Challengers To Watch XIII

August 28, 2014

Talking to Paul Bocking about Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, it’s difficult to imagine how it sent the current councillor to City Hall to represent it. oneofthesethingsAs seen through Mr. Bocking’s lens, Ward 35 has the second lowest average family income in the city, the residents depend heavily on bus travel to get around, there is a prevalence of aging apartment towers.

And yet when you think of the incumbent, Michelle Berardinetti, what immediately springs to mind about her work in her first term is the Scarborough subway, bike lane removal and elephants.

Paul Bocking sees this election as one about inequality. (Yesterday’s news about the alarming rate of children living in poverty in Toronto certainly emphasizes that point.) Ward 35 is full of working class neighbourhoods hit hard by the collapse of the local manufacturing base. Former good paying jobs now replaced by minimum wage, temporary employment. Small businesses unsuccessfully competing with nearby big box stores.ward35 A car dependent area of the city under-serviced by public transit. A destination for new Canadians looking to put down community roots.

Many of the solutions to the problems ailing places like Ward 35 are at the macro level, beyond the reach of local politicians. But the answer to that is not simply ignoring the problems, hoping another level of government will sort everything out. It’s the job of a city councillor to highlight those problems and to use what tools are available to alleviate them, to create a dynamic where positive change is possible.

This goes beyond simply keeping taxes low. It’s about investing in communities. Creating opportunities for everyone to better their lives. goldenmileThis is something’s that’s done door-to-door, street-by-street.

Bocking is no stranger to that kind of community activism. He has been part of the fight against TTC fare hikes and cuts to service, delivering a deputation on that topic during the 2012 budget fight. He is a big proponent of the community benefits program, fighting to ensure that when major public infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT are built, jobs and training are made available to local residents. As a high school teacher, Bocking is well aware of the disconnect between school boards and city council. He’d like to see more integrated programs between the two and a reassessment of the fees charged by schools to use their facilities which, currently, are priced far beyond the reach of many local groups.

It is an approach most notable for its ground up activism rather than a top down, edict like proclamation style. communityIf elected city councillor, Bocking vows a much more inclusionary engagement with residents. There were few community consultations on very important issues that arose over the course of the past 4 years, including the subway-LRT debates, a waterfront casino, budgets. As a fan of movements like Participatory Budgeting, Bocking would change that, endeavouring to seek resident input before big decisions are made.

He admits that the Scarborough subway is an issue when he goes knocking at the door but he senses people aren’t as committed to the idea as subway advocates claim. When the merits of the LRT get pointed out – serving more people and more communities – many don’t seem as vehemently opposed. Again, it’s all about better community engagement.

For Bocking, the subway debate is more of an abstract issue. Something that, even if it comes to pass, is a decade away at best. communitymeetingIt won’t help anyone in Ward 35 now. Certainly not as much as improving the current TTC service will. Certainly not like ensuring tenants’ needs are addressed. Certainly not the way increasing the accessibility and affordability of children’s programs would.

The best city councillors don’t simply represent their community. They build their community. That isn’t accomplished fighting ideological battles or stirring up resentment toward other wards or areas of the city. Community isn’t built from above. It’s created through engagement and listening to the concerns and ideas expressed by each and every member of it.

Paul Bocking seems to have a knack and predisposition for that kind of work. If we’re to bridge the so-called urban-suburban divide that currently afflicts municipal politics here in Toronto, communityengagementwe have to hope places like Ward 35 elect candidates like Bocking as their city councillor in order that they actually join in on our collective conversation instead of being relegated to shouting from the sidelines. We need to start hearing from them not about them.

As a city councillor, Paul Bocking seems determined to give residents of Ward 35 a voice rather than be the voice for them. Real civic engagement starts right there.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch XII

August 26, 2014

This one’s a tough one.

I know J.P. Boutros. I’ve chatted with J.P. Boutros. jpboutrosHad drinks with J.P. I like J.P.

It’s going to be difficult to be seen maintaining any sense of unbiased perspective here. So be it. Take it into consideration as you read on.

J.P. Boutros is running for city council in Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence. He was an advisor on transit for the former Ward 16 councillor, former TTC chair and former mayoral candidate, Karen Stintz. To say he had a fiery baptism in the heated cauldron of city politics would be whatever’s under an understatement. Rob Ford. Public transit. Subways, subways, subways. Let’s get rid of streetcars.

The death of Transit City. Service cuts. Fare hikes. Gary Webster. The coup against the mayor to take back control of the file, put the Eglinton Crosstown LRT back on track. One City.

This kind of turmoil might’ve put off public life for some people, apparently not J.P. He cites “loving city politics” as one reason for deciding to enter the race. fierycauldronThe second, and probably more important reason?

Well, it starts with the Scarborough subway.

We all know this story, pretty much by heart now. The mayor’s dream of the Sheppard subway extension dead, reborn in the form of a subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line instead of the planned LRT line. How’d that happen? Well, your guess is as good as mine but it was probably a toxic mix of both political ambition and cravenness at a couple levels of government.

Its appearance as an item at the TTC commission meeting caught J.P Boutros by surprise. When he expressed a WTF after the fact, he was pulled to the side (not by his then boss, I’m assured) and told to know his place. “You’re an advisor not an elected official.”

Correcting that situation is reason #2 Boutros is running for city council.

Since announcing, he’s been stridently hitting that anti-Scarborough subway note, specifically the property tax increase needed to pay the city’s portion of it. ward16It’s absolutely unnecessary since the proposed Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway was going to be paid for entirely by the province. A better transit option, as he sees it, with none of the costs.

If we’re fine with a bump in our property taxes, why not use it instead for things the city actually needs? Which Boutros has pledged to do if elected, and if he’s able to help put council back on the LRT track in Scarborough. Yes. As city councillor for Ward 16, J.P. Boutros would push to have that debate opened up again.

“We have something on the books that’s signed right now [the city’s Master Agreement with Metrolinx to build a Scarborough LRT], that’s good to go,” he told the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore. “Let’s do it.”

Instead, the city could spend some of the additional revenue in the wider community, better and more parks and green spaces, for example. hitthegroundrunningBoutros has proposed that the city buy some school land the Toronto District School Board is trying to sell off, Bannockburn, keep it as a park for Ward 16 residents. Spending money where you need to rather than where you don’t.

This would put J.P. Boutros at odds on a couple of important levels with the ward’s outgoing councillor and his former boss. Even more so than on the TTC file, Karen Stintz stands as a rabid penny-pinching conservative of the most extreme kind. Not for nothing was she regarded as one of the leaders of the Miller era Responsible Government Group, a de facto opposition band of councillors including the likes of Mike Del Grande, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Frances Nunziata and Case Ootes.

Is that the kind of representation Ward 16 expects from its city councillor?

Boutros doesn’t think so. At the doors he’s been knocking on, taxes haven’t really been much of a talking point he’s hearing. Development, and the proper managing of it, is always a big issue in Ward 16. goodeggTraffic and congestion. Minimizing the impact on the community as the Eglinton crosstown makes its way through. Parks. Ward 16 loves its parks.

People want to believe their money is being spent wisely. It’s a constant refrain I’m hearing from candidates. If that’s not what you’d call fiscal conservatism, then the phrase is utterly meaningless.

In what is now an open ward, J.P. Boutros brings some actual City Hall experience to the table. Some serious City Hall experience. I asked him if there was any baggage that comes with it especially given how acrimonious the transit debates were. Did he make it on many councillors’ shit list?

He shrugged. Not that he knew of. Thought he was able to talk cordially with all the councillors, regardless of political stripe. This time around, if he gets elected in October, he’ll be able to do so as a colleague not as someone’s assistant.

Again, let me re-iterate here. I know J.P. Boutros. I like J.P. Boutros. So, I’m very biased when I say this but it would represent a notable shift at City Hall if Ward 16 elects him as city councillor. shiftgearsKaren Stintz was something of a polarizing figure during her time in office, even before she became TTC chair. I think Boutros brings less ideological division with him. The tone will be different.

“If you can’t run on your own beliefs,” he tells me, “you’re doing it all wrong.”

I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt with that statement and take him at his word. I hope voters in Ward 16 do too.

hopefully and helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Leadership Starts From The Ground Up

July 25, 2014

4 out of 4 transit experts agree. Toronto needs to start building the [fill in your preferred first name here] Relief Line now yesterday! expertsagreeWhile we can, should talk about other transit modes i.e. GO electrification, the only one that is going to take pressure off our already too tightly squeezed subway system is another subway line moving people to and from the downtown core, “… the fastest growing part of the entire GTA.”

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about a relief line for 30 years now. The necessity for it has been known for that long. It’s not new or news.

The problem is, it will be a messy, disruptive, expensive undertaking. Building a “new subway through the core — underground and with truly urban station frequency” can’t be anything but. subwayconstructionEven if crews started digging today, many of us wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of the labour and money. And, of course, it will be a project assailed on all fronts by parochial interests, convinced that downtowners, once more, are getting more than their fair share of public money and attention.

Despite all that, a Relief Line remains, in the words of our subway loving mayor, a Need to Have rather than a Nice to Have. Unlike say, the Scarborough subway extension?

A couple weeks ago in CityLab, this article headline appeared: “NYC Can’t Afford to Build the Second Avenue Subway, and It Can’t Afford Not To”. Read through the article and replace 2nd Avenue subway with DRL and Toronto and New York are pretty much having the same conversation right except for the fact, New York has at least started building their vital subway.

And yet, the Second Avenue line DRL has become a beacon for New York Toronto’s future and a symbol of the numerous challenges facing a global city that must, in light of massive costs and slow build-outs, expand its transit network to stay competitive. Ask anyone who has to ride the 4, 5, or 6 trains into Manhattan south of 60th Street Yonge Street line during a morning rush hour, and the need for a Second Avenue line DRL becomes clear. These trains aren’t just crowded, they’re packed to the gills. Very often, riders standing on a subway platform…have to let multiple trains go by before they can squeeze on board.

Even the cowering reaction by New York politicians to the enormity of building a needed subway has familiar echoes of leaders here in Toronto and at Queen’s Park.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders have begun to think small. They propose ferries, with ridership that tops a few hundred per day, as opposed to a few hundred thousand per day for a full-length Second Avenue subway. They urge bus rapid transit as a lower-cost option, without discussing how lower costs inevitably lead to lower capacity. Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.

Ringing any bells? Ferries? Where did I hear about ferries recently?

“Thinking big — building more than 750 miles of track in five boroughs,” the CityLab article concludes, 2ndavenuesubway“made this city great, and to keep it great, New Yorkers will have to remember how to think big.”

And in Toronto’s case, ‘thinking big’ doesn’t just mean big projects like a subway. It means planning beyond simply local asks or demands, and looking at the proverbial bigger picture. The city in its entirety. The GTA region as a whole.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much of that from our elected officials. The non-political make-up of the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, has been hijacked for political purposes by the Liberal government. The only major mayoral candidate really talking serious nuts-and-bolts about transit so far in this campaign is David Soknacki, and he remains stuck in single digit numbers of voter preference.fullfinchbus

So we remain crammed onto subway and streetcars, buses and on the roads while the best possible solutions are picked clean to the bones by opportunistic and do-nothing politicians, driven by their own agendas and the tax-and-spend aversion that has gripped residents.

The end result is not at all surprising.

Allow me a metaphor to point how this all winds up, if indeed it is a metaphor. I’ll have to confirm it with Doug Ford and get back to you.

“Faulty towers: The hidden dangers of low condo maintenance fees” is the headline for a Globe and Mail real estate article back from 2011.

The lack of interest [in a condo unit up for sale] has nothing to do with market conditions, and everything to do with a 30-year history of indifference by the residents who were content to keep condo fees low at the expense of necessary maintenance.

Hmmm. Do go on, Mr. Ladurantaye.

“This is a coming crisis that nobody is talking about”, said Chris Jaglowitz, a lawyer who specializes in condo law for Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and a member of the Condominium Managers of Ontario. “You have all of these older buildings, and someone needs to pay for long-neglected repairs. And many people won’t be able to cover their share.”

That’s because condo buildings are owned collectively by the residents, and all repair bills are shared equally. Condo boards are able to levy special assessments in addition to condo fees to pay for projects. But the boards are made up of residents, who are sometimes motivated to keep fees low. And they serve short terms, which means long-term planning is often difficult.

Not just condos, is my point here.

thinkbigInfrastructure, transit, the city as a whole, all left in a serious state of disrepair and neglect because we residents, to paraphrase the article, have been content to keep our taxes low at the expense of necessary maintenance and needed expansion to keep up with the continued growth of the population. We’ve come to expect easy (and cheap) solutions to complex (and expensive) problems, succeeding only in making the solutions more complex, more expensive.

But hey. Not on us. Not on our dime.

That’s how you get an infrastructure deficit. That’s how, years, decades later, we find ourselves precipitously and willfully under-served by even the most basic of the necessary amenities. Housing, roads, public transit, all inadequate in dealing with the ever increasing numbers of people choosing to live here.headinsand

That’s the legacy we’ve already passed on to our kids with little expectation it won’t be even worse for our grandchildren. Unless we choose to step up right now and say, enough is enough. It’s time to start accepting a little responsibility and stop clutching our pocket books and narrow self-interest and leaving future generations to make even tougher decisions.

buck stoppingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VII

July 24, 2014

Normally when I set out to write up something on a city councillor candidate, I like to go and meet them on their home turf, observeget the lay of the land, feel the ground beneath my feet. Observe the species in their own habitat. I’m hands on, if nothing else.

But when it came to writing about Ward 7 York West, I was a little uneasy, if the truth be told. After hearing incessantly for the past 4 years from the long serving incumbent how Ward 7 never gets anything except for the short end of the municipal stick, all I could imagine was this barren wasteland with a mythical tall, tall flag pole and the regular u-turning of transport trucks. Surely only the forlorn and demented would call such a place home. I mean, where’s a guy going to get a latte while up there?

But I was convinced by candidate Keegan Henry-Mathieu to face my fears and head up Jane Street with him on a crowded, rush hour bus run. Squeezed on right from the outset and never really emptying out for the entire ride, we chatted about the campaign. From under one nearby armpit and over another backpack, I asked if transit was an issue for residents in Ward 7.

Spoiler alert: it is.

While we have these high concept transit debates – subways versus LRTs – crowdedbusToronto residents find themselves packed on buses and streetcars, oftentimes with unreliable service and long wait times. This is particularly true in the bus-dependent suburbs of Toronto. Ward 7 will wait a 100 years for subway! declared its local representative, a stranger, I’m assuming, to using public transit to get around the city.

“You think you just got unlucky, getting onto a crowded bus,” Keegan tells me. “But the next one’s exactly the same. And the one after that.” And don’t get him started about waiting for a bus out here in the winter.

In what is becoming a trend for me as I talk to candidates in the suburban areas of the city, they face an uphill battle in engaging residents they meet in their wards. After years, decades, generations of largely being ignored by the people they send to City Hall, ward7it’s difficult convincing them that it can be different, that change can happen. Civic engagement can’t just be flicked on.

So candidates like Mr. Henry-Mathieu knock on the doors of residents who don’t tend to have their doors knocked on by politicians seeking office. People whose connection to the city government is tenuous at best. Those who are usually not part of the wider political discussion.

He tells me he sees it most in the apartment buildings he canvasses, many of them in states of ill-repair, trash tucked away up in the ceilings in some. And property management MIA can be traced back straight to an MIA councillor. Vote for you? Why? What have you ever done for me?

For many residents in many wards of this city, it is a valid question.

After hopping off the bus long north of the 401, officially into Ward 7, Keegan and I continue to walk up Jane Street. janeapartment(Turns out I’m not the first one he’s taken out for a neighbourhood stroll.) There are the usual strip malls and gas stations you would expect to find in these parts. But he points out all the largely unused green space on either side of the street, most of it surrounding apartment buildings.

With even the slightest bit of imagination and initiative, install some benches, tables, bbqs, you could create a real sense of community. Instead, what you have is a whole bunch of fenced in, unused space.

Don’t even get him started on slightly more ambitious ideas. Perfect spots for local farmers markets to bring healthy food into the neighbourhood. What about food trucks? Eye-balling it, I’d say there are plenty of areas 50 metres from the nearest fast food outlet. Why not bring some choice to a part of the city that lacks much of it?

Why not bring all sorts of fresh thinking to a part of the city that’s been lacking it for years now?

Henry-Mathieu is no stranger to talking and pushing policy ideas. timeforchangeHe was part of the Toronto Youth Cabinet at City Hall for the better part of a decade before resigning recently to pursue a council seat. While certainly a natural progression, it stems also from a little bit of frustration.

His activism as a Youth Cabinet member helped deliver incremental change. He now wants to try and push harder, make bigger advances. Starting with improving opportunities for those living in Ward 7.

By all rights, this should be an open ward and a more level playing field for Keegan to take a run at. The sitting councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, has spent much of this past term fending off, let’s just call them, greasy allegations. The latest, a damning report from the city’s Integrity Commissioner, accuses Mammoliti of pocketing some $80,000 from an illegal fundraiser attended by developers and other business types doing business with the city. shirtlessmammolitiAnd that’s just a ‘for example’.

In an ideal world, Giorgio Mammoliti would’ve been barred from seeking office again.

But this being Toronto city council, things don’t work out quite like that. Instead, he’s allowed to run for re-election, backed by questionable money and having delivered nothing of substance for his ward during his nearly 25 years in office, as M.P.P, North York and Toronto city councillor. Over the course of the last 4 years, he’s been nothing but a disruptive and destructive force, doing little more than establishing a name and reputation for himself.

If residents of Ward 7 are disengaged with local politics, it is almost exclusively to do with the fact that their elected representative at City Hall doesn’t care. It works to his advantage. Voter apathy is the key to a bad politician’s success.

Keegan Henry-Mathieu represents everything the man he’s trying to oust doesn’t. Optimism. Enthusiasm. Inclusion. commissoA belief in positive change through both little and big steps. An expectation that things can be better through collective action.

The guy even found me a more than serviceable latte at a place called Commisso’s, located on a side street, in between two tire stores.

There’s no telling what he could do if voters in Ward 7 give him a shot at representing them at City Hall.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Street Carnag–Oh! I Get It!

July 23, 2014

You know what I love about people who offer up easy solutions to not-so-easy problems? brightidea1Their firm belief that no one else has ever come up with that easy solution. If it were so easy, asshole, don’t you think it would already be in place?

So it goes with the National Post’s recent War on the Streetcar series, where they tap noted transit and municipal affairs expert, Terence Corcoran, and some dude from Vancouver to give us the lowdown on the congestion woes that ail us here in Toronto. Their inevitable conclusion? Replace our streetcars with buses and Bob’s yer uncle. Done, and done. Next problem you want solved?

Geez. Thanks, guys. That’s such a solid idea even Rob Ford has floated it before.

(Note to those handing out transit advice: if Rob Ford agrees with you, it has to be the dumbest idea ever. imwithstupid2He gets his views on public transit from reports he reads behind the wheel of his SUV while driving on the Gardiner.)

For all of those deciding to give voice to your opinions on this city’s congestion, the one constant in the discussion, among all the other variables, the one factor that never, ever changes is the overwhelming presence of private vehicles in the equation. If streetcars were the root of the problem, there wouldn’t be congestion on Dufferin Street, on Finch Avenue, on Bathurst Street north of Bloor, all of which run buses. What about the expressways that intersect the city? The 401, the DVP, the 427, Gardiner/QEW? No streetcars there, either. Some buses. But mostly cars and trucks.

If you want to chime in with your transit/congestion problems, start and end with how to deal with private automobile use. Anything else is simply white noise. You’re not helping. You’re hindering.

Look at the photo accompanying Mr. Hopper’s empty screed. lonestreetcarThe 501 to Long Branch, trapped on all sides by a sea of cars. What problem does he see? The one, the lone streetcar. There’s a joke in there somewhere about not seeing the forest for all the cars.

Of all the laughably contemptible points made by Mr. Corcoran in his anti-transit blathering, perhaps the most laughably contemptible is his final one. “Now there is talk of clearing all automobile movement on King Street and other streetcar-strangled streets,” huffs Corcoran, “all to facilitate the trundling vestige of the horsecar along tracks that lock Toronto into the 19th century.”

Actually no, Terry. It’s not all about facilitating ‘the trundling vestige of the… blah, blah, blah.” It’s about facilitating the movement of as many people through our streets as efficiently and economically as possible. buscongestionWithout introducing lane, turning and parking restrictions on ‘automobile movement’, replacing the 19th-century horsecars with your beloved trolleybuses (which, by the way, would take 3 times as many to move the same number of passengers) won’t make a lick of difference. Bus or streetcar will still be stuck in traffic, battling for scarce road space with cars.

To give the National Post some credit, this peculiar ‘Street carnage’ series of theirs did include Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s article ‘Streetcars are not the problem, too much automobile traffic is’ which, essentially, stated what I’ve just been stating for the past 500 hundred words or so. But the paper then spent the better part of the week trying its best to refute that article. youdontsay1Worse, refute it by ignoring the main thrust of his argument. Too much automobile traffic.

How exactly to deal with the congestion problem of too much automobile traffic. Now, there’s a poser, a real conundrum. Until you’re prepared to tackle that, everything else is just re-arranging the furniture, and chances are, somebody else has come up with the idea before you did.

 

yeahyeahyeahly 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


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

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Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


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