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.

mensclub

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


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Conservative Public Transit Blues

April 9, 2014

What is it with conservative politicians and their loathing and disregard of public transit?robfordstreetcars

Granted, I’m going out at the far end of the political spectrum and south of the border, referring to the comically diabolical but somehow frighteningly real Koch Brothers – equal parts Montgomery Burns and Lionel Barrymore’s Henry F. Potter – and a bunch of southern Republican lawmakers. Together they set out to push back a Nashville plan, where only 2% of daily commutes are made by public transit, for a Bus Rapid Transit route.

The Tennesse state senate passed a bill with an amendment that read:

This amendment prohibits metropolitan governments and any transit authorities created by a metropolitan government from constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project to do so is approved by the legislative body of the metropolitan government and by the commissioner of transportation. This amendment also prohibits such entities from loading or discharging passengers at any point within the boundary lines of a state highway or state highway right-of-way not adjacent to the right-hand, lateral curb line, or in the absence of curb lines, the right-hand, lateral boundary line or edge of the roadway.

None of your fancy dedicated bus lanes in these parts, you stinkin’ communists.

Now we get the Koch Brothers’ angle. Oil industrialist types, private vehicle use fuels their empire. overturnbusPoliticians taking donations from them or their arms length groups like Americans for Prosperity, or simply those relying on them for information, such as it is, will do their legislative bidding.

That’s pretty straight forward.

But the otherwise conflicted conservative attitude toward public transit couldn’t be on better display than in this interview with William Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. From a fiscal, free-market standpoint, the upside to public transit is clear. Mr. Lind also notes that the more people you get onto public transit, the less cars there are on the roads and, thus, less congestion.

On the other hand, buses and… race. Seems the whiter shades of the middle class don’t care to darken the doors of a bus because… well you know where this goes.poorbus

Race and class are never too far from a transit debate. In the battle over the Nashville BRT, some folks were concerned about transit bringing the ‘riff raff’ into their neighbourhoods. An invasion of ‘burger flippers’ needed to be guarded against.

In Los Angeles, the wealthy enclave of Beverly Hills has fought off a subway expansion and peak hour bus rapid transit only lanes along Wiltshire Boulevard. Swimming pools, movie stars. But we certainly don’t want the help messing with the ambience of the place, getting here more quickly and easily. There is a dark whole of nothingness on the city’s transit map in much of the north-west side of LA where the rest of Los Angeles’ subway, lametromaplight rail and bus expansion fears to go.

Up here, I think, such issues are not so overt, the question of race not so fraught with history. Still, there’s something about the push for subways as ‘1st-class transit’. The whole Scarborough subway fight was underpinned by a certain social status anxiety. If downtown gets a subway, why not Scarborough. Vaughan is getting subway? Why not Scarborough?

Anything less, even those sleek, reliable, iPads of transit, LRTs would not be good enough. (Even a bona fide, bike riding lefty can get all caught up in transit envy.) It would be an indignity, a slight, a civic slap in the face. What, Scarborough isn’t good enough for a subway?

Of course, a certain conservative faction at city council grabbed hold of the fight for not only political reasons but, ultimately, as a way to kick building public transit even further down the road. Promise subways, subways, subways everywhere and, the reality is, you won’t have to build them anywhere, at least not in the foreseeable future. A subway on Sheppard. A subway on Finch. A subway in every backyard. The more ridiculous the claim, the better because the less likely it will ever be built.fingerscrossed

Back in 2010, how many subways did the mayor promise to have built by now, 2014? And how many have been built? Rinse, and repeat.

The conservative leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park has taken a similar tack, promising subways to everywhere throughout the GTA, LRTs to none. When’s that going to happen? When the provincial deficit is eliminated. Uh huh. And how’s he propose to pay for them? Finding efficiencies and waste.

So yeah. Don’t be counting on subways any time soon.

Suckers!

It’s hard these days to reconcile conservative politics with sound public policy especially when it comes to public transit. Maybe that’s because their base has dwindled to regions where public transit remains negligible, sweetridein rural and suburban areas. But I think the harder truth is the conservative movement has been hijacked by those who simply believe there is no such thing as the greater good. We’re all just self-interested individuals making our way alone in the world.

There are no free rides, just sweet rides. If you want to get anywhere, you don’t do it, sitting at the back of bus.

fed uply submitted by Cityslikr


Bloodied Cesar (I Just Had To)

April 7, 2014

I will give Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport) credit for this much. Talk about having the stones to bad-mouth a major piece of infrastructure that runs right through the heart of your own ward. citybuildingInfrastructure built under your watch.

That takes some nerve, it does. Stepping up and announcing to anyone listening, hey. Look at this mess I helped create. Vote Palacio!

But this is exactly the route the councillor took after signing on to Team Ford in 2010. Aside from maybe the mayor and his brother, and perhaps Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), nobody beat the drum about the St. Clair Disaster louder than Councillor Palacio. Never mind that most of the claims being made were untrue. Yes, the construction did not go smoothly. There were overruns in both time and money. Businesses along the strip suffered.

Don’t forget, however, Councillor Palacio was in office during all this. It’s not as if he inherited it. By yapping on about some perceived disaster, he’s basically announcing that he’s unfit for office. Almost like he’s daring voters not to support him.

Imagine being a resident up near St. Clair or a business along the strip, idareyou1and your local representative can’t seem to tell enough people about how bad things are there. I hear there’s a really good restaurant on St. Clair. Wanna go try it? I don’t know. I would but I hear it’s a nightmare up there. Or… or… You live near St. Clair? I hear it’s a real disaster. Who’d you hear that from? The guy you elected to represent you at City Hall.

Your councillor, Ward 17. Cesar Palacio. Advocating and fighting for your interests since 2003.

Councillor Palacio has been the closest thing downtown Toronto has to a bona fide member of Team Ford. He has accepted the role with particular relish, garnering himself a seat on the Executive Committee through his position as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. thumbsup3When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s (Ward 7 York West) thumb fell out of favour or into disuse (was never sure which it was), Councillor Palacio, perched as he was directly behind the mayor, enthusiastically filled in, flashing his thumb to let folks know which way the mayor wanted them to vote.

Not that I’d imagine anyone followed his instructions. In fact, I’m not even sure the mayor was ever aware of what Councillor Palacio was doing. The gesture probably had more to do with the councillor signalling to everyone that he was behind Mayor Ford both literally and figuratively.

Despite the mayor’s recent woes, Councillor Palacio has remained a steadfast devotee although he did join the enemy’s list when he voted in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers. The councillor has been firm in his support of a Scarborough subway and against LRTs (because that’s what made St. Clair a disaster, don’t you know). He was part of the gang of 5 TTC commissioners who helped engineer the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster after he had the temerity to publicly suggest it best to stick with the LRT plan that was already in place and paid for by the provincial government. Councillor Palacio was, in turn, thumbsuprobfordunceremoniously dumped when then TTC chair Karen Stintz pulled off her own putsch (curiously however the councillor voted in favour of his own termination), booting those known as Ford loyalists from the board.

Ford loyalist.

I think that would be the most apt and probably only term I’d come up with if asked to describe the councillor’s time in office this term. What else can you say about Cesar Palacio? A Ford loyalist.

And like all Ford loyalists whose last name isn’t Ford, what did the councillor get in return for such fidelity and reliability?

Why just last week in these very virtual pages we reported how the councillor, in his capacity as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, overseeing the food truck issue, seemed to have been blindsided by the mayor’s motion to eliminate the 50 linear metre from any restaurant rule the councillor was proposing. gotyourback1Councillor Palacio asked the mayor if he realized it was his motion that the mayor was seeking to amend. So obviously there had been no consultation between them. The councillor also wanted to know if the mayor knew just how long it had taken to bang out the sort of compromise he was now seeking to undermine with his off-the-cuff motion.

Mayor Ford appeared indifferent to the councillor’s plaintive tone. That’s just the way he rolls, yo. Loyalty’s a one way street with him, baby.

Still, Councillor Palacio hasn’t come away empty handed with his toadying to the mayor.

Only in a Rob Ford administration could an undistinguished councillor like Cesar Palacio rise to the rank of a standing committee chair, even a lowly regarded one like Municipal Licensing and Standards. But hey. If a Frank Di Giorgio can become budget chief, the sky’s the limit for mediocrity. Chances are Councillor Palacio’s star will never shine as brightly (such as it) as it has for the past 3+ years, although I did spot him at the official launch of John Tory’s mayoral campaign, so his time in the sun may not yet be done.droppedball

The bigger question is, what have Ward 17 residents got in return for their councillor’s brush with power? Used as a political cudgel to fight a transit war across the city in Scarborough. Check. The implementation of the Ford agenda. Check. Fighting to remove a methadone clinic. Check.

Ummm… after that, I’m kind of drawing a blank.

After 10 years in office, you’d think Councillor Palacio and the ward he represents would have a lot more to show for it than that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Speaking Truthfully

March 28, 2014

Much post-1st debate chatter yesterday (well, at least in the circles I run in), topics including: postmortemWho won? What the hell was that I just watched? Was that a hologram of Gord Martineau?

Perhaps there was no subject bigger than Mayor Ford’s liberal use of facts and figures. Yes, that will be the only time you can use the word ‘liberal’ in a sentence with Rob Ford unless it is followed by ‘hater’. He was free-wheeling and free-styling, tossing out numbers every which way, proving to everyone following along that he was Toronto’s greatest mayor ever, and without him, this city would be the hellish shithole it was prior to November 1st 2010.

This is nothing new. Unfortunately, the format of the CityNews debate was such that claims made by candidates couldn’t really be isolated and nailed down for further examination. It was just a whole lot of throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck.

One that did was the mayor’s often heard boast of saving the city a billion dollars during his time in office. This is something that’s been, if not debunked, hotly contested. Matt Elliott took it on back last May. Daniel Dale wrestled with the figures again in November. factcheck1The city manager himself, Joe Pennachetti, seemed to put the matter to rest, raising a bureaucratic eyebrow at the number and suggesting, well, not quite.

But inexplicably, into the mix of yesterday’s discussion, the city’s CFO sent out a memo to councillors, essentially confirming Mayor Ford’s $1 billion assertion.
$972 million if you don’t count the $200 million or so in lost revenue savings from the repeal of the Vehicle Registration Tax. Yeah, so let’s call it a billion. The memo was the source the mayor used to back up the claim during his interview earlier today on Metro Morning.

In a hastily called press conference yesterday afternoon, the city manager tried to pull the reins back on the horse that had already left the barn. “They are not $1-billion of tax savings,” Mr. Pennachetti told the press. “If he calls it budget savings, he’s correct. If he calls it expenditure cuts only, that’s not correct.”factcheck

“Budgeting in the city is very complicated,” the city manager said.

Proving once more, in the words of Mark Twain, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

The Fords go around banging the drum about their billion dollar savings, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, which is clearly untrue, but to refute it means a more detailed analysis, some nuance. You say it was a billion dollars, Mr. Mayor, but here on line 22 of the CFO’s memo, under reduced capital financing, you have—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

It is the triumph of jingoistic, slogan-driven politics. Say something loud enough and often enough, something everybody can sing along to, and it becomes its own beast. This creature with legs that just cannot be killed.

I was mulling all this over yesterday afternoon when Councillor Shelley Carroll began tweeting out some of the savings that made up the mayor’s one billion dollars. texaschainsawmassacre$75 million cut from the TTC. ($80 million if you include WheelTrans.) Nearly $14 million in Children Services. Over $15 million for roads. $13 million in Employment Services.

Planning department, cut. Shelter, Support and Housing, cut. Long Term Care and Services, cut. The Intergrity Commissioner, cut. The Lobbyist Registrar, cut. Toronto Public Health, cut. Toronto Public Library, cut. Toronto Zoo, cut.

Cut, cut, cut.

So I’m thinking, what the hell, give the lying motherfucker his one billion dollars, immediately followed by, You guaranteed us no services cuts. What are you lying about? Saving taxpayers money or no services cuts? You can’t have both. It’s right here in the CFO’s memo.

Matt Galloway pursued that angle in his interview with the mayor, forcing Ford to stray into the weeds of weasel words. Not cuts, Matt. Efficiencies. Efficiencies aren’t cuts.factcheck4

Well, tell that to everybody waiting longer for their bus or crammed onto a rush hour subway. Drivers carefully navigating the roads to avoid potholes. Residents with flooded basements.

They’re not cuts. They’re efficiencies.

And this is where you can tie in Mayor Ford’s personal problems with his job performance. You lied about not smoking crack, Mr. Mayor. You lied about a reporter taking pictures of your children. So why should we believe you’re not lying about these numbers?

The mayor will then wave the memo around and accuse you of calling the CFO a liar. No, you respond, I believe the CFO when he says the TTC was cut by $75 million dollars. You, Mayor Ford, say you haven’t cut the TTC one dime. Are you lying again, Mr. Mayor? You have a track record of lying.

Liar, liar, liar.

It’s difficult. As grown-ups we don’t tend to go around calling people names even when those names are appropriate. factcheck2Think about it. When was the last time you stood up and called somebody a liar who wasn’t a family member or co-worker? Most of us were raised better than that. Normally, we politely disengage and change subjects.

But then again, how many of us have to deal with the likes of Mayor Ford and his brother, two men who lie as easily as they breathe? They count on others behaving reasonably and not pushing back hard. When someone does, they cry foul and start working the referee. It gives them the edge.

Treading softly and attempting to stay above the fray has not worked. There is little other recourse at this point other than resorting to the truth. The truth is our mayor is a liar. All he does is lie. Keep it simple and to the point.

killpinocchio

There you go again, Mr. Mayor, telling lies and taking us for fools.

factually submitted by Cityslikr


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