Let’s Go Over This One More Time.

April 8, 2015

It’s inconceivable to me that this discussion still has to happen, that a reporter for a local news station feels compelled to shoot a segment on such an obvious topic. saigonshitToronto needs a property tax hike to pay for crumbling infrastructure. Yet, there it is.

As the video shows, a wall of bricks showers down from a community housing building, concrete chunks off a major thoroughfare, subway closures occur frequently due to fires and floods, water mains rupture, roads sinkhole. Splice the visuals together with appropriate smash cuts and you’re left with the impression of a crumbling city, apocalypse now. Toronto. Shit.

Everybody’s got an opinion about why this situation has come to be. A bloated, fat cat bureaucracy, gorging itself on big fat bonuses while the most vulnerable residents live in slum-like conditions. Out-of-control spending on public works projects, over-budget, heavily delayed. Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. Pick your favourite bugaboo. Pink umbrellas and boulders from northern Ontario.pointingfingers

None of these complaints are wrong, necessarily — except for the pink umbrellas and rocks down at Sugar Beach which only reveals a myopic inattention to the bigger picture. Public spending should be heavily scrutinized.  Misspending and misappropriation only heightens an already suspicious belief out there in the public sector. It’s a negative feedback loop, feeding into an always ready to pounce anti-government sentiment.

Yet, do the math and in the scheme of things, added all together, none of these projects or particular bones to pick will make even a dent on the infrastructure needs this city faces. Sure, every little bit counts but every little bit is just that, a little bit, and they don’t count for much, maybe millions when we’re taking billions. We face a far deeper crisis than the easy nickel and dime solutions offered up by the apostles of outrage. We’ve grown content living on the cheap, and living off the hard decisions and sense of community obligation by previous generations.

Amidst all the tales of infrastructure decline and dissolution in Avery Haines’ news segment came the stark fact that we’re paying, in real inflationary adjusted dollars, less in property taxes now than we did back in 2000. That’s right. Less. In 2000, 3 years after amalgamation, 3 years in which there was a property tax rate freeze. hillofbeansWe’re still paying less than that.

Toronto residents pay less in property taxes than many of the GTA’s other municipalities, in some cases significantly less. This is not particularly news to anyone disinclined to think any property tax is too much property tax. During this year’s budget debate Councillor Gord Perks wrote in the Toronto Star that owing to inflation, this city has effectively cut property taxes by 12.4% since amalgamation. Inflation keeps inflating. City council keeps on not keeping up to it. Even all of those ‘through the roof’ over-the-rate-of-inflation property tax rate increases by the profligate David Miller couldn’t help the city’s coffers keep pace.

And Boom! goes the Gardiner. Boom! the brick façade of a TCHC building. Gush! goes the water spout from the busted water main.

And our new-ish mayor, John Tory, shrugs. He was elected by the voters of Toronto to keep property taxes below the rate of inflation. Why? Because he told them anything more than that would be unnecessary. sweepundertherugPlenty of money in the efficiency banana stand, I guess.

“The property taxpayers of Toronto should not be asked to bear those expenses and investments on their own,” Tory said yesterday. “The property tax was never meant to do that.” The mayor’s not wrong. In referring to downloaded social costs like housing and major infrastructure investment in things like public transit, municipalities with their limited revenue gathering base largely on property taxes aren’t supposed to be expected to pay for those big ticket items. Here in Toronto, up until 1995, the provincial government even paid for half of the TTC’s annual operating costs. In 2015, the city is putting nearly $480 million up for that cost. That’s almost one-quarter of a billion dollars that should, in a properly function system, be coming from Queen’s Park. Multiply that by 20 years and, yeah, no wonder our transit system is barely limping into the future, let alone all the other infrastructure needs the city has.

So we can get all pissed off about city council’s quick decision to step up with $90 million to cover shortfalls with the Spadina subway extension, as Ari Goldkind does today in the Star, but it misses the larger debate. cheshirecatThe city shouldn’t be paying for any part of a major transit build. It shouldn’t be contributing anything to the Union-Pearson airport link. Why are we putting up money to renovate a regional transportation route like the Gardiner Expressway?

The province has walked away from its traditional obligations, leaving cities to pick up the slack. That’s what we should really be angry about. That’s the fight we need to be engaged in.

But then we allow the province (along with the federal government to a lesser extent) off the hook, we provide them with their one bit of buckshot of ammunition when we campaign and govern on under-taxation. We’ve given you these revenue tools to deal with the added responsibilities, the province tells Toronto. Why not use them instead of always coming to us for money?

Disingenuous, accompanied with a Cheshire cat grin? You betcha. Download both the obligations and the taxing powers so loathed by the public. citybuildingThank you very much.

Like it or not, that’s where we’re at. By standing idly by, talking about moral and business cases for more investment by the senior levels of government, while deliberately chocking off your own sources of revenue even those not part of the property tax base, is simply being an accomplice to the crumbling of the city. You know there are ways to help, at least, bolster the state of disrepair. They won’t be immediately popular (made even less so by irresponsible campaign pledges that helped get you elected). The alternative, however, is untenable. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable overseeing a city that will continue to decline.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Disobedience

April 7, 2015

Much of the debate during last year’s mayoral campaign revolved around the notion of a return to sanity or, at least, a small sense of normalcy. serenitynowAfter 4 years of Mr. Ford’s wild ride, Toronto needed calm, some peace and serenity. Can we please have a slice of that good ol’ bland boring that should be the centerpiece of municipal politics?

Enter John Tory, bland as bland can be, scion of the establishment, Mr. Sharp Fitting Suit himself. Who better to still our choppy civic waters? There, there, T.O. Everything’ll be alright. Uncle John’s here now. Shhh…Shhhh… Go back to sleep. Everything’s under control.

“Shower of bricks reveals TCHC’s ruined façade,” states the headline of Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star editorial from yesterday in response to a weekend Toronto Star story about “four storeys of brick facing fall from TCHC building in Scarborough”. Ooops! Mash this up with today’s latest TTC breakdown at the St. Clair subway station that stranded thousands and thousands of commuters, waiting for relief lines of buses to get them to work on time.TTChaos

Can we just admit that our troubles run deeper, a whole lot deeper, than the simple matter of who’s running the show? It’s the ideas that matter not the politician. Putting lipstick on a pig and all that.

If the mayor of Toronto isn’t prepared to stare long and hard into the abyss that is this city’s chronic underfunding of, well, pretty much everything, to look up and admit that, yes, in fact we do have a revenue rather than a spending problem, then it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing the chains of office. It’s simply degrees of failure. It could be worse really shouldn’t be a viable option.

During the campaign, John Tory assured Toronto that, as well as restoring a sense of respect and decorum to the office of mayor, he would also improve the city’s rapport with the senior levels of government. wellrespectedmanMr. Tory was well-connected, if nothing else, an acknowledged civic leader of the private sector. How could his relationship be any worse than his predecessors with Queen’s Park, our provincial overlords? The feds, as the feds do, kept a certain non-malevolent distance which could certainly be improved upon with a more delicate but still Tory touch.

It was pretty much an open secret the provincial Liberal government, with a fresh new majority restored, wanted to see John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto. That certainly boded well for improved interaction between the two. I mean, the outgoing mayor and his brother-designate long advocated for the Liberals removal from office. How could we not see an uptick in the relationship?

Now, I’m willing to cut the mayor some slack, agreeing that it takes time to build those kinds of relationships. Still… So far, Queen’s Park has said ‘no’ to any and all requests the city’s made for additional funds for transit, housing, pretty much everything. In fact, we’ve received bills in return for those asks. $95 million as part of the Union-Pearson Express, for example. Oh yeah, and the provincial funding shortfall for the Spadina subway expansion? Toronto and Vaughan need to pick that up. $86 million for the GTA social service pooling fund? eviloverlordYou want a line of credit to deal with that?

This is not something that is new, provincial off-loading of money onto municipalities. The Harris government started it and the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have not done nearly enough to alleviate it. That’s just a straight-up fact, a thing now 20 years-old.

To continue demanding provincial and federal money as the single plank in your platform of revenue generation is not only stubborn wishful thinking, it is, as walls continue to tumble and subways catch on fire, nothing less than a dereliction of duty. It’s not a plan. It’s avoidance. Why moral persuasion is any more feasible now than it was back when David Miller was going ‘cap in hand’ to the other levels of government isn’t at all clear.

Perhaps John Tory was the farthest thing from being the right mayor at the right time. That’s not to say Doug Ford would’ve been preferable. Both he and his brother looked upon every TCHC repair that needed to be done, every TTC breakdown that occurred, as proof positive of the unsuitability of government to help with folks’ lives.

But John Tory is too conventional in his thinking, too much part of the status quo to be of much use to us right now. (Why else do you think he rails incessantly against the ‘status quo’?) He can’t even stomach the idea of a conversation about tax increases. disobeyRadical is not part of the man’s lexicon and Toronto needs a radical approach.

I don’t know how exactly an orchestrated campaign of intra-governmental civil disobedience would work but that’s where we’re at. As was pointed out last week, Toronto (along with other municipalities) doesn’t have much negotiating power when it comes to dealing with the province. But if it’s true as the mayor likes to tell us that this city is the economic engine of both the province and the country, we could probably start causing some disruptions in order to make some noise.

What form that would take is hard to say. Let’s Big Data it and see if we can’t come up with something. What I do know is that meekly handing over millions and millions of dollars whenever the province asks, and going in camera if need be in order to keep the details from the public, in some sort of self-defeating gesture of good faith or will is probably counter-productive. Hey. The province wants the UPX up and going before some of the world arrives in Toronto for the PanAm Games? Maybe that’s their problem. Queen’s Park wants the subway arriving in Vaughan? Maybe they ought not renege on the money they owe. More to the point, maybe the city shouldn’t be picking up their portion of the tab.

Since John Tory has no real vested interested in the Scarborough subway, perhaps it’s time to hold a gun to that beast’s head. fightbackYou know what Queen’s Park? Maybe we’ll just stick to the LRT after all. That Master Agreement hasn’t been reopened has it? I think that money’s better spent on our billions of dollars of state of good repair.

I’ve often mused that with one budget cycle the city should threaten not to balance its operating budget. With no additional provincial money coming in, in fact with such a regular of outflow going from the city’s coffers to Queen’s Park, we just can’t possibly invest enough in our communities while balancing the operating budget. It’s no longer tenable. If the province demands that municipalities balance their operating budget, then the province needs to come in and do it themselves, either pony up the cash they owe or make the cuts to services and programs such legislation demands of Toronto.

But it’s clear by now that John Tory isn’t the type of politician to upset the applecart. It’s just not in his established, status quo nature. Neither is the make up of the current city council up to that fight, the battle we need to wage.

On the other hand, none of us should breathe some sigh of relief and relax in the false comfort that it could be worse. Could it? And what exactly would that look like? upsettheapplecartWe are best served, I think, remembering that Rob Ford and Ford Nation was not just some anomaly, now quietly placated by the bromide assurances of John Tory. While the messenger was damaged, the message remains defiantly there with every building façade collapse and public transit failure.

This shit, it isn’t working. We need to fix it. By and with any means necessary.

militantly submitted by Cityslikr


Same Ol’ Song, Same Ol’ Dance

March 12, 2015

“It is the easy way out to say, let’s just have 3.0%, 4.0% more put on to property taxes…”

So began Mayor John Tory’s pitch to city council this week, presenting his maiden budget for their ultimate approval.upisdown

That this was in direct opposition to, well, reality, nobody much noticed. No, Mr. Mayor, in fact the easy way out is to campaign on an anti-tax platform, to assure voters that there were magical ways to fund city’s services and programs with a little left over for special pet projects. TIF. New money pouring in from senior levels of government. Efficiencies.

In other words, just what the previous administration told us minus the crack smoking and drunken stupors.

In my experience, it is far, far easier to pretend there’s no tough decisions to be made than to accept the unpleasant reality staring you directly in the face and deal with it. At least, initially. The bills do eventually come due, however, and very, very rarely do crossed fingers and a wish on a star provide much of a soft landing.

Oh but the sky is not falling, we were assured time and time again by the mayor, his budget chief, and ancient regime dinosaur, Councillor David Shiner, who told us every year that he’s been around (and that’s a lot of years), it’s been the same ol’ song. everythingsfinePredicted shortfalls and terrifying opening pressures amounting to millions and millions of dollars, only to be dutifully wrestled into submission, the operating budget balanced, as it always must be. The sun rises. The sun sets.

Never mind the ever growing state of good repairs elephant in the room, a To Do List backlog of infrastructure needs now somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7 billion. Social housing upkeep that, in some cases, if not done in the next few years will force the closure of units, sending some of our most vulnerable residents looking elsewhere for shelter. Transit. And transit. And transit.

But somehow, there’s no connection between that beast and the fact that since amalgamation, our property tax rate increases have not kept up with inflation meaning, in real dollars, there’s less money going to even core services and programs, let alone the items a municipality should not be paying for like, the aforementioned social housing or major transit infrastructure builds. Yes, cities are expected to do more with less but what do we think is going to happen when our response to that is to try and make do with even less? That’s what insisting on property tax rate increases below the rate of inflation does.

When Councillor Gord Perks introduced a motion on Tuesday to increase the property tax rate an additional 1.59%, bumping the total hike to over 5% in order to pay off the $86 million hole in the operating budget created by yet more provincial downloading, a hole the mayor is papering over by borrowing from the city’s investment portfolio, Councillor Josh Matlow rose to speak in opposition. nothingtoseehereWhile he understood the intentions of Councillor Perks’ motion, he couldn’t support it because that would let the province off the hook for its obligations. Once we established that precedent, what else would Queen’s Park expect us to start paying for?

A fair point, to be sure, but it leaves the lingering question: WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO IN THE MEANTIME? Oh, that’s right. Cross our fingers and wish upon a star.

It also ignores the fact that a 5+% property tax increase is not unheard of except here in amalgamated Toronto. Ask our GTA neighbours about their recent property tax hikes and see if you get any soothing words of comfort. Toronto has been shortchanging itself since 1998. So its demands for the other levels of government to live up to their responsibilities in funding cities, correct as they might be, ring a little hollow.

Rather than face up to that unpleasant truth, Mayor Tory chose instead to take the easy way out, referring to any such proposed tax increase as ‘through the roof’ and, therefore, out of the question. Neither was the mayor in any mood to discuss other forms of revenue at the city’s disposal. notlisteningCouncillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to bring back the vehicle registration tax and dedicate it to fast-tracking accessibility redesigns for the remaining last half of the city’s 69 subway stations in order to comply with provincial legislation (more of those damned state of good repairs) was soundly defeated. Increasing revenue, in a John Tory administration, was simply not prudent.

Unless, of course, you use any of the city’s services, programs or facilities (not including roads). This budget continued to lean on increasing user fees. From garbage bins to sports fields, above the rate of inflation increases were in effect (except for roads). There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that but it does lead to the question: Why there and not property taxes?

The simplest explanation is that Mayor Tory is playing to the same constituency Rob Ford sings for, both administrations deluding them (and themselves) that the city’s fiscal problems are not of their doing, and that somebody else will swoop in, all deus ex machina like, and pay the piper. deusexmachinaWe just need a little discipline and patience, cross our fingers and send our wishes skyward (which totally isn’t falling) and it’ll all work out fine.

Easy peasy.

Making it official in the process.

Toronto didn’t elect John Tory, the civic leader. We elected John Tory, the talk radio show host. So let’s stop expecting any sort of leadership from him and settle in for another 4 years of sound bites and simple solutions that will solve few of this city’s problems.

heard-it-beforely submitted by Cityslikr


The Fault, Dear Brutus

March 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, shit happens, yo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

money-for-nothingly submitted by Cityslikr


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


We Knew. We All Knew.

January 27, 2015

We did.

bigsurprise

Anyone following along with the “Great” Scarborough transit debate of Two-Ought-One-Ought to Two-Ought-One-Three couldn’t help but know that once city council reversed course once again and decided on the 3-stop subway plan over the 7-stop LRT, we would be on the hook for some money. Lots of it. Lots and lots of money.

So when news broke late last week that an amount had pretty much been settled on, an amount not far off of what had been bandied around during the aforementioned debate, somewhere likely in the $75-85 million range, it shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. topsecretWe knew. We all knew. We did.

That we found out in the manner we found out, from the city manager, as done and done, it’s already accounted for and in the capital budget, whoah, wait, what?! “Yes, it’s in the capital plan,” Joe Pennachetti stated, perhaps a little too imperiously. “No, you’d not be able to see it.”

I think it’s fair to call that something of a surprise. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said it was news to her, literally. She heard about it the first time everybody else did, in Jennifer Pagliaro’s Toronto Star article. “I think the public should be very concerned about the dearth of accountability and transparency,” Councillor Josh Matlow, perhaps one of the Scarborough subway’s most vociferous critics, said. According to him, city council was never fully briefed on the final costs of deciding to ditch the LRT.

Yet, there it is, now in the city’s capital budget plan, with none of our elected officials (as far as we know) sure of the exact amount.burnmoney

It is a fitting, highly appropriate twist to this sad, sordid tale of malefic governance and shameful political self-preservation. Appropriate too that two of the most shameless proponents of the Scarborough subway, councillors Rob Ford and Glenn De Baeremaeker have gone silent on the issue, not a peep so far from either of them. This despite the fact Councillor Ford’s opinion has been sought out on almost every other matter going on at City Hall.

The fact of the matter is, actual support for the Scarborough subway has never been as deep or clamorous as the noise its supporters on council have made it out to be. Polls that set out the LRT and subway plans for respondents to see regularly came back showing a preference for the LRT. “If you get past all of that rhetoric and you get down to how much is it going to cost,” Dave Scholz of Leger Research said, “who’s going to pay for it and who’s going to be serviced by it, then people have a very realistic view of what they want.” scarboroughsubwaybellowLast February, just as the municipal campaign was kicking into gear, Leger showed that 61% of those asked, including a majority in Scarborough, favoured the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Just think of what those polls might say if these sunk costs of $75-85 million are run up the flagpole for full public viewing. Which probably explains this attempt to bury them instead. Already putting ambivalent residents on the hook for an annual property tax increase to help pay for the subway, oh yeah, and **cough, cough, cough, cough** an extra $75-85 million. **cough, cough, cough, cough** I’m sorry. What was that again?

Subway supporter and TTC Chair, Josh Colle isn’t prepared to just simply take those numbers at face value. He wants some full accounting. “Absent of any construction happening, where is this supposed money?” he wondered.

A fair enough question from the councillor, and maybe one he should’ve asked before he voted in favour of the subway back in 2013. icouldtellyou“I can show you my notes from City Council Oct 8/9 2013,” Councillor Paul Ainslie, the only Scarborough councillor who voted against the subway, tweeted last week in response to the Toronto Star story. “I wrote answers to my public questions [of city staff]…I wrote “sunk costs est. $85M” I did not make this number up. So I was not surprised by TO Star.”

The numbers were out there. Councillors who ended up voting for the subway did not make their support contingent on a full breakdown of the costs the city should be expected to pay for that decision. They collectively shrugged and pressed the ‘yes’ button. Their sudden demand for fiscal probity rings a little hollow now.

Councillor Paula Fletcher wondered why the city now should be on the hook for the entire amount of cancelling the LRT. “Let’s not forget the provincial government ran a by-election on the Scarborough subway, with their candidate, Mitzie Hunter, named as a subway champ for Scarborough,” the councillor said. “To come back and say the onus is all on the city is a bit disingenuous.” Ahhh, there’s that word again. Disingenuous. If there’s one word to describe this entire fiasco, the entire past 4 years, really. Disingenuous.wishlist

Still, it’s a legitimate question for the councillor, who, it should not be forgotten, helped bring the subway debate back to the floor of council in the convoluted transit vote of May 2013, to ask. A question that should’ve been asked over and over and over again until an actual answer was given before an actual vote with actual repercussions was cast. While Councillor Fletcher eventually wound up opposing the subway, 24 of her then-council colleagues pushed ahead, costs be damned! Scarborough deserves a subway!

And drip, drip, drip goes the money down the drain. At a budget committee meeting yesterday discussing the staff recommended 2015 budget, Councillor Gord Perks listed a bunch of council directives that staff were ignoring. “The budget drops 3 youth lounges from the Council directed 10,” he tweeted. “City turned down climate change and health funding proposal that the Board of Health approved.” “Budget ignored Council vote on playground repair funding. On average we repair once every 80 years. Council said get to 1 in 30. Cost $3M/yr.” “We have been told budget doesn’t achieve Council direction on planting trees. We don’t yet how short.”

We can’t blame all of this nickel and diming on the fact that without any debate on the specifics the city has to come up with some sum of 10s of millions of dollars to pay for the Scarborough subway. A below the rate of inflation property tax increase and a mayoral dictate to all departments to find 2% in “efficiencies” will contribute too. buryingmoneyBut in a largely zero-sum game of a municipal operating budget, money going somewhere has to come from somewhere. So, residents who may soon find themselves paying more to use city services and facilities can rightfully wonder if that Scarborough subway is actually worth it.

Trying to bury the evidence won’t change that fact.

serves us rightly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor Of Everyone. Literally.

January 12, 2015

In the end, I think, it’s a positive that Toronto’s new mayor responds to situations on the ground even though they might run contrary to the approach he pitched to voters in last year’s municipal campaign. adapt(We’ll set aside for the time being that some of these situations were glaringly apparent during the election which candidate Tory used as a political cudgel to hammer at his opponents.) But I’d still prefer someone we’ve elected to office who adapts their thinking to what’s actually happening to someone wrapping themselves in a mandate cloak, digging in their heels and telling us, Sorry, folks. I was elected not to do that thing you’re now asking me to do.

So when TTC chair Josh Colle wanted more buses to bolster service, Mayor Tory said, Bring us more, buses! Last week, after two men died on the streets and protesters showed up at his office to demand the city declare a cold weather alert and open up warming centres, the mayor made it happen. At City Hall, ask and ye shall receive seems to have replaced my heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…

How this’ll play out during the upcoming budget season will be interesting to watch. yougetacarMayor Tory has stuck to his a ‘at or below the rate of inflation’ property tax increase guns so far but how’s he going to pay for all these things? More buses = more money. Warming centres aren’t free. His Public Works Committee wants to OK 24/7 construction on some pressing projects like our major thoroughfares. Where’s the money coming for that?

Perhaps equally curious will be his reaction to the pressure that gets applied for genuinely bad ideas, misguided, boneheaded impulses like, I don’t know, adding a 4th stop to the ill-begotten* Scarborough subway extension. He didn’t exactly stop one of the mess’s main architects, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker’s pre-Christmas musings on the subject in their tracks with a definitive and negative rejoinder. “My position at the moment is to be pushing ahead with the project as it’s presently defined,” the mayor stated in unequivocally equivocal fashion.

That’s a far cry from his firm stance whenever any of his opponents during the campaign promised to return to the original LRT agreement that the debate over the project was done if he was elected mayor. ontheotherhandNow it’s all ‘at the moment’ and “…there’s a city council consisting of 44 people plus me and we have to decide on whether any alternations need to be made to that project…” Alternations? That would require opening the debate again, wouldn’t it?

If any of the pro-subway Scarborough councillors are emboldened to press ahead in light of today’s poll that has a slim majority of residents in favour of putting in a 4th subway stop (but nearly a super-majority of those living in Scarborough), just how vigorously will the mayor defend his stance not to reopen the debate? Will he expend any political capital wrestling the Scarborough contingent (along with the more strident anti-LRT councillors like Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti and David Shiner) into submission? I’m not getting a defiant vibe on the issue from the mayor at the moment, to use his own words.

It is a poll the mayor could, if he were so inclined, use to beat back any attempt at a 4th stop insurgency. As NOW magazine’s Ben Spurr pointed out, with the 2% margin of error, you could look at it as almost an even split. pacifyHow about if the question were asked not merely with the price tag attached but with the attendant hike in property taxes? The support for this is shaky (as I would argue it is for the entire debacle, given any sort of vigorous pushback). With the poll also showing Mayor Tory sitting on top of a big wave of approval – he’s more popular than both the 4th subway stop and the rest of city council – he could nip this in the bud before it had the chance to grow and fester.

A 4th stop will be all the mayor’s. While I’m sure he’ll get oodles of support from the sidelines from Scarborough M.P.P.’s, it’s hard to imagine the Liberal government offering up any more money. It will all be on the city’s taxpayers to build it. What more will we have to sacrifice to keep the voters of Scarborough and their elected representatives happy?showitsteeth

If this crazy notion proceeds in earnest, it will be the first real test of just how much kowtowing Mayor Tory is prepared to engage in in order to maintain support in Scarborough. As presented by Matt Elliott last week, there are a lot of crazy, counter-productive ideas bubbling up from the city’s wards 35-44. Will the mayor put crass political appeasement before good governance, and pander to some of our worst councillors’ worst instincts? Resolute is not a word that has often been attached to John Tory’s political career, making the continued Scarborization of Toronto a very real possibility.

* How is ‘ill-begotten’ not a word?

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


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