Just Another NDP Candidate?

July 30, 2015

So, some sixteen months after resigning office to run for mayor of Toronto, Olivia Chow is seeking a return to federal politics, announcing last week her intention to run in her old but re-jigged riding of Trinity-Spadina.

oliviachowI’m not at all sure how I feel about that but mostly it just doesn’t feel right.

This coming from someone who has voted for Olivia Chow at every given opportunity. As city councillor when I lived in her ward. As a member of parliament in 1997, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011. As mayor in last year’s successful mayoral bid. I think it’s safe to say I’ve voted for Olivia Chow more than any other politician.

And I’m not sure that would be the case this time around.

It’s not like I’ve got any problems with this concept of ‘career politicians’ either. If someone dedicates their lives to public service, and does so with the best of intentions of contributing to a wider public good, my hat’s off to them. Do it as long as you’re able, you’re dutiful and have the confidence of a majority of your constituents.

That’s not what this is about.

I just wish if Olivia wanted to stay and work in Ottawa, she would’ve stayed and worked in Ottawa. Thanking those supporters pushing her to run for mayor of Toronto, she’d decline their exhortations, insisting that the federal level was where she felt she could be most effective. All humble and grateful for their belief in her but holding firm in taking a pass.

Olivia Chow’s entry into the race for mayor last year (not to mention the months and months of speculation beforehand) drastically altered the landscape. crashandburnIt pushed at least two other very capable candidacies to the sidelines in an effort to keep the left of centre side united. In essence, Chow was anointed, seen as the saviour to move Toronto on from the tumultuous Ford years.

And then she went and dropped the ball, doing a terrible, terrible job. Why? I can offer nothing but pure speculation. Bad advice? Unable to maintain a strong city-wide campaign? No compelling narrative beyond We Can Do Better? A combination of a bunch of weaknesses?

Her quick jump back into federal politics suggests another possible reason for her mayoral crash and burn. Maybe her heart just wasn’t in it. It was nothing more than an opportunity, an opportunity with a fallback position of returning to Ottawa if things didn’t work out. Maybe John Tory’s team was right. Maybe Olivia Chow was just another NDP candidate. Mayor. M.P. Whatevs.

I wish Olivia would’ve stuck around after her municipal defeat last October to help rebuild the progressive side of the political equation her campaign helped splinter. To assist in figuring out how enough self-proclaimed progressive voters concluded someone like John Tory was moderate enough for them. To be a part of a different team that puts the city and not a party first.

Perhaps she still will. It’s hardly guaranteed she can defeat the Liberal incumbent, Adam Vaughan, who took the riding after Chow resigned her seat. sad1With the re-drawing of Trinity-Spadina, the demographics may skew less in her favour than it once did. Still, it’s hard to see the election battle between the two playing out as anything less than a titanic struggle.

All I do know is that, because of the new riding configurations, I’ll be spared the tough decision of whether or not to vote against Olivia Chow. It wasn’t something I ever had to think much about doing before. That’s a little bit sad.

frowningly submitted by Cityslikr


Old New Is Still Bad News

July 18, 2015

For anybody following along with the surreal and torturous Scarborough subway debate for the past 5 years, none of this comes as any sort of surprise. The ridership numbers, the cost estimates were all highly suspect, right from the outset.hardofhearing Then mayor Rob Ford was the prime pusher behind the idea for a new Scarborough subway. How could the numbers be anything but questionable?

“Should there have been an extensive due-diligence process before those numbers were quoted and used publicly? Yes,” Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat told the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro. “Was there? No.”

In the post-Gary Webster era at City Hall, it’s not hard to comprehend how staff did their upmost to tell their political masters what they wanted to hear especially when it came to public transit. The former TTC General Manager was forced to walk the plank when he publically expressed an opinion in support of building LRTs instead of subways. It clearly wasn’t safe for staff to be laying their cards on the table.

With the provincial transportation body, Metrolinx, demanding an almost immediate decision from city council on how to proceed with the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (a decision the province itself had its own vested opinion about), city staff had been given a couple weeks to come up with a report, a report that many councillors were going to use by any means necessary to justify their support for a subway extension into Scarborough.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“A politically driven process,” according to the chief planner, that wound up inflating ridership numbers to within the acceptable range for building a subway, 14,000 at peak hours. Where that number came from, nobody quite knows. Somewhere from within the planning department, it seems. fingerscrossedbehindbackA number not “necessarily documented”, according to the city director of transportation planning, Tim Laspa, but a number “discussed in meetings.”

Not that the numbers matter now. “Irrelevant” today, says Keesmaat. Not that they ever mattered during the debate. This story’s prime villain, Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, says he supported the subway regardless of ridership numbers simply on a matter of “fairness”. “Scarborough should have equal access to transit with other areas.”

That’s nonsense, of course.

Scarborough would be better served, more fairly served by implementing the full LRT plan that was part of Transit City. That’s just a plain fact.

But as we’re learning more explicitly now, as many of us have known since 2010, facts have very little to do with this debate. City staff found the environment for reporting facts toxic to their careers. Facts proved to be inconvenient to mayoral ambitions and other political opportunism. notlisteningHell, facts didn’t even have to be factual.

Who knows if this news is coming in too late. Shovels are not yet in the ground but it still feels like the fix is in. What is obvious at this point, though, is it’s going to cost us a lot of money, a lot, a shit tonne of money, stretching out for decades, to go on ignoring the facts as they continue to come to light. An expensive ignoring of facts that won’t, in the end, make much more than a dent in our already woefully under-performing public transit system.

still angrily submitted by Cityslikr


We Need To Have That Car Talk

June 30, 2015

Having arrived back in town yesterday after about 10 days away, the top 3 stories on the local news this morning were as follows: traffic accident causes a.m. traffic chaos, 2 car crash kills a cyclist (another one), 3 person HOV lanes in place for PanAm Games, grrrrrrrr.trafficjamGTA

Do we live in a city so eye-splittingly uninteresting that our headline grabbing news consists largely of traffic? Whatever your opinion may be, we do have the aforementioned PanAm Games coming up in a couple of weeks, the biggest sporting event ever on Canadian soil, or something. Toronto just finished up with another successful Pride celebration, re-integrating the mayor’s office into the proceedings after 4 years in the homophobic wilderness. A Poverty Reduction Strategy is under consideration by the Executive Committee.

And yet, here we are, talking traffic, specifically car traffic, private automobile traffic.

Yeah. This fucking city.

Nothing says ‘car obsessed’ more than always obsessing about cars, and the problems drivers face driving their cars around town.

If you’re a driver and your commute times have increased because, I don’t know, reason X, change up how you get around. roadrageYou can’t because it still takes longer than public transit would? Well, good for you. Imagine the poor bastards who don’t have the choice to drive, putting in that extra time to get where they’re going. Think about that for just a second before having a tantrum about your diminished quality of life and seeing less of your family.

Blah, blah, blah, Wah, wah, wah.

Of all the things to be outraged about around here, of all the things to be touting the merits of civil disobedience over, being inconvenienced while driving in your car is hardly a worthy cause. It’s petulantly selfish, as a matter of fact. Amazingly self-absorbed and anti-social.

We’ve been hearing recently about ‘frustrated’ drivers having to deal with lower speed limits on downtown local roads or new High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling. A ‘frustrated’ driver may become a dangerous driver, is the inference. Incidents of road rage increase. Risky behaviour leads to more accidents, injuries and fatalities. Don’t make drivers angry. You won’t like drivers when they’re angry.

Rather than stare that kind of bullshit down, we indulge it. WHOVlanee operate as if deciding to get behind the wheel of a car absolves us of adhering to any sort of societal norm. Rules of the road are simply helpful suggestions. Enforcement is the first step to totalitarianism.

You can’t take a lane of highway from me! I pay my taxes! I have a right to—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

I do not think it too extreme a statement to suggest that fighting to rebalance our transportation system, to rein in the terror of private automobile use inflicted on this city and region, is a fight for the soul of the GTA. We are where we are in terms of congestion, mobility, lost productivity for two simple reasons, one inevitably following the other. A lack of vigorous investment in public transit for almost a generation now and a continued over-investment in our car-centric infrastructure.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Outside of the downtown core, how many times have we heard the reason for driving is because it’s faster than public transit? As has been said many, many times by many, many people, you don’t change that by making it easier to drive. deathrace2000You don’t change anything by attempting to make it easier to drive except maybe changing it for the worse, for drivers and non-drivers alike.

Toronto and the GTA is at a crucial juncture where it is impossible to try and make it easier to drive without exacting long term and, quite possibly, irreversible damage on almost every other aspect of living and doing business here. It is not 1965. There are no more open roads to ride to freedom on. Believing that is what’s brought us to this point now. Denying that reality is willfully short-sighted, a delusional folly.

auto-immunely submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s To You, Councillor Robinson

June 15, 2015

Last weekend, the weekend before last weekend actually, Councillor Jaye Robinson, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, mrsrobinsonreached out over social media to ask to meet up ahead of the Gardiner east debate at city council to discuss the issue. I’d been jabbing at her, in the virtual sense, over the pro-“hybrid” stance she’d taken during a press conference a few days earlier. I wondered aloud how she could have rushed to the defence of waterfront development when Doug Ford had concocted his ferris wheels-and-monorail plan a few years back but was perfectly willing to plop a newly rebuilt expressway down to inflict similar damage on the area. She also, to my mind, was brushing aside well-researched evidence that suggested the traffic chaos “hybrid” supporters predicted would happen if the Gardiner came down wouldn’t happen.

So we met on Tuesday, the day before the city council meeting began for a very amiable 15 minutes. Councillor Robinson came across as deeply conflicted on the issue, trying to figure out a better solution than was on the table in front of her and colleagues to decide on. scratchmyheadWhy she had chosen to spend time chatting it out with me – whose tear the fucker down preference was up front and centre – remains something of a mystery. While my arrogance might suggest otherwise, I am fully aware of my limited reach and ever so slight standing in the local political scene. It struck me as strange the councillor would waste her time talking to some asshole with a blog.

Despite unhealthy outbursts of political naïvete that catch me by surprise, I had no illusions about the meeting. There was no way Councillor Robinson was going to change her mind, having so publicly come out in favour of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” stance. Still, I thought, maybe, some compromise might be in the works, an attempt to perform a tactical retreat.

You can only imagine my disappointment, let’s call it, over the course of the following few days, watching as Councillor Robinson displayed little propensity toward any sort of compromise on the Gardiner east. When she spoke, she varied little from the “hybrid” hymnbook the mayor was preaching from, the one he used in a speech to the Empire Club, the speech the Torontoist referred to as “full Ford”, full of “at least 36 falsehoods or misleading statements”. whipWhen she wasn’t speaking, Councillor Robinson could be seen with a clipboard, conversing with the mayor’s staff and other councillors, presumably helping out to get the vote count right in favour of the “hybrid” option.

She did. The Gardiner east “hybrid” won out, narrowly, setting in motion a period of uncertainty that often times follows bad decisions. Are we really going to do this? Really? (I remain sceptical. But again, what the fuck do I know?)

Sitting here, a few days on, and I still can’t figure Jaye Robinson out. The cranks and the kooks you get. Vainglorious, idiotic and imbecilic. Dummies gonna be dum, am I right? You can only hope to minimize the damage they try to inflict.

But Councillor Robinson is different. She seems like she wants to do the right thing, to leap toward a more enlightened kind of governance, a better city. ignorefactsYet she can regularly be counted on to come down on the wrong side of important issues like the Gardiner.

And by the ‘wrong’ side, I don’t necessarily mean the ones I disagree with her on. I’m talking about the one like the Gardiner that defy facts, evidence and the future, settling for easy, mindless catch phrases like common sense. “Why have experts if politicians care little for their expertise?” Matt Elliott asks today. There was a deliberate attempt by the pro-“hybrid” council gang to muddy the waters of debate by disparaging and disbelieving city staff and other expert opinion, elevating lone voices of dissent to positions of authority far beyond the reality of the situation, to put opinion before thoughtful reasoning.

Gut feeling prevailed once again at City Hall. Councillor Jon Burnside revealed the height of the “hybrid” hypocrisy when he rose to speak in defence of it, saying that his heart wanted the boulevard but his head told him the “hybrid” was the way to go. thetruthThe fact is, very little thinking went into the “hybrid” argument. It was pure obedience to a mayor who had made his decision known well before the debate had truly begun. Again.

Life’s too short, I concluded over the weekend. Having been at this now for over 5 years, I find myself tired and bored covering the ins-and-outs of a city council that seems determined to work against the best interests of the city. This isn’t one mayor’s problem. It’s endemic to the institution itself, the people constantly returned to office to govern.

I don’t get paid to do what I do. (Most days I don’t think I deserve to be.) There are far better people doing a far better job than I could ever do. I’m contributing largely noise.

I’m not a city councillor. I don’t have to figure out how to deal with such monumental nonsense and duplicity on a daily basis. whyamidoingthisWhy keep inflicting it on myself?

The city works pretty well despite its ill-governance. Not everywhere certainly and not for everyone obviously. We could be, should be doing a whole lot better. It’s not for a lack of tools at our disposal. Just a lack of political will. The DenzilMinnanWongization of City Hall.

Where things work, how they work is an area I’d like to further examine. How do we build a better sense of public good, the public common? One of the aspects I’ve learned about municipal politics is the potential for affecting change is right there not somewhere in the vague distance. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, your voice can be heard. todolist1We saw it just recently with Desmond Cole and the issue of police carding.

I’ve got a stack of books about yay-high, scattered in piles around the house. Books about cities, how they work, how they don’t work, how to fix those that don’t work, great cities, bad cities, cities on the move, cities bogged down in the past. I want to read those books, learn from them, write about them. I just keep letting myself get interrupted by the terrible goings-on at City Hall.

We also need to figure out a way to elect better local politicians. If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now. It doesn’t happen magically as we learned last October. Deadweight is lying heavily on this city, crushing the breath of life out of it. This is something that can wait until 2018. Organizing must start now.

These are the things I want to explore and write about. The basic nuts and bolts of civic life. I’ve focused far too much on the… a-hem, a-hem… the nuts and dolts. (Thank you. Try the veal.)

Near the end of the Gardiner debate last Thursday, Councillor Robinson, in her role as chair of Public Works and Infrastructure, spoke last on the issue. Using that time, she introduced a series of motions that might offer some workable alternatives to the “hybrid” option as it currently stands. closingdoorWhy this didn’t happen at the beginning of the meeting, or days, weeks before the debate even went to council is the disheartening thing about all this for me.

It was about crass fucking politics, winning optics for the mayor. The exact opposite of good governance, of practical, sensible, common sense governance Mayor Tory is always trying to assure us he’s all about. It’s bullshit and, ultimately, impossible to continue watching without hollowing out your core a little.

Councillor Robinson could’ve taken a different path. She chose instead to play along with the game and diminish the process just a little bit more. I’m tired. I don’t want to write about Councillor Jaye Robinson anymore.

resignedly submitted by Cityslikr


Gardiner East Conclusion (Round ??)

June 12, 2015

“People had different sets of facts… but they were all facts.”

Mayor John Tory, after scoring a 24-21 city council victory, enabling him to push forward with some sort of hybrid option of the elevated Gardiner east expressway.

I just canx.

(It has returned.)

canx

numbly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Ongoing Sorry State Of Civic Affairs

June 6, 2015

stinkupthejoint

On a side trip from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Edmonton down to the San Francisco Bay area to meet with somebody or other from Cisco systems to talk about—actually, at this point in the story it doesn’t matter, Mayor Tory’s chief of staff, Chris Eby, tweeted this from a cab on the way in from the airport:

Enroute from SFO to San Jose with [Mayor Tory]. Asked the driver what happened when the Embarcadero was torn down. “Traffic is much worse.” This guy makes his living driving. So I tend to believe him not the mythology that traffic just disappears.

The Embarcadero was an elevated expressway in San Francisco that came down in the 1989 earthquake. It was replaced by an at-grade roadway. You can read about it in a Toronto Star article by Edward Keenan, San Francisco’s waterfront freeway was removed 25 years ago. No one misses it. No one except the mayor’s driver, apparently.

The “mythology” the mayor’s chief of staff referred to is the heavily studied, real-life phenomenon referred to as, disappearing traffic. It suggests that traffic levels drop as road space decreases. The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore details it in his article about the West Side expressway in New York. If you think he’s just some biased, lying journalist, there’s an academic study about it that looked at cases in some 70 cities that pretty much confirms the thinking.

For the mayor’s chief of staff, however, it’s simply “mythology”. Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, simply stated she didn’t believe it when questioned during her press conference this week, called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east. My opinion is set. Keep your facts away from me.

I don’t know if it’s too strong a statement but, I’ve come to believe, that even this early in his administration, Mayor Tory has lost any and all moral authority the voters of this city gave him last October to lead this city. On this particular debate, along with the issue of police carding, he’s simply stood in the way of reform and good governance. He’s proven as resistant to change as his predecessor and, more alarmingly, equally as comfortable engaging in orchestrated campaigns of outright misinformation. Misleading rather than leading.

At every opportunity, he spouts the words ‘practical’, ‘sensible’, ‘prudent’, ‘rational’, almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that’s what he’s engaged in. But clearly they’re being used as words of incantation in an attempt to create the illusion of all those things. If the words are spoken out loud enough, it creates the appearance of reality.

And for the city councillors insisting on following him down these crooked paths back to the past, they’re proving themselves unfit to govern. For many, we already knew that. For others, we suspected. A few, however, we held out a little hope for. But that door’s now closed.

Your job as a city councillor (or any elected official) is to look at all the information set out in front of you and make the best decision possible. For your constituents. For your community. For the city at large. Hopefully, that decision will align with the mayor. If it doesn’t, a city councillor is not indebted to the mayor’s office, the job description is not to punch the mayor’s ticket. It’s to do the right thing for those who put you in office.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Gardiner east debate, doing the right thing flies in the face of the term Mayor Tory has hijacked for his own purposes, ‘common sense’. Less road space naturally leads to more congestions and traffic ‘chaos’, as the “hybrid” supporters claim. That’s just common sense.

Yet, it isn’t. Anyone who’s spent even an hour reading up on the issue would know that. If they were open to ideas and facts that challenged their beliefs and biases.

Obviously, Mayor Tory and his merry band of “hybrid” supporters don’t possess such capacity. Rather than going out and explaining to sceptics about the upside and benefits to bringing down the 1.7 kilometre stretch of the Gardiner east, alleviating the fears of ‘traffic chaos’, they’ve chosen instead to ramp up the fear-mongering, ignore the facts and evidence in front of them, and cling desperately to dated thinking about city building.

Toronto may be saved from these worst instincts if city council does go with Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option next week. There’s plenty of reason to think cooler, more rational heads will prevail. The provincial government could nix the “hybrid” option if it’s determined to deviate too far from the 2009 environmental assessment’s terms of reference. A new federal government in the fall might view the “hybrid” option as a breach of the tripartite agreement on waterfront development. Possible litigation against the city from developers of waterfront properties negatively impacted by the “hybrid” solution.

Deux ex machine-like, the city could be rescued from the sheer incompetence of its city council, if the Mayor Tory led ineptitude wins out next week. That shouldn’t blind us to the fact that, once again, we’ve elected a mayor and a large percentage of city councillors who are not up to the task of leading this city with any sense of vision, bravery or forward-thinking insight. We seem to have a knack for that. We need to start figuring out why.

deusexmachina

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


A Diminishing Debate

June 5, 2015

“This is really a transportation issue, not a planning issue,” said Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, after a particularly prickly press conference she called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east section of the expressway.

stiflingdebate

It’s difficult to know what to make of that quote. Champions of the “hybrid” option, like the mayor and Councillor Robinson, regularly trot out the claim that their choice opens up the Unilver site for massive redevelopment (hinting by omission that the other option, the boulevard option doesn’t which it does). How exactly then is this not a “planning issue”?

Well apparently, it isn’t when it’s pointed out that the “hybrid” option also locks out possible other development potential, some 12 acres of it, worth in the neighbourhood of a cool $2 billion. The boulevard option keeps that development open but also may slightly increase commute times for a small fraction of car driving commuters. Thus, for our mayor and chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, “This is really a transportation issue”.

If the councillor truly believed that, you’d think then, she’d be more open to understanding the transportation issue of this debate. dontbelieveitfaceThat doesn’t appear to be the case. During the press conference, Councillor Robinson played up the traffic havoc that would result if the 1.7 kilometre stretch of elevated expressway came down, replaced by an 8 lane at-grade road. A 5 minute increase in driver commute time. Each way. Negating that would be a “windfall”, the councillor claimed.

Never mind that the numbers in relation to the drive times are contentious. No one knows for certain what they’ll be. What we do know, as rigorously studied and researched examples of other cities that removed expressways have shown, traffic tends to disappear with diminished road capacity. People find other ways to get around the city.

When asked about that fact at the press conference, Councillor Robinson simply replied, “I don’t believe it.”

Just like that. I don’t believe it. I know what I know.

When you refuse to grasp what may be counter-intuitive, you wind up spinning the counterfactual.

While some may be in their element doing that – our current mayor has grown comfortable, trolling in that territory – others wind up diminishing not only the bogus case they’re trying to make but their reputation also. elephantCouncillor Robinson brightened her rather tepid presence at city council last term by stepping up to defend waterfront plans from the incursion made on them by Doug Ford. Now she seems prepared to return to the pod of obedient soldier, stumping for Mayor Tory’s ill-advised assault.

Highly respected urban planner and architect, John van Nostrand, did similar disservice to his reputation with an aggressive performance at the press conference yesterday. A well-regarded name with years of experience, working with the city on waterfront plans and the Gardiner expressway specifically, van Nostrand is the lone ace up the administration’s sleeve in terms of the planning side of the debate. Rather than try to pitch his vision of waterfront development with the Gardiner east remaining elevated, he played pitbull instead, gracelessly attacking the opposing side as simply wrong.

What he tried to do was sell the idea that a better urban form could be developed under and around an elevated expressway than could be with an 8 (or possibly 10) lane, at-grade roadway. granvilleislad“Specious”, he waved off any comparison between the boulevard option and University Avenue while straight-facedly suggesting we could have something similar with the Gardiner east as they have in Vancouver with Granville Island. Counter-intuitive? No. Just counterfactual.

John Lorinc showed John van Nostrand to be an innovative and bold thinker in an article from more than 10 years ago. He was all about enhancing the public realm that had been denigrated by the presence of elevated expressways. A worthy endeavour, for sure, as van Nostrand touted examples of such projects around the world.

As he did at yesterday’s press conference. London, New York, Madrid. But I wanted to know if these places had the choice Toronto faces with the Gardiner east. Did these cities have the option to remove the expressways and bridges or were they simply making do with what was in place? Adapting and adjusting to the results of an earlier age’s choice.

With the Gardiner east, we have another option. Get rid of it, create an entirely new environment. Build and develop essentially from scratch. If that choice was available to London, New York and Madrid, would they have passed it up and simply worked around what was already there?

Of course, we’re long past that kind of nuance in this debate. Arguably, nuance was never part of it. beatenMayor Tory dug in early, set up the ramparts as a bulwark against a rational and robust debate, for reasons still either unclear or absurdly simplistic and calculating.

In falling in line behind him and resorting to mouthing the mayor’s vacuous talking points, not only did “hybrid” supporters like the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair and respected professionals like John van Nostrand do the city a disservice, they sullied their own reputation and work in the process. A victory at city council won’t change that.

belittlingly submitted by Cityslikr


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