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


The Unbearable Lightweightedness of Glenn De Baeremaeker

December 30, 2014

Not to step on any Torontoist toes with our own year-end summary of local villainy but I cannot let 2014 go without commenting on what may be the pure essence of terrible, terrible governance. The very reason we cannot have nice things. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38 Scarborough Centre.

glenndeb

Now, I realize that may be something of outrageous claim in an environment where the likes of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has been elevated to a position of second in command at City Hall. Where Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti still roams free to be Giorgio. Where Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt actually downgraded from Mike Del Grande to Jim Karygiannis. Where a Councillor Ron Moeser is still a thing.

For me though, we have a handle on all of them. They represent the worst aspect of do-nothing, maintain the status quo municipal representation that is something of a legacy in these parts. Keep taxes low, roads clean and clear and let’s all pretend it’s the happy days of the 1950s. We get it.

Glenn De Baeremaeker, on the other hand, maintains the fresh-faced appearance of someone who just wants to help make everybody’s life better. From animals of all shapes and sizes to people of all ages and colours, he comes across as an impossibly more squeaky clean, naïve version of Howdy Doody. Wide-eyed. Congenial. All cowboy hale and hearty. Hey boys and girls! Who wants a subway?! We all want a subway!!

howdydoody

But by now we should know that Glenn De Baeremaeker is about nothing more than Glenn De Baeremaeker. He’s in it for himself first and foremost. Everything else is, well, collateral damage.

His latest assault on the proper functioning of City Hall came last week when he publicly mused about wanting another stop in his already unnecessary and entirely self-serving Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. What’s the sense of having a new subway that many people can’t directly access, he wondered out loud, repeating a line of questioning most LRT proponents posed back during our last great transit debate. Or was it the second last? I honestly can’t remember.

twofaced

Back then, you might recall, Councillor De Baeremaeker brushed aside the argument about building the best option for rapid transit in Scarborough for the most amount of people which clearly was the 7 stop LRT plan that the very same councillor fought for just 18 months earlier. No, no, no, he moaned. An LRT was 2nd-class transit being foisted on Scarborough by greedy downtowners luxuriating in their 1st-class subway rides. Ridership numbers could be massaged. Questionable route alignments justified. The point was, Scarborough deserved more subways. Deserved. Anything less would be a civic slap in the face.

It is at this point in the conversation when we pause and ask you to take two minutes and six seconds (via Himy Syed) to watch De Baeremaeker earnestly defend the choice of LRT for Scarborough transit users. Just to fully grasp how craven and bold-faced his pivot has been. How utterly despicable and unprincipled.

Of course, the councillor could not have performed such a feat of purely political machination solo. A Scarborough subway was also intended as the springboard to the mayor’s office for then TTC chair Karen Stintz. The provincial Liberals used the debate to shore up their eastern Toronto flank with a slew of pro-subway Scarborough MPPs and subway champion candidates heading into last spring’s general election.

The manoeuvre turned out particularly well for the governing Liberals. Not only were they returned to power with a healthy majority but they got the city to pitch in with money for capital spending on not one but two transit projects, the Scarborough subway and the new mayor’s campaign pet project, SmartTrack. What did the Liberal government give back in return? Absolutely nothing.

mrburns

Councillor De Baeremaeker too was returned to office, easily re-elected to a 4th term, in a race nobody except the councillor and the Ford brothers thought he might lose. This mutual assured delusion served as the basis of De Baeremaeker’s cynical transformation from ardent LRT supporter to avid subway fanboy. He blanched in the face of their threatening bluster back when they were pushing for another Scarborough subway, this along Sheppard Avenue, took their robocalls to his residents seriously and instead of standing up for the right thing, he folded up his cards for the wrong reasons. His personal political self-interest.

Now, he wants more. Another station for his subway. Another $150-200 million dollars of capital costs, further increasing the city’s long term debt levels and jeopardizing the viability of other big ticket items like housing, say, or other transit projects in other areas of the city that are truly under-served by rapid transit. It’s as parochially pork planning as you can get, the very definition of it in fact. The councillor has nakedly utilised the politics of divisiveness, pitting one section of the city against another, ignoring the exigencies of built form while emphasizing unwarranted grievances, for no other reason than his own continued existence as a councillor.

cowardlylion

It’s one thing to boldly revel in your disregard for your job as city councillor, to ignore the job of serving the most people to the best of your ability. Take a bow Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong and Councillor Mammoliti. It just seems that much worse to mask your indifference to the concept with a contemptuous gesture of community building that is only really about a community of one, yourself.

How else to explain Councillor Glenn De Baeremaker’s 180-degree change of heart in just a matter of months, from LRT lover to subway demander with nothing more than a blink of political calculation? A builder of regional resentment instead of sound transit plans. For the sake of another 4 years in office, the councillor’s helped put a chokehold on the city’s capital expenditure budget for decades to come. A master stroke of self-interested posturing, an abject display of elected representation. Well done, Councillor De Baeremaeker. You are truly the worst.

– year endingly submitted by Cityslikr


Measure For Tiny Measure or, Much Ado About Little

December 11, 2014

Could somebody sit the mayor down, tell him he’s got the gig, that he is the mayor now? Stop with the campaigning already. Relax. coolyourjetsSettle into governing or something.

I get the optics of this week’s whistle stops around town. John Tory is the mayor of Toronto. He’s hit the ground running, having done more in first his 10 days in office than the previous mayor did in 4 years. Yaddie, yaddie.

Mayor John Tory means business by getting down to business.

I just wish that instead of making announcements, the mayor might actually be making some decisive actions.

There’s nothing wrong with his 6 point anti-gridlock plan. Increased rush hour parking enforcement. More traffic signal co-ordination. Tougher oversight of road closures and access for construction sites.

Nothing particularly new or innovative. We were just made aware that there was ‘a new traffic sheriff in town’. Notice has been served, illegal parkers.

All-door boarding on the overcrowded King streetcar. Making official what already is being done in many cases already. Checking off a recommendation made by the last TTC board.nothingtoseehere

Really? You called the press out to make that announcement? A quick step outside your office into the hallway might’ve sufficed for that.

The city’s Bikeshare program saved by corporate sponsorship! Well, not exactly, no. The expansion was already budgeted for and in the works. What exactly is TD bringing to the table? Nobody is really at liberty to say but, rest assured, it’s the kind of partnership Mayor Tory is really excited about. “Who in their right mind, subject to reasonable terms, would say no to these kinds of things?” Not Mayor Tory, that’s who not.

Three days, three campaign style events, Much pomp, little substance. Remember. When you go to vote last October, vote John Tory for mayor.unimpressed1

The King streetcar media event screamed the loudest of a missed opportunity. As Edward Keenan pointed out in great detail on Tuesday, there was so much more the mayor could’ve announced in providing assistance to the wary King Street commuters. No street parking or deliveries during rush hours. No left turns during rush hours. No cars at all from Roncesvalles to Parliament Street!

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke talked about King Street almost two years ago now (h/t J.P. Boutros for that heads-up.) Fixing congestion along that strip has been contemplated off and on since about 1991. Twenty-five fucking years of do-nothingism, and Mayor Tory decides to give a hearty thumbs-up to all-door loading of the streetcar?!

If he can’t take bold measures now, in this the honeymoon phase of his mayoralty, what the hell should we expect when the kids’ gloves come off? Remember the emphasis of his campaign just two short months ago? Bold! SmartTrack, bold! Bold! Bold! Has it sunk in yet? Bold!misseditbythatmuch

I detected an arched eyebrow on the face of my companion I was berating with this angle of discussion two nights ago. (I, for one, could never get that just one eyebrow arched look of patronizing knowingness down. I dislike the ability in others.)

“You weren’t really expecting actual boldness from this administration, were you?” the eyebrow implied.

Yeah, I guess I was. Colour me easily convinced. But I guess in this town, you campaign bold and govern faint-heartedly. Unless, of course, you’re Rob Ford and you take having a mandate to mean running roughshod with everything you promised and a lot of other things you didn’t. Mayor Tory wants to dial back on all that extremism in everything but caution. Baby steps not bull steps.

Governance isn’t something to be tackled. It’s to be finessed. One tiny, almost imperceptible measure at a time.

underwhelmingly submitted by Cityslikr


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