Salt Lake City (or New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles). Among residents under 35, the Twin Cities place in the top 10 for highest college-graduation rate, highest median earnings, and lowest poverty rate, according to the most recent census figures. And yet, according to the Center for Housing Policy, low-income families can rent a home and commute to work more affordably in Minneapolis–St. Paul than in all but one other major metro area (Washington, D.C.). Perhaps most impressive, the Twin Cities have the highest employment rate for 18-to-34-year-olds in the country.

The top 10 ‘for highest college-graduation rate, highest median earnings, and lowest poverty’ among under 35 residents. ‘The highest employment rate for 18-to-34-year-olds in the country’.minneapolis

That hip and cool enough for you, Mr. Mayor?

It seems no one festival or big event has done the trick for Minneapolis. Apparently it has more to do with a history of equitable sharing of resources and tax dollars that has built affordability into the equation. People stay, and work and live and raise families, because they can afford to. Rather than depending on attracting business to it, the Twin Cities have a history of developing their own businesses, maintaining a critical mass of management level workers who deliver a smooth continuity.

Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. Minneapolis didn’t create such a scenario itself. The state bought into the concept as well. And I’m sure there’ll be plenty of huffing and puffing about Toronto not being Minneapolis, bigger and more diverse, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.barker

My point being, it’ll take far more than some one-off shazzam big event to deliver the economic impact the mayor is hoping to score in his search for Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Being hip, I don’t think, is really much of a substantive business plan. Mayor Tory seems to be mixing up cause and effect.

Transforming an economy takes a lot more than simply ‘selling the city’. It requires some boldness in thinking based on frank discussions about the realities you face. So far, our businessman mayor has opted merely to be a showman, relying on cheap optics and empty rhetoric to give the impression of doing something.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Fault, Dear Brutus

March 9, 2015

Look, I’m not going to shrug off some $400 million cost overruns in a $2.5 billion project. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money. moneymoneymoneyMoney, in tight budgetary times like ours, that could be put to better use. Another $400 million and those repairs on the Gardiner Expressway would be done in no time.

Nor am I going to defend the TTC’s oversight. Maybe as an organization they aren’t up to the task of managing major infrastructure builds like a subway. Hell, there are days the TTC doesn’t seem capable of simple route management, so yeah. Questions need to be asked about the role the TTC played.

But I’m not going to sit here and listen to easy solutions offered up about how all this could’ve been avoided, the budget blow throughs, the delayed completion time lines. “An entrenched culture of nonaccountability at city hall,” according to Mayor John Tory. You should’ve used an Alternative Financing and Procurement, Premier Kathleen Wynne said. Ahhh, P3s. Is there no problem they can’t solve?

Perhaps both are right. Each has an element that may’ve factored into the mess. Not only are the cost overruns and delays problematic but timely reporting on them seems to be lacking. Who knew what and when? fingerpointingDid the mayor and TTC chair Josh Colle only find out about them when the public did last week?

And as was pointed out by Trevor Heywood at Metroscapes, there is currently another transit project being done here in the city, the Union-Pearson rail link, using an AFP model with no talk of overruns or delays. Was an AFP contemplated for the Spadina subway extension? If so, why wasn’t it implemented? If not, why not?

Still, I don’t think either of these ideas fully explains what’s happened with the TTC and the Spadina subway extension. Both offer up easy explanations for what is clearly a complicated situation. Digging and building underground always will be fraught with unknowns and unexpected problems. You can work in contingencies (as contingencies are in budgeting big public work projects) but, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns and then there are unknown unknowns.

In other words, shit happens, yo.

No, I think there are bigger questions and concerns to address with this, especially as we go forward to build more public transit.wantwhatnow

That this happened should really come as no surprise to anyone. The Spadina subway extension was a political transit decision from the outset. The province wanted it, the city less so. As lore has it, the subway was the price the city had to pay to get Queen’s Park to play ball with other transit projects it deemed more pressing. Without the Spadina subway extension, would there ever have been Transit City?

Certainly Toronto couldn’t have been all that happy about the extension of the extension, up 2 stops past York Univeristy into Vaughan. No question that York was in need of some form of rapid transit (whether or not it should be a subway is a good point of conjecture) but the decision to carry on, north past there wasn’t really in the city’s best interests. Yet, here we are.

If the city was so reluctant for this subway, forget the construction costs, concerns about the operational costs of it were present from the outset, how it was going to have to be subsidized like the Sheppard line, taking money from the rest the system to its detriment, why did it agree to build it? Was the option on the table for the city to step back and say to the province, Have at it? You want it? thanksnothanksYou use your precious AFPs to build it.

So was this miscalculation on the TTC’s part or coercion from the province? Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the political (rather than a transit) oriented nature of the Spadina subway extension created the opportunity for unpleasantly unexpected turn of events. A scenario we should acknowledge as we proceed down the profoundly political path of the Scarborough subway extension.

The larger concern, however, goes to what the mayor called ‘an entrenched culture of nonacountability at city hall.’ While we know who the target was in the mayor’s mind — city staff — I think we should try to cut a wider swath in this. Let’s call it, the nonaccountability of unrealistic expectations. You want a subway? I can get you subway. You want to pay how much for that subway? … Sure, I can get you a subway for that much money. No problem. Sure.

We elect politicians who tell us we can have the infrastructure of our dreams for no money down, no interest ever. The private sector will build it for us. lessonslearnedHave you ever heard of something called Tax Increment Financing? Seriously. It won’t cost you a dime.

The notion we could build a subway, first for $1.5, then $2.5 billion for what became 6 stops, 8.6 kilometres was never going to be a slam dunk. Even if it comes in at $2.9 billion, about $337+ million per kilometre, it wouldn’t be some grotesque outlier in terms of international costs for building subways. For every Barcelona, Helsinki and Sao Paulo, there’s New York’s 2nd Avenue subway or London or Amersterdam.

The Spadina subway extension is not out of whack in an international comparison. While we most certainly should examine ways it could have been completed less expensively, this indignant outburst at the news of cost overruns stems more from our entitled belief that cheaper is better and somebody else should pay for the things we want than it does any systemic failure on the part our public sector to be able to build infrastructure. cheapSure, let’s point out all the examples of cost overruns on projects throughout the city in addition to the Spadina subway extension. Nathan Phillipps Square. Union Station.

But in an environment where the bottom line often means the bottom dollar, the lowest bid, city staff must find themselves in the uncomfortable position of speaking forthright versus being painted as naysayers and no-can-doers. An extreme case would be former TTC CEO, Gary Webster, delivering an opinion on the LRT-subway debate that ran contrary to the administration and finding himself quickly relieved of duty. A politician gets elected telling voters this won’t hurt a bit and then expects city staff to conform to that way of doing things. It’s called a mandate.subwaystop

Maybe the problems start with voters who demand the impossible from politicians and the bureaucracy. If you want a great city, a former mayor once said, you have to pay for it. Seems we’ve chosen to go another route, insisting more on a OK-is-good-enough and can’t-somebody-else-foot-the-bill-for-us trajectory. When reality rears its ugly head, somebody’s got to pay. Again, not us. Somebody else.

money-for-nothingly submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 295 other followers