Gardiner Conundrum

December 19, 2012

Deep down in my bones, at the most visceral of visceral levels, I stand opposed to the selling of public assets to private interests. It always seems like some desperate measure and seldom turns out very well at the public end. justnotrightOf course, that may just be the confirmation bias punching its way to the surface.

But then, Councillor Adam Vaughan, whom I nearly always agree with, floats the notion of selling off or leasing out the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. What?! Yesterday on Metro Morning, the councillor went full on Ford and touted mysterious ‘telephone calls’ he’d been getting from ‘major investment firms’ and ‘consortiums’, apparently drooling over the prospect of gobbling up some crumbling infrastructure. What next, Adam? Folks in line at Timmies, telling you to go for it?

During the interview, Councillor Shelley Carroll, whom I nearly always agree with, calls Vaughan’s idea an ‘insane fantasy’. Exactly, Shelley. If we’re going to start tolling the roads, why not keep the profits instead of handing them to the private sector to make off with like bandits. An insane fantasy indeed.waitwhat

Which is probably why Councillor Doug Ford agrees with Councillor Vaughan about it. Wait. What?! Get out of town! Those two guys?

“I’m glad that Councillor Vaughan is taking a page out of my playbook that I’ve been preaching for the last two years,” said the councillor and Mayor-brother, “maybe he got hit over the head over the weekend.”

For that reason alone, I now want to sell the roads to the private sector and watch as Councillor Ford slowly and inevitably realizes to his horror exactly how P3s work in the real world. Nothing comes for free. One way or another we will pay for the use of the Gardiner. I’m not sure the councillor fully understands that concept yet.

Of course, that’s not really all that constructive and might simply be cutting off my nose to spite my face. And when it comes to being spiteful, let’s leave that up to the master on the matter, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. From Robyn Doolittle of the Toronto Star:

Public works and infrastructure chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said [Chief Planner Jennifer] Keesmaat needs to get on board with a staff recommendation to carry about $505 million of rehabilitation work over the next decade on two sections of the Gardiner.

darkhelmet“She’s in favour of spending the tens of millions that’s required to keep the Gardiner up while we could wait for six, seven, eight years to get an environmental assessment done, then flushing all that money down the toilet and maybe tearing the Gardiner down,” he said.

Ms. Keesmaat’s transgression? Suggesting before throwing a half billion dollars blindly at the problem of the Gardiner, how be we go back to that Environmental Assessment that we were already $3 million into before Mayor Ford came to power and Councillor Minnan-Wong took over at Public Works. You know, that one that got mysteriously shelved. The one that might’ve already been completed and on the table to give us some educated direction going forward.

If you could indict someone for disingenuous douchery, the Public Works and Infrastructure chair would be up to his eyes in legal paperwork. Unfortunately, that’s not illegal behaviour. Just terrible, destructive politics.

Not only was Ms. Keesmaat being quite reasonable in her suggestion that we think before we spend but she said out loud what road warriors like councillors Ford and Minnan-Wong refuse to accept and those like Vaughan and Carroll can only nibble around the edges of. According to Robyn Doolittle again, Toronto’s chief planner said she is opposed to spending massive sums on infrastructure focused on “moving more cars.”completelynuts

That’s what this all comes down to.

The future of transportation services in this city.

Single rider, private vehicle use is the least efficient, most expensive way of moving the biggest number of people. We’ve been heavily subsidizing it for over half a century now. Now’s the time to pay the piper. That bill’s come due.

The best way to go about achieving that? I guess that’s what this current tussle is about, at least among the politicians who are looking ahead and not back. Councillor Minnan-Wong is fighting yesterday’s war and should be treated accordingly.

It’s all well and good to think that if tolls are the way to go, why don’t we just start tolling and reap the profits. But in governments’ hands, it’s always political and subject to the whim of the day.nowisthetime Just like Rob Ford came to power vowing to kill the Vehicle Registration Tax, it’s easy to imagine another candidate pledging to kill tolls.

So sell it smartly to the private sector and be done with it. Let those who want to drive, bitch and moan at the major investment firms and consortiums not City Hall. And if you think you’re going to avoid paying by taking another, ‘free’ route? We’ll keep that congestion fee option tucked in our back pocket.

And hey, if Councillor Vaughan is right and engaging in a P3 will kick in federal infrastructure funds and ‘regionalize the cost’ of maintenance, why not? Cities should not be solely responsible for roads that serve the greater area.

Still… there’s that nagging feeling, deep in my bones. Lost revenue. Loss of control. Enriching the private sector while draining the public purse.

But this is a conversation and decision we need to have right now and not some time after we’ve thrown half a billion dollars at a problem that will do nothing more than handcuff another generation.

discombobulatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Boozy Arguments

December 6, 2012

Listening to Ontario’s (PINO) Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, talk to Matt Galloway this morning on the CBC, sayingnothingI was struck by a certain sense of grim fascination along with a shared growing frustration the Metro Morning host displayed with his guest’s non-answer answers.

We’ve heard it all before, the conservative prescription for economic prosperity. Attack the public sector. Sell off any and all government assets not nailed down. Lower taxes. Always lower taxes.

We’ve been hearing it for over 30 years now. It varies little. Different actors spouting the same lines.

Rein in spending. Balance the books. Pay down the debt.

Never is there talk of the need for revenue outside of growing the economy, growing the tax base. For conservatives, the government should not be in the business of increasing revenue. A fiver in the taxpayers’ pockets is always without exception better spent than by the government. texaschainsawmassacreThis is an article of faith that needs no evidentiary back up. Enlightened consumerism. Rational self-interest.

So why not unload the LCBO as Mr. Hudak floated this week? Should the government really be in the business of selling alcohol when there are hospital waiting lists to shorten and children to be educated? As if those things are all entirely mutually exclusive.

But what about the billion or two the LCBO generates for provincial coffers, Galloway asks the leader of the opposition. Money that goes into helping with health care and education costs. How do you replace that source of revenue for the sake of a one-time sale?

Back tracking commenced, Mr. Hudak chuckles uncomfortably and mouths some words that essentially say that he may be crazy but he’s not that crazy… something, something. He’s not going to do anything that would make the situation worse, silly. boozeaislesIt’s just, the government shouldn’t be ‘opening up fancy new LCBO stores’ and ‘investing scarce tax dollars in great lighting, nice floors and fancy shelves’?

Now here’s what gets me with this line of thinking, and it’s the same reasoning these people throw around with their concept of the private sector building us subways. I’m hazarding a guess here but I’m pretty sure it’s not LCBO employees splitting their time selling me a box of wine with redesigning and remodelling the stores. The LCBO decides it needs a new store or to renovate an old one, who does it? The private sector.

Now, we can talk about proper tendering of contracts and deals or whatever but that’s another matter. To suggest, as Mr. Hudak does, that putting public money – i.e tax dollars – into public infrastructure like transit or retail LCBO outlets is only a drain on our finances simply ignores the other side of the economic equation. It creates jobs. The government can create jobs which, you know how this goes, puts money into peoples’ pockets blah, blah, blah.

And arguably, investing in LCBO stores contributes more directly to the province’s bottom line than does public transit. No, I’m not saying booze is more important than transit. prohibitionI’m just suggesting there’s no real compelling argument at an economic level for selling off the LCBO.

So proponents of privatization always fall back onto choice. We should be able to buy the booze of our choice where we want, when we want. End stop. Anything less is nanny statism at its worst.

This is the one argument that never fails to provoke divisions among even the most politically cohesive group. Friends and acquaintances shake their head at my quaint attachment to our quaint ways of selling liquor. Yes, I know it is the legacy of a more severe, prudish time. Of course, I’d like to see more liberalized laws especially in terms of where one can consume alcohol. There are improvements that can be made.

But, and I suggested this earlier in the week on Twitter, if you ever find yourself at any time of the day on any day of the week without any booze in the house? You’ve simply not been trying hard enough. I’ll spare you the tales of back-in-my-days woe except to say that alcohol shopping was not a particularly uplifting retail experience. It was talk of privatization by the Mike Harris government (and if he couldn’t make a business case for selling the LCBO, what’s changed now?) that really seemed to shake things up and make liquor and beer stores more consumer friendly.

I hear talk of certain shangra-las, free of want, where alcohol flows bounteously, cheaply. Alberta. West Virginia (!?!) Places where one can saunter up to a counter anywhere and demand to be sold the bottle of their choice. drunkardAn I.P.A made from the fresh streams of Pontifidale, kind sir. I want it. And I want it now.

Now, no booze shirker am I, but such places seem almost mythical to me. Yes, I have encountered lovely little boutique liquor stores with a nice assortment of what I’m looking for. I’ve also purchased a six pack or two at corner store where the clerk sits behind a wall of bullet proof glass. For a while back in the 90s, I even prided myself with a 40 oz plastic bottle bearing only the word ‘Vodka’ on its plain white label with blue stripes that a bought at a supermarket called Ralph’s.

My point is, I don’t feel particularly hard done by when it comes to getting my booze on here in Ontario. Until somebody can show me how privatization will make things better for everyone, colour me skeptical. Remember, we’re not talking about some benign widget that we’re fitting into a theoretical economic model. Alcohol is a shatterer of lives in many ways that ultimately takes a toll on any government’s bottom line.

Arguing personal choice smacks of empty retail politics, frankly, that over-emphasizes individual rights over the common good.

bibulously submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor’s Future Depends On Garbage

August 8, 2012

It may surprise you to know that I’m not pronouncing private waste collection in Toronto an abject failure based on whatever numbers emerged from its first day of operations. Surely such a mammoth undertaking should be expected to hit a few bumps in the road, take a wrong turn here and there. That goes without saying. In fact I agree with the National Post’s Matt Gurney that “Municipal waste collection is a surprisingly complicated operation…” that “…isn’t just a matter of deploying trucks to every house and business that must be serviced.”

Yes, I think many of those opposed to contracting out the service west of Yonge Street including Olivia Chow and CUPE over-reacted to the inevitable flubs that happened yesterday. It smacked of cheap politicking and gave the impression that in the hopes of a private contractor failure, unreasonable demands were being floated. Better to sit back and quietly chalk up what went right and what went wrong, and use it as a base measurement rather than snap judgment.

Me? I’d give Green For Life until the end of the year to – ahem, ahem – get their shit together. For better or worse, it’s a 7 year contract. There’s going to be many a twists and a turns in this saga before we can get a true handle on the situation.

This is not to say that I ain’t skeptical. Contracted out waste collection has something of a checkered history. For every glowing report that it was the best thing a municipality ever did, there’s a matching one that declares it a disaster. The dollar figures being bandied about during last year’s debate were nebulous, to say the least. Many councillors felt they weren’t getting a straight answer about how much this would ultimately wind up saving Toronto taxpayers in the end but voted in favour anyway, fingers crossed that it would serve as a useful experiment going forward.

Personally, I just don’t see how, as Peter Kuitenbrouwer reported in the National Post, 23 fewer trucks and 92 fewer collectors can deliver the same level of service. You really have to have that union hate deep in your DNA to believe such a thing is feasible. To truly imagine the public sector is that inefficient and the private sector that magical.

But hey. The game is now on. Contracting out services is Mayor Rob Ford’s bread and butter. This is why he was elected in 2010. To cut inefficiencies and save taxpayers’ money. End stop.

We’ve been told, guaranteed actually, that the contracting out of waste collection to Green For Life will save us $11 million annually with no reduction in the service provided. That is the benchmark privatizing proponents gave us. That is the goal that must be met. I will argue that the mayor’s ‘mandate’ depends on it.

In two years time, we should have a sense of the truthfulness of the claims. During the heat of an election campaign, these metrics are going to have to be met. Failure will not be an option for those who championed contracting out. The Mayor. The Deputy Mayor. The Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure committee and the scheme’s smirking public face, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

If by the fall of 2014 there’s any widespread perception that contracting out has failed to live up to its billing, that the numbers didn’t add up, that service levels dropped, Team Ford will find itself fighting a defensive battle. Not only on this particular issue but on its entire anti-government, pro-private sector, neoliberal, right wing ideological, libertarian platform. This has to work or the mayor and his acolytes will face the electorate empty-handed.

A day in is too soon to tell how it’s going to play out. But the countdown has definitely begun. And if, two years or so down the road, all we’re hearing is that we haven’t had a garbage strike since 2009, you’ll know that the whole operation has not worked out exactly as advertised.

stinkily submitted by Cityslikr


Me Myself And I

April 12, 2012

There’s safety in numbers
When you learn to divide
How can we be in
If there is no outside
All shades of opinion
Feed an open mind
But your values are twisted
Let us help you unwind
You may look like we do
Talk like we do
But you know how it is
You’re not one of us
Not one of us
No you’re not one of us

– Peter Gabriel, Not One Of Us

“My advice to the taxpayer would be don’t send us anymore activists, don’t send us anymore unionists, don’t send us anymore cyclists.” Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday

While Mayor Ford quietly reclined, lost in his own thoughts as his team was about to lose another key vote at council yesterday, his deputy mayor was not about to do down so tranquilly. With Councillor Ana Bailão’s motion – ostensibly to secure more city council oversight of the terms and conditions by which city services are contracted out – Councillor Holyday simply could not mask his dyspeptic reaction to the proceedings, noisily heckling Councillor Bailão to the point of tears as she told her own private story of cleaning office buildings as a teenager.

“My mom had to have two jobs,” Bailão said. “At age 15, I was cleaning offices downtown for two years. I know this industry, and these are new immigrants coming to this country. These are the most vulnerable people in this city.”

“You’re just protecting jobs for your union friends,” Holyday badgered. Repeatedly.

At which point, what had been a fairly orderly, amicable meeting, at least by Ford era standards, broke down into the usual rancor and disorder with Speaker Frances Nunziata moving to call an early lunch break to let matters simmer down some. It didn’t come to that. Council tussled through the last 20 minutes before recessing at its usual 12:30 time.

The deputy mayor then hustled up the chamber stairs to the press gallery where he continued to rant out loud about all the activists, unionists and cyclists who were, evidently, making his life at council damn near unmanageable. (The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat must just love the sight of Councillor Holyday walking toward him, spewing forth. It’s a bottomless pit of content.) Evidently, in his earlier life as a Etobicoke politician in pre-amalgamation Toronto, Mr. Holyday never had to contend with anyone who wasn’t just like him. Simpler times.

I can’t be alone in seeing the deputy mayor as that uncle everyone has who you inevitably wind up sitting beside at big family functions and he can’t stop talking about how things were in his day. When you didn’t have to ask for respect, you just got it. Where everyone knew their place, every one. And the surest entry into politics was through the Kiwanis club.

In other words, eminently unqualified to be anywhere near the levers of power for a major metropolitan city of 2.5 million people with an annual operating of over $9 billion. Yeah, taking care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves is a governing philosophy that simply doesn’t cut it.

The dubious and short-sighted economics of saving the city money by contracting out work at reduced wage rates and decreased benefits – god bless `em – aside… I mean, how could it possibly hurt the local economy in the long run, having people in the community make less money and need more social assistance to offset a loss of benefits?… the politics of the deputy mayor’s manner is mind-boggling.

Never mind his dismissal of the usual suspects since it’s hard to imagine his natural constituency is made up of many activists, unionists or cyclists. But his treatment of Councillor Bailão seems not only callous and cold-hearted, which smacks of overkill since Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is a teammate who traverses that territory much more regularly, but ultimately self-defeating. While the deputy mayor very likely sees the world in the same black-and-white terms as Mayor Ford and anyone with differing opinions must be a union affiliated bike rider who hangs out in hash cafés where the NDP hold their municipal nominations, most others see Councillor Bailão as a moderate voice at council. Shit, the mayor tapped her to chair a special task force on the Toronto Community Housing Corp. and there he is, sitting back and watching the deputy mayor go all Abe Simpson on her?

It just seems like terrible politics.

In the end, Councillor Bailão’s item won and won big. Once more, the mayor found himself on the losing side of a two-thirds vote, flirting ever so close to further irrelevancy, he and his brother’s dream of selling off anything not nailed down suffering a severe setback. Yet, neither one said anything in an attempt to sway any of their colleagues their way. Only the deputy mayor spoke up and in the process did their cause no favours.

If anything, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday reinforced the exact opposite example of what he suggested would help serve city council. Maybe taxpayers and citizens should stop sending angry, out of touch old guys to City Hall whose ‘common sense’ toward city building began and ended with regular viewings of Mayberry RFD. Given their dwindling numbers, it would be much easier turfing them then it would be the ever increasing activist councillors that they’re helping to create.

calmly submitted by Cityslikr


We Really Going Down This Path?

March 29, 2012

Watching The Bottom Line segment last night on the CBC’s National a day before the federal budget was coming down and one of the panelists Patricia Croft said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the private sector experienced a serious recession a few years back and now it was time for the public sector to face its own recession.

???

So the divide is complete. Those not lapping it up at the public sector trough for these past 3, 4 years, the unlucky sods stuck toiling away heroically in the private sector trenches have seen tough times, buddy. They’ve endured while their lazy counterparts in government, most all unioned up, have been picking the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, living large on our dime.

Now it’s time for a little payback, err, comeuppance, I mean, yeah, OK, payback. Enough is enough. We all know what caused the recession. Wildly inflated public sector wages, benefits, pensions and sick days. Those damn teachers brought us to the edge of financial apocalypse! We demand restitution! We demand a day of reckoning!

It’s remarkable, really, just how effective this bait and switch has been performed. That all this government debt, from the federal right down to the municipal level, has been due to reckless spending out of the public purse. None of it came from a mania for slashing taxes or a lack of oversight of financial institution that believed in their own corrective powers and that greed was indeed good – bankers gone wild!

And here we are, anemically digging ourselves out from under the wreckage, no serious questions asked or answered about how we really got into this particular mess, and now it’s time to gut our way back to prosperity. Trust us, we’re instructed by the same people who led us off the cliff in the first place, this is how it’s done. Have we ever steered you wrong before?

We’ve asked this question more than a few times before but in light of this week’s budget madness it bears repeating. How exactly does it work, this cutting your way to growth? You keep wages stagnant, remove benefits, reduce pensions, making people more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. They respond either by piling on more personal debt or tucking what money is left under a mattress. That expands the economy how exactly?

I don’t know why I even bother asking, frankly. No actual answer is ever forthcoming. We cut our debt and debt payments and, voila, there’s more money in the bank to spend on those things people really want. Except, point me to an example where that’s actually happened. Don’t talk to me about the Chretien/Martin Mid-90s Miracle where, in fact, the pain wasn’t short but sweet. Instead it was just passed along, downloaded if you will, to the provinces who, if they aren’t resource extracting the shit out of their economies, are mired down in debt and dislocation, themselves having offloaded as much of the fiscal difficulties onto their municipalities.

As Trish Hennessy pointed out earlier this week at Framed in Canada, this austerity model has so far proven to be hypothetical, illusory, nice and neat on the blackboard but not the proven panacea its adherents claim. With each cut and reduction Greece makes, more bailout money is needed to keep it from collapsing. Great Britain is travelling down a similar path. Austerity, along with its philosophical tax cut soul mate, aren’t really driving economies in the direction their proponents tout.

Rahm Emanuel, that staunch fiscal conservative according to Councillor Doug Ford, is looking at “a ‘major new infrastructure program’ to create tens of thousands of jobs across Chicago by ‘coordinating the revitalization of Chicago’s infrastructure.” What? Government spending in Chicago?! But Mayor Rahm. Everybody knows governments don’t create jobs. Governments just get in the way of the real job creators in the private sector. Unless they don’t.

Our friend Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto today wrote about how Mayor Ford should be luxuriating in the spotlight (our words not his) with his handling of Toronto’s labour situation. Deals signed with very little disruption so far, ‘phenomenal news’, according to the mayor, that gives the city flexibility. Flexibility to reduce the work force, to outsource jobs to the private sector, to start respecting the taxpayers.

No doubt this is exactly what Mayor Ford campaigned on, probably even more so than his promise to build subways. He was elected to bring unionized city workers to heel. Punch them in the face, bust their unions preferably. So that we would never have to endure the horrors of another summer garbage strike. Ever.

They need to get a taste of what the real world’s like out there. They need their own recession. Recovery starts from the bottom and our public workers haven’t hit there yet.

questioningly submitted by Cityslikr


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