Transit Treachery

March 4, 2015

Our list of municipally elected transit villains is well known. Why, just in the past 4+ years alone, names fly off the top of your head. villainRob Ford, Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker, and all the subway lovers who enabled them. We elected them. We re-elected them. They are our responsibility, our bad.

Yet, I am going to make a bold, perhaps controversial assertion here.

They are but bit players in this sad, sad drama we call transit planning here in Toronto. Supporting actors in our mad tragi-farce, farcedy. Wilfully self-unaware fall guys, the lot of them. Patsies. Patsies, not pasties. Mmmmmmm… pasties.

The real culprits here, the progenitors of this city’s — the region’s — diseased public transit, Ian McShane’s Teddy Bass to Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, is undoubtedly the provincial government. Ultimately, Queen’s Park pulls all the strings, fiscally, jurisdictionally. Theirs is the final yea or no although they would demur, preferring to project an image of sage partnership with its municipalities. Who us? We’re just sitting here minding our business, happily signing the cheques. Are you sure you don’t want a subway with that?

Follow the timeline with me on our current misadventure.benkingsley

In 2007, the city and province announced a grand plan, Transit City, as a step in the right direction to dealing with Toronto’s increasingly problematic congestion. We often forget that the project was more than just new LRT lines, 7 of those in total, running some 120 kilometres. New bus rapid transit routes were also in the mix along with increases to existing services. Looking at the original Transit City map, what is immediately apparent is the plan’s scope of bringing better transit into the long under-served inner suburban areas of the city.

Back then, the provincial government was picking up the tab for Transit City as part of their bigger regional transit vision, MoveOntario 2020. Unfortunately, the economic crisis and meltdown got in the way and, more attentive to politics than good governance, it scaled back Transit City to just 4 LRT lines. villain7Argue as we might about if the move made any economic sense but what we can say with a fair degree of certainty is that this change of plans instilled in Transit City a sense impermanence, assailability. Just more lines drawn on a map.

December 10th, 2010. Newly elected mayor, Rob Ford, unilaterally declares Transit City dead. That noise you heard coming from Queen’s Park? **Crickets**

Again, we can debate in hindsight whether or not city council should’ve stepped in and demanded the mayor bring the matter to a vote. Ford was as popular as he would ever be at this point. Had city council pushed, he may well have received the go-ahead to rip up the master agreement with Metrolinx and officially bury Transit City. Whether through wisdom or pure shocked inertia, city council stood pat, allowing the mayor enough time and rope to leave himself dangling.

The inaction on Queen’s Park in defense of Transit City is equally opaque and open to question. Remember though, they are the big bosses, the final arbiters, the holders of transit plans in their hands. They could’ve stepped in and stopped the insanity in its tracks. That power was theirs.villain1

Instead, they blinked. Deeply unpopular in the polls and facing almost certain defeat in the general election to be held the following year and not looking to have to face down the self-proclaimed Ford Nation flank in Toronto, the Liberal government shrugged and told the mayor and city council, Whatever you want to do. (It probably also didn’t hurt that any delays to the transit plan formerly known as Transit City would save the deeply indebted Liberals from immediately having to spend any money.)

Unsurprisingly, Rob Ford stumbled and fell flat on his face. City council seized control of the transit file from him. With only a 2 year delay to show for it, some semblance of order seemed to be on the horizon. Of course, it wasn’t. City council, led by a TTC commissioner eyeing the mayor’s office in a couple years, began dialogue on another transit plan, mostly pie-in-the-sky, unfunded schemes called One City. More lines on a map including – what the hell was that? – another Scarborough subway, this one a replacement for the proposed Transit City LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line.

It bears repeating at this point that, once more, the Liberal government could’ve put their foot down and put an end to the discussion. villain3They have the power to do that, rule by fiat pretty much. That is the nature of our municipal-provincial relationship. They didn’t, thereby perpetuating the farcical shitshow.

They’d been reduced to a minority status and their grip on power was tenuous. No false moves that might embolden the opposition to trigger an election. So just more of the, Whatevs.

But this is where the provincial government’s motives get really, really murky. During a by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, the Liberals dubbed their candidate, Mitzi Hunter, the ‘subway champion’. Sorry, what?! Increasingly, Scarborough MPPs (many of whom were former Toronto city councillors) went public with their preference for extending the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway rather than LRT. Everybody now had picked up the Rob Ford chant of Subways! Subways! Subways! Scarborough deserves a subway!

It’s like the boss, when you ask if you can cut out early to take your kid to soccer practice, tells you ‘no’ while winking and nodding his head ‘yes’. villain2No. *wink, wink, wink, wink* Quitting time is 5pm. *wink, wink, wink, wink* You cannot take your kid to soccer practice. *Nodding ‘yes’*

So it went. City council took the bait, cancelled plans for the fully funded by the province Scarborough LRT, taking upon itself all the risks and liabilities of building a subway instead, beginning with about $75 million it was on the hook for for cancelling the LRT plan, the plan the province covertly encouraged them to cancel. The Liberals scored a majority government last June and then pretty openly expressed its preference for who Toronto should elect as its next mayor, John Tory, a candidate with transit plans of his own, SmartTrack which, just so coincidentally, meshed nicely with the province’s own regional rail plans, and a candidate with no plans to reopen the Scarborough subway debate if elected.villain4

Why do I feel the need to revisit this recent, sordid history now?

On Monday at the Executive Committee’s budget meeting, buried oddly near the bottom of the 2015 Water and Waste Water Rate Supported Budget, a budget that doesn’t usually get the same spotlight its operating and capital budget brethren receive, a report surfaced revealing that the city and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) had been negotiating a $95 million bill Toronto was expected to pay for infrastructure upgrades that were happening along the Union-Pearson-Georgetown rail link. Hey! You want out-of-town visitors and commuters moving smoothly around your city? Pay up. That shit don’t come for free.

So, a city struggling to balance its operating budget (which it is provincially mandated to do) and with limited access to revenue to do that (and an even more limited propensity to access the tools it does have, admittedly) villain5is being told to come up with nearly $100 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements that will ultimately more directly benefit another level of government with increased taxation through economic growth. Oh, and the cost overruns on the main terminal of that rail link? You’re on your own, Toronto.

It is clearly evident that this city is more than capable of fucking itself. What’s becoming less apparent is why we have to continue putting up with a second fucking from a senior level of government more concerned about its own well-being than the municipalities it is purportedly looking out for. As my good friend MookieG77 said on the Twitter yesterday, this is just another form of provincial downloading onto cities.

While the idea of pushing for provincial status for the GTA remains quixotically out on the fringes of political discourse, it’s just not seeming that crazy an idea currently. For 20 years now, Queen’s Park has not acted much like a partner, albeit a senior partner in its relationship with Toronto. The dynamic is more like an occupier. villain6Happy to take our money but less interested in providing sound oversight or reasonable leadership unless it provides some tangible gain for them in return.

If we’re going to go down in some sort of ignominious flame out, let it at least be one of our own making and not imposed by a government who views us as little more than a liability, a vote rich and money laden liability.

rebelliously submitted by Cityslikr


Connecting The Dots Thoughts

March 1, 2015

Since last October’s municipal election, I’ve been telling anybody willing to listen that, in a way, 2014 was more disappointing than 2010. blahblahblahYeah, yeah. Rob Ford as mayor, yaddie, yaddie. No more crack scandals. No more drunken stupors. With Rob Ford out of the mayor’s office, everything can return back to normal.

Ah yes. Return back to normal. Regression to the mean.

As I’ve pointed out previously, 36 of 37 councillor incumbents were re-elected. Of the victorious rookies, all were white, and 6 of the 7 were male. Return back to normal, indeed, if it were the 1970s. Business as usual.

The especially frustrating aspect of this is that there were fantastic challengers running for office last year, all over the city. At least 10 off the top of my head but closer to 15 if I did an actual headcount. None of them won their races, few even came close.

Change was heralded with the election of a new mayor. 2014, however, represented anything but change. Toronto swapped up captains of a ship of state which remains charted on the same course it’s been for 4 years now. nochangeFull steam ahead!

The reasons for that outcome were multifold. (If only there were simple solutions to these kinds of complicated matters, eh?) I tend to lean on the idea that last October was a referendum on the mayoralty. The Rob Ford reign had sucked all the oxygen from local politics. Voters turned out to cast judgement on the Ford administration, yea or nay. Council and school board trustee races were secondary. Even more secondary than usual.

That’s just a fact of municipal political campaigns. Mayoral races oftentimes shape voters opinions on their perspective city council candidates who, not irregularly, get asked on the doorsteps if they support candidate X for mayor. Even though a mayor is ultimately just one vote of 45 (with a handful of extra executive powers), there’s this perception that the position is imbued with almost mystical, presidential powers.

This reduction of the role and powers of city councillors to a secondary or supporting position at City Hall by much of the voting public can have a pernicious effect on how some of these councillors go about their business. lordmayorUnder the radar, out of much public view. Going about their business as usual.

Even if there’s nothing nefarious to that mode of operation in individual cases, it helps contribute to this notion of ‘low information voters’. You know, a solid majority of the general public who lead busy lives and have neither the time nor inclination to keep tabs on what exactly it is their respective city councillor is doing. In the scheme of things, they’re not that important. Just keep the potholes filled and taxes low, am I right?

That this is nowhere near the reality of the dynamics in local politics is ultimately harmful to the governance at City Hall.

Which is why Dave Meslin’s post on Friday is so fucking essential and exciting.

Connecting the dots: Exposing the influence of lobbyists at City Hall.

I’m not even going to try and summarise it here. Meslin does a magnificent job doing that himself and, quite frankly, there may not be a more important post-election article yet written as this one. Take the time and read it.

The movement for Open Data has been very successful at getting raw information available.  And the creation of the Lobbyist Registry and the banning of corporate election contributions were important steps.  But it’s time to connect the dots, and put all of this data to work!

This is about bringing all the data on the governance operations at City Hall that is already publicly available under one, easy to follow, umbrella. See who lobbies your councillor on what issues, who donates to their election campaign. mindblownSee how your councillor votes on a particular issue and does it reflect the interests of their residents or those of the people lobbying and donating to them? All with the click or two of your computer’s mouse.

(Hmmm. I guess I did just summarise my take on the article. Read it anyway!)

As you can tell by the title, Mez’s gist is about curbing lobbying influence on our local politics. A valuable and vital goal, for sure, but I’m equally as excited about the other possibilities he hints at in the post. Not only would this collection of data together in one easy and interactive online location serve a useful tool for busy reporters and other media types as they file their City Hall stories, but an equally harried and busy public could take just a few moments to see what brought their city councillor to vote a particular way on an issue of particular interest to the constituent.

Equally as exciting for me is the opportunity this creates for candidates running against incumbents. Imagine having easy access to the speeches a city councillor made during the debate on a certain issue, almost effortlessly linked to any lobbyist contact the councillor had on that issue, the campaign donations the councillor received from interested parties on that issue. opendataLifted onto a candidate’s website or sent out in email blasts to voters. Low cost and not onerously labour intensive, fledging and cash-short candidacies can tap into a handy, dandy campaign tool while leaving themselves more time to tend to other critical matters like canvassing and fundraising.

To be sure, this use of open data will not, cannot replace the other key aspects to a successful political run. Too often, open data, social media, the internetz in general are seen as a panacea to the drudgery of traditional campaigning. Did I mention canvassing and fundraising? It isn’t. But as a complimentary instrument in what will always be an uphill battle in unseating municipal incumbents, this could be, dare I say it, revolutionary. By shining more light into the backrooms and lessening the shadows in which some city councillors function, voters can be given easy access to more thoroughly assess not only the job their city councillor is doing on their behalf but also just how important that job is to the daily lives of the city’s residents.shinealight

With information comes knowledge and from knowledge comes power. Historically, incumbents at City Hall have held that power to maintain what seems like, in some cases, a death grip on office. If we learn how to better connect the dots, as Dave Meslin is thinking, we just might be able to tilt the dynamic a little more in the voting public’s favour.

over-the-moonly submitted by Cityslikr


Subway Ground Down

January 28, 2015

I really don’t want to be writing this. Like the Toronto Star’s Ed Keenan, I’m tired of it, of the Scarborough subway debate. Just as likely, you’re sick of it too. notthisshitagainThere’s gathered a great storm of ennui, a wave of yawn. Just Get On With It has now become the default position. Build Something!

But…but…There’s always the but.

In Keenan’s article today he points to a recent Forum Research poll that shows, given the full options of what Scarborough would get if we spent $3+ billion on transit there, 61% of Torontonians would pick the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. A healthy majority of those living in Scarborough too favoured the LRT option given to them.

Just yesterday, as I was railing about the $75-85 million the city is in the midst of handing over to the province via Metrolinx for the work already underway on the Scarborough LRT that council cancelled, I cited a Leger poll from back in February 2014 that showed similar numbers. 61% of respondents preferred the Scarborough LRT option over the subway. 56% of those living in Scarborough leaned that way also.

So why the fuck are we here, spending billions of dollars building something the majority of Torontonians don’t want?

Public enemy number 1, of course, is Rob Ford. Subways, subways, subways, am I right? scarboroughsubwaybellowThe people want subways.

Not to diminish his role in the mess but let me say this. At the very least, Rob Ford and to a lesser extent, his brother Doug, truly believed that subways were the way to go. As committed car drivers, public transit was something of a puzzle to them. They hated streetcars that blocked up the middle of the roads. Buses they tolerated because they were easier to get around. But underground transit? Out of sight, out mind, out of the way.

Because the folks voted for him, giving him a mandate, they too wanted subways. Subways, subways, subways! Like the classic bullshitter that he is, Rob Ford (and again, to a lesser extent his brother) actually believed the bullshit he spouted. He didn’t need no stinkin’ polls to tell him what he knew in his heart, heard every day from the folks he met in line at Tim Horton’s.

This is not to excuse him. He served as the bullhorn for the subway cause. The self-appointed guardian of the taxpayers’ nickels and dimes stubbornly contributed to throwing away of billions of dollars of their money to further a cause he willfully knew nothing about.notthisshitagain1

The larger question though is, how, with these numbers, 4+ years after the debate started, 4+ years after the People Want Subways campaign slogan metastasized into a corrupted conventional wisdom, we’re determined to plunge ahead into this madness? The villainous list is long. Rob Ford becomes little more than the inciting incident in this story, a preening, comic foil Malvolio.

The true monsters in this sorry-assed tale sit up at Queen’s Park. First in the form of the skittish Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, seemingly dead in the polls and facing an election in 2011. In the face of the first (and only true surge) of Ford Nation, they quickly buckled when the newly elected mayor unilaterally declared Transit City dead. Hey. If you say so. Whatever. They would survive the initial assault, holding on to power but reduced to a minority government.

But imagine if instead they had stood their ground, stood up in the face of what was little more than a noise-making machine. Was subway support really ever as strong as the mayor and other Scarborough politicians came to claim it was? Certainly Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker didn’t think so in 2012 when city council wrestled the transit file from the mayor and re-instated Transit City.

At this point of time, it seemed cooler heads had prevailed. Subways, subways, subways had been revealed to be little more than the dying bluster of a mayor who’d soon be sidelined to little more than a cranky observer. Pheee-ew, right? We narrowly dodged that bullet.

But then…

What the hell happened?

Well, here’s where the story gets nothing short of clusterfuckery.

New leader of the provincial Liberals, new premier, new beginning, we’re told. They start to get their sea legs, win a by-election or two including one in Scarborough-Guildwood with Mitzie “The Subway Champion” Hunter. A by-election where, curiously, her NDP opponent, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone, an early Transit City advocate, docilely nods in a similar subway support direction.

Suddenly everybody loves subways! notthisshitagain2Egged on by Scarborough MPPs, city council lurches once more, agreeing to scrap the Scarborough LRT in favour of a subway. A subway the city will now have to contribute to building and maintaining. Scarborough deserves nothing less than a subway, we are told.

Except, still, with the options laid out for them, residents would opt for the LRT.

Despite that, here we are. The Liberals are back as a majority government. They now have both the city and federal government pitching in to build a Scarborough subway. They have a new mayor who, despite his claim to prudent fiscal management, campaigned on a pledge not to reopen the subway debate and is perfectly content to just piss away 10s of millions of dollars in order for that not to happen. In addition to which, his signature transit plan, SmartTrack, is offering even more city money to help the provincial government build their regional transit system.

And all the Scarborough pro-subway city councillors who ran for re-election last year are back. (Interestingly, so is the one very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.) notthisshitagain4The debate is over. The people have spoken. They want subways.

Except, apparently, they don’t. Or more precisely, if given an option, they’d take LRTs. It’s the politicians who want subways.

If there’s a more salient example of why we’ve become so cynical and disengaged, I can’t immediately think of one. It’s little wonder we’re bored of this debate. Our elected representatives aren’t listening to us. What’s the use of continued talking?

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Free To Be Mammoliti

December 12, 2014

So maybe we all should stop the tsk, tsk, tsking of disapproval toward Ward 7 York West residents and grant them a well-earned cynicism in regard to a certain long serving city councillor of theirs, one Giorgio Mammoliti.tsktsktsk

Pleading guilty to 4 charges of campaign overspending and ‘filing false paperwork’ during the 2010 election, the councillor was subject to a fine of $17, 500 which includes paying back the $10-12,000 he ‘inadvertently’ overspent. But don’t feel too badly for Mr. Mammoliti. He’s still got the $80,000 he pocketed from an illegal fundraiser last year minus 3 months salary the Integrity Commissioner dinged him for as a result of that illegal fundraiser minus the legal fees he’s racked up taking the city to court to fight that ruling plus $20,000 the city council just yesterday agreed to contribute to those legal fees.

“We all have different strengths,” Denis Lee, Justice of the Peace said during his ruling. “Unfortunately for Mr. Mammoliti, things went off the rail. He’s here today to take his lumps.”

“The court is of the opinion that you did act in good faith at all times — and there may have been an error in judgment in appointing who you did as your financial assistant. shrugAnd while the responsibility still is yours, the court is of the opinion that, taking everything into consideration, what has been presented to the court today is a very fair position on all these matters.”

Keep in mind here that Councillor Mammoliti has been an elected official for the better part of 25 years now, starting as a one-term M.P.P. from 1990-95 and then a city councillor since 1995. 2010 was his 6th municipal campaign (once in North York, the rest in amalgamated Toronto). The only difference 4 years ago was Mammoliti started out running for mayor before hightailing it back to his ward race when the run for the top job became an obvious lost cause.

The Justice of the Peace could have tossed the councillor from office but chose instead a financial shrug. So it’s difficult to view the ruling as Mammoliti taking any sort of lumps. offtherailsMore to the point, the idea that the councillor possesses the ability to act in good faith, never mind ‘at all times’, simply strains any attempts to attach a meaningful definition to that term.

I’m no legal scholar but I imagine the councillor’s most recent legal woes including being under police investigation had no bearing on today’s judgment. Priors may figure into a court ruling. Can currents?

It’s just hard for me to get my head around the fact that a veteran politician like Giorgio Mammoliti could be treated with such kid gloves. “Things went off the rail.” Mistakes were made. Mix ups happen. What are you going to do?

So why shouldn’t residents in Ward 7 be cynical? If the institutions meant to keep our politicians honest fail to do so, if they simply shrug and grant offenders political mulligans, how can we possibly chastise voters for figuring what’s it matter, it’s not going to make a difference who’s in office, they’re all the same? shirtlessmammolitiSince there are obviously no repercussions to bad behaviour, why should the public believe any politician will play by the rules?

Exposed to regular lapses of ethical conduct over the past 4 years from the likes of Councillor Mammoliti, the previous mayor, his ex-councillor brother, the new chair of the Planning and Growth Management Committee, and with apparently no recourse to hand out appropriate punishment, we leave it up to voters to chase the offenders from office. But if they have no faith in the system to keep the players playing fairly, why wouldn’t they conclude the next one’s going to be as bad? They’re all crooks and liars, right? All politicians are only in it for themselves and their deep-pocketed friends.

With the whole thing so broad strokingly tarnished, when it comes around to casting a ballot, many voters simply won’t bother. It only encourages the bastards. If they can summon up a sense of civic duty, why not just go with the devil you know? We know how bad he is. The other guy could be worse.trainwreck

Until we decide to act forcefully and justly with politicians who abuse the system and the public’s trust in it, we should hardly blame one tiny segment of voters for not making an example of one particularly egregious offender. The whole thing’s broken. There’s no reason for Ward 7 residents to think otherwise. There’s no reason for the likes of Giorgio Mammoliti not to realize it too and continue to push the limits because there doesn’t seem to be any serious downside not to.

fellow in cynicismly submitted by Cityslikr


All So Depressingly Familiar

June 2, 2014

Sadly, none of it comes as much of a surprise. For anyone following along with the disaster of a transit debate since about 2010, screaminginfrustrationsince the then newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead, little of John Lorinc’s Spacing series seems at all revelatory or shockingly improbable. But seeing more of the gory details, right there in black and white bytes, makes for some seriously disheartening and infuriating reading.

The sheer arrogance of the principals involved in the Scarborough subway/LRT debate is nothing short of monstrous. From Premier Kathleen Wynne, her Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murrary, to councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker, all seemed to operate under the presumption that their own personal political survival or advancement trumped good transit planning. Expert advice was ignored or buried. Numbers, in terms of projected costs and ridership, were massaged. shellgameSound arguments and reasoned decision making replaced by stoking the fires of regional resentment.

“It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit,” Glen Murray said last summer. Subways, folks. People want subways, subways, subways.

While transit activists and government appointed commissions did their upmost to promote a rational discussion about transit building in this city, elected officials at both Queen’s Park and at Toronto City Hall undercut all that work and goodwill by quietly scheming behind the scenes to push a Scarborough subway plan that made absolutely no sense except for trying to ensure some electoral advantage. friendlyfireIt’s one thing to fight a fight against a known enemy. It’s an entirely different matter when you’re knee-capped from behind by supposedly friendly-fire.

This is the root of political apathy. When good governance is sacrificed at the altar of electoral expediency. It’s not leadership. It’s not public service. It’s the very reason so many people are fed up with politics.

Perhaps what’s most appalling about this entire clusterfuck is how those many of us hoped would stand opposed to the popular fiction that arose around this post-Transit City debate — that the only worthwhile form of transit to build is the underground kind of transit which is nothing more than a car driver’s fantasy – not only cowered in the face of it but did their best to help propagate it. For a by-election seat here, a mayoral run there, in reaction to robo-calls from a spent political force, a city’s desperate and long overdue need for an infusion of public transit has been jeopardized. whackamoleBecause if Scarborough deserves a subway, what about residents along Finch Avenue West or Sheppard Avenue East? Why should they suffer under the ignominy of 2nd-class transit?

Once you pull that thread, you wind up now having to contend with the likes of the Sheppard Subway Action Coalition (h/t CodeRedTO), another campaign spreading false and misleading information about transit choices many of us had thought already decided on. It’s policy whack-a-mole. A game played not just by hack politicians like Rob Ford but every politician prioritizing their career over judicious, fact-based governance.

Back in 2009, the provincial government restructured the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, fictionalicejpgbooting elected officials from the board in order to rid regional transit planning of any whiff of politics. It was a laudable goal in intention made laughable in implementation. Over the past 4 years, transit planning in Toronto has been about nothing but politics. Bad, craven, self-serving politics, at that.

If that old maxim is true, that we get the politicians we deserve, unfortunately what seems to follow, is we also get the transit we deserve. Remember that, the next time you’re waiting for what seems like forever for the next bus or crammed tightly into that subway car. There’s nobody else to blame for that than ourselves.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


Unreliable Narration

April 29, 2014

Bear with me as I venture momentarily into unfamiliar territory here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, baronmunchausenthat of literary theory.

The unreliable narrator is a device used by authors to undercut the legitimacy of the usual authoritative voice of the teller of the tale. Is what we’re being told actually true? If not, why not? It adds a degree of mystery, leaving readers or an audience uncertain about the veracity of the story they’re being given.

Reading through yesterday’s city staff briefing note, 2007 — 2014 Budget Reductions and Other Budget Balancing Strategies, it struck me that for the past 4 years or so we’ve been following along with a story told to us by an unreliable narrator, many unreliable narrators, in fact. The conclusions drawn by the city manager and CFO draw a starkly different picture of the fiscal stewardship of this city than the one that’s been painted for us over the past 4 years. Everything we’ve been told to believe since 2010? Not so much. It’s a little more nuanced than all that.

Let’s go back to the outside workers’ strike in 2009 because I think that’s where much of this story started. throwingmoneyaroundAt its conclusion, the general consensus was that the then mayor, David Miller, had caved in to his union brethren. Handed over the keys to the city vault, out of control spending, disrespecting the taxpayers, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Our fiscal foundation was crumbling, Rob Ford would then claim, having taken control of the narrative during his successful mayoral run. We needed to tighten our collective belts. What this city had was a spending problem not a revenue problem.

Now, we know why he spun the tale this way without any regard to facts or the truth. It was politically advantageous for him to do so. But I also think he actually believed it. If we’ve learned nothing else from the past 4 years it should be that Rob Ford doesn’t understand how government works. He inherently hates government. He sees it as nothing but a burden, an imposition on our lives. fairytale1Somehow his math works out to less of government=more for us.

According to William Riggan (summarised by Wikipedia for me), Rob Ford had a bit of all 5 of the unreliable narrator traits to him. The Picaro, or the braggart. The Madman, pretty self-explanatory. The Clown, see The Madmen. The Naif, a limited or immature point of view or perspective. The Liar, see The Clown.

Why so many of us took him seriously enough to elect him mayor is equally as apparent. Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? Yes, the city faced problems and challenges, we were told, but none of them were our fault. Fixing them would be easy and we wouldn’t feel a thing. A happy ending all round!

Here’s what we know now, four years on.

Yes, the Miller administration taxed us at a higher rate than the Ford administration.  areyousure1It dinged us with other revenue streams like the Land Transfer and Vehicle Registration taxes. It collected more from us in user fees including bigger hikes in transit fares.

But the thing is, in terms of an overall budget, spending has increased under Rob Ford. During his time in office, city council has curbed the rate spending increased but not the total amount. The same can be said about property taxes. They may not have gone up at the same percent as they did under David Miller but we still, on average, are paying higher property taxes now than we were in 2010.

Part of the reason for that is that the Ford administration cut and froze other sources of revenues like the VRT. fordnationIf you’re not cutting spending but are reducing revenue, how do you make up the difference? Cut services you’re providing. Have you taken a bus or subway over the last 4 years? You know what I’m talking about.

City council in Rob Ford’s first term as mayor has spent more than it did in the previous term and delivered less. That’s how it patched budgetary holes. That is his legacy.

The real kicker – no, wait. First, the penultimate kicker. According to this briefing note, David Miller, he who caved into the unions back in 2009, saved more money for the city in his 2nd term as mayor through collective bargaining agreements than Rob Ford has during his time in office. I know, right? How is that even possible? Weren’t we told Miller opened the vault and just started tossing around money? fingerscrossedIsn’t taming the union demands an important cornerstone of Rob Ford’s re-election campaign? Now we’re hearing that Miller the Profligate saved the city more money from union deals than Rob Ford?

Which takes us back to the real kicker.

In terms of closing the operating budget gap, from the opening pressure to the final balance, the Miller administration found more “savings” in its last term than the Ford administration did, to the tune of some $432 million over four years. Now, here’s where this gets even trickier and murkier. Using a budget’s opening pressure as the benchmark isn’t exactly what you might call, reliable. Much of it is based on educated calculations and estimates. Both David Miller and Rob Ford used looming opening pressures as political scare tacticsemptypromise (although it is interesting to note the difference in motives. Miller threatened services in order to get revenue increases to pay for those services while Ford threatened higher tax increases in order to cut services to maintain lower taxes.)

Out of all this shaky narrative, however, a couple salient facts need to be noted.

The David Miller administration wasn’t the fiscal laggard popular political fiction made it out to be. It instituted a long term economic strategy that included a broader base of revenue and increased involvement by other levels government. A strategy that helped Rob Ford initially deliver his campaign guarantee of low taxes and no service cuts.

The Rob Ford administration wasn’t the sound fiscal steward it’s claimed to be. While rejecting one time funding sources like the previous year’s surplus and maintaining revenue streams at the rate of inflation, it relied heavily on a regular reduction of services to balance the operating budget. stoppullingmylegIt’s sustainable only as long as residents are willing to put up with getting less and less from City Hall.

It’s that fact that’s made so much of the political story in Toronto so unreliable. Unreliably told by those seeking office on a platform that would be unpalatable to most voters, and believed by those not willing to accept the basic truth of the matter. If you want a great city, David Miller once said, you have to pay for it.

truthfully submitted by Cityslikr


In Your Own Backyard

April 5, 2014

Is anybody else at all weirded out about the fact Toronto’s incumbent mayor is holding his first big re-election fundraiser beyond this city’s limits? suspicious2Or that, back in 2010, more than one-third of his campaign donations came from non-Toronto residents? I don’t know. Maybe it’s standard operating procedure.

In some ways, it makes sense.

As goes Toronto, so goes the region, I’ve heard it said. There’s a wider vested interest in how the city fares, out past the 416 and into 905. Lots of people who don’t call it home have a business, do business, go about their business here in Toronto. It’s only fair that they’re allowed some kind of say as to whom we elect to run things.

I guess.

Maybe I wouldn’t find it so disturbing if this support wasn’t lavished upon such an anti-urban candidate. It comes across as if he’s doing the bidding of the largely suburban area that encircles the city. Reflecting the pre-amalgamated Toronto mindset of many living in both the GTA’s inner and outer suburbs, the Toronto mayor has more in common with the municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham than he does with the one he was elected to represent. surroundedHe’s one of them. An enemy in our midst.

That comes across sounding a little paranoid, doesn’t it. I’ve fallen into that us-versus-them mentality. It could just as well be a case of, I don’t know, going with a winner although, at this point of time, it’s hard to figure out who would shell out $300 a plate in support of Mayor Ford. How is more of the same for another 4 years going to help anyone, anywhere around these parts?

So, I guess it simply comes down to political stripe. A conservative is a conservative is a conservative, good or bad, crack smoking, known to police or not. Their guy is better than the other guy, regardless.

Ultimately I think the thing that bugs me most about this is that it seems anyone residing outside of Toronto can donate to a candidate here and receive the city issued rebate that comes with it. rebateSomething just doesn’t sit right about that. I’m not sure why any city would want to encourage candidate donations from outside its boundaries. You’re just giving money away that, in all likelihood, will be spent outside of the local economy.

My inclination would be to restrict campaign donations to only eligible voters. It just seems clear and easy. But that’s probably too restrictive or exclusive. So how about only residents and those owning a business in the city qualify to donate to municipal candidates? That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

But maybe if you really think it’s important and democratic to be able to donate to the candidate of your choice no matter where they are, donate away. Just don’t expect to be reimbursed or subsidized for it. I already suspect your motives. I certainly don’t want to enable them.

suspicous1

suspiciously submitted by Cityslikr


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