Didn’t You Use To Be… ?

January 31, 2014

The final budget of the Ford administration has now been signed and sealed, marking a full circle for the mayor. Full circle? Half circle?

He came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, is what I’m trying to say. tickletickletickleA bleating, scruffy, possibly orf ridden lamb. Nothing you’d want to cuddle up to (unless, of course, you’re Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio) or use the wool to make a hat and scarf set with, but generally harmless.

However, don’t let the mayor convince you he had nothing to do with the 2014 budget. His mutton smeared fingerprints are all over it, evidence of a time not long ago when he was fearsome enough a force to… a-hem, a-hem… ram his will through that of city council. Echoes of days gone by when he was a man with a mandate.

This is a budget still with lower than needed property tax increases (or other revenue sources) to meet the demands of growth in Toronto. This is a budget still where the soft services like youth initiatives, student nutritional programs, shelter, support and housing, all vie for the crumbs left behind after the big ticket items such as the TPS and TTC have had their fill of the shrinking pie. scarceThis is a budget where tax revenue starts being diverted to build a Scarborough subway.

Let’s call budget 2014 a Ford-lite document. Not too tax-y and with a slight hint, a whiff really, of compassion. Something, if not for everyone, only the zealots and numerically challenged could be indignant about. A true election year budget, living as we are in the Ford era.

(I highly recommend you link over to Social Planning Toronto for a much more thorough analysis of the budget fallout than I could possibly give.)

Getting there was not without its bumps and outbursts and histrionic hissy fits. Mostly from the usual suspects. The mayor. His councillor-brother. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. Oh, Giorgio. Knucklehead, knuckle-dragger, numbskull and the scourge of good governance everywhere.

After all his time as the local representative, it’s amazing frankly that Ward 7 is anything but a crater in the ground. To hear Councillor Mammoliti bitch and moan, it may well be. A crater filled with impoverished senior citizens, transport trucks and a flag pole. clownshowHe got his ward that flag pole, right?

Despite his best efforts to be the biggest bane of reasonable, civil debate over the course of the last couple days, I can honestly tell you that at about 6 p.m. last night he was upstaged in spectacular fashion. Nope. Not by the mayor. Not by Councillor Ford. Not even by Councillor David Shiner’s Bullshit Bag.

Nope.

All that paled in comparison to the real warrior of division, newly minted in the intense heat of battle known as the struggle for a Scarborough subway.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38 Scarborough Centre (courtesy of Graphic Matt):

No, but wait. It gets better. From March 2012, less than 2 years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38 Scarborough Centre (courtesy of Himy Syed):

I don’t know the language but I’m beginning to think De Baeremaeker is Dutch for ‘fucking hypocrite’.

Set aside the craven 180 performed in just over a year. What politician hasn’t done an utter about-face when they think it politically expedient? In the face of a fearsome Ford Nation back in 2010, how many councillors voted to eliminate a source of revenue with the Vehicle Registration Tax, only to openly regret it a couple budget cycles later?

What about fellow Scarborough councillor Paul Ainslie Ward 43 Scarborough East? nopledgeDuring the great transit debate of 2012, the one where Councillor De Baeremaeker spoke so lovingly of LRTs, Councillor Ainslie was all about subways, burying the Eglinton crosstown for the entire route. Even in the early stages of the latest Scarborough subway skirmish, while De Baeremaeker was tucking his tail between his legs, worrying about some Ford Nation backlash that would turf him from office in 2014, Ainslie appeared to be falling in line with the otherwise unanimous demand of the other 9 councillors from Scarborough for a subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line.

But he didn’t. Instead, he stood up at council last year and said that after examining all the facts available to him, he’d decided on both fiscal and transit planning grounds, an LRT was the way to go.

How did Councillor De Baeremaeker explain his conversion in the opposite direction?

Deserve.

Deserve.mineminemine

Scarborough deserves a subway. Anything less, including those sleek, iPad-esque LRTs, would be an insult. A slap in the face of Scarborough residents who’d been waiting out in the cold for too long, waiting for their fair share of 1st-class, world class transit technology.

Deserve.

It’s the last refuge of scoundrels. At least when it comes to transit planning.

When you don’t have the numbers, when the facts and figures really don’t make a case for your demands, reach back into the bag of resentment, deep down into that parochial pit and left fly with the sword of petulant division. You have one! Why don’t we? It’s unfair! We pay and pay and pay, and get nothing in return. We deserve a subway!

Or else.

We’ll de-amalgamate. We’ll take our ball and go home. principledWe’ll hold our breath until we turn blue and get our way.

This kind of divisive, two year-old temper tantrum approach to politics I expect from the Fords. It is, after all, their bread and butter. Consensus is not part of their repertoire. Divisiveness is all they have.

But honestly, there’s a kind of unprincipled principled…ness to how the Ford’s go about doing their business. Everybody knows what they’re doing. They know what they’re doing in sowing the seeds of division throughout the city in the hopes of manufacturing enough of an us-versus-them base to keep them in power. Most of the time, I actually think they believe what comes out of their mouths.

The likes of Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker? Not so much. He apparently has no principles past getting himself re-elected. That’s pure Giorgio Mammoliti territory. Remember how much he hated Rob Ford before it became apparent he was going to be Mayor Rob Ford? Now, they’re inseparable, attached at the thumb almost.

Whichever way the wind’s blowing, right?hollowman

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker has become a hollow politician. A destructive shell of a councillor who is putting his own interests before those of the city he was elected to represent. The whole city not just Scarborough, not just Ward 38.

Scarborough doesn’t deserve a subway. It deserves better representation than the likes of Glenn De Baeremaeker.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


Can We Have A Conversation About Buses?

January 27, 2014

“Toronto may need to have an urgent conversation about its bus system.”

humantransit

So said Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker at last Thursday’s transit session, Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.

Of course, Toronto won’t, at least, not in the near future. Too caught up are we in the bright and shiny lure of technology porn, parochial resentment and world-classism. It’s a subway or no way in every corner of the city. Scarborough. Finch Avenue West. Some ludicrously titled, the North York Relief Line (Councillor James Pasternak Ward 10 York Centre, take a bow!)

Even those who should know so much better like Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre) set the debate back with his own late to the subway conversion, insisting that residents of Scarborough were somehow entitled to a subway. willywonka1Entitled! As if transit planning is based on nothing more than goodie dealing and score settling. For such a poisonous contribution to what Mr. Walker referred to as a ‘transit toxic landscape’, Councillor De Baeremaeker deserves a serious run for his money in this year’s municipal campaign from someone who challenges his misguided transit priorities.

It’s hard to imagine how a segment of the population who sniffed at LRTs as nothing more than glorified streetcars would be open to any talk of enhancing our bus system. Buses have never really had much cache when it comes to being seen as an acceptable transit alternative. Chopped liver in a environment where people are demanding filet mignon.

But as Mr. Walker suggests, a revamped bus system could provide relatively inexpensive, short term relief to some of the congestion woes we’re are currently face. While we tussle with the logistics of financing and building the big ticket items like a subway or the Eglinton Crosstown, solutions for 5, 10, 20 years down the road, we could also be easily implementing quick fixes right now. All it would take is some paint, road signs and a whole bunch of political will.

The public transit renaissance now happening in the least public transit oriented city in popular imagination, Los Angeles, was kick-started by improvements in its bus networks. anotherwayBy providing more frequency and connectivity with less waiting times, enhanced bus service helped create a positive atmosphere for the idea of real public transit in an oppressively car-oriented region. Remove the theoretical by providing the practical. It doesn’t need to take decades and billions and billions of dollars.

Noted public transit advocate, Councillor Doug Ford, suggested a couple weeks back that we replace the crammed packed King Street streetcars with buses. To which I say, fine. Let’s do that along with providing rush hour bus only lanes while removing on-street parking and left turns during that time. Do we have a deal?

How about along Finch Avenue? Why don’t we give over a lane going in each direction over to buses, create an actual rapid transit lane for that well used route(s)? It wouldn’t cost the city very much money and we could have it up and going over night.

The unpleasant but entirely necessary fact of the matter is, much of the suburban core of this city wasn’t built or designed to support higher order of public transit beyond a bus network. brtSo be it. That’s not something we can change with a flick of a switch to power up a subway extension. But we can provide a better bus service. We should provide a better bus service.

That can only be accomplished though if we stop rating modes of public transit based on how fast it goes or the kind of technology it uses to get there. We also need to establish public transit on a par with the private automobile, and accept the fact that, given an equal footing, it could deliver more people to more place more reliably in many neighbourhoods and communities than cars can.

We could start doing it almost immediately and at a fraction of the cost we’re talking about now with subways and LRTs. We’d have to grow up a little bit for that to actually happen, however. Right now I just don’t see it happening.

At a Ward 10 town hall meeting a couple weeks back, the above mentioned Councillor James Pasternak just shook his head at a suggestion by a resident that maybe a lane of traffic be given over to the Bathurst 7 bus during rush hour gifthorseinthemouth(a trip that took me over an hour to make north from the Bathurst subway station during rush hour to get me to the meeting). It wouldn’t happen, the councillor assured his resident. Impractical. Not even worth considering.

But a North York Relief subway? Now, you’re talking.

We can hardly be expected to have an urgent conservation about our bus network when we continue to be distracted and transfixed by pie in the sky transit planning.

bus(t)-a-movely submitted by Cityslikr


Make Them Run For It

January 7, 2014

Now, it may seem something bordering on the amnestic, me writing yesterday about wanting to see an aspirational municipal campaign in 2014 forgetfuland then turn around the very next day to begin a series on 15 councillors who need to be seriously challenged this year. Shouldn’t I instead be extolling the virtues of councillors who bring a sense of equitable and smart city building to the proceedings? Why focus on the negative, dude, if you’re trying to be all aspirational?

The thing is, it’s a campaign, right? At this point, what’s the sense in writing something that ends up stating: Councillor So-and-So is alright. Opponents need not apply. Endorsements come later in the race.

What I’ve done for now is to develop a very subjective, non-scientific formulation to calculate the worthiness of our current slate of city councillors and factored in the feasibility in successfully challenging them. It’s weighted toward my impression of their work and votes at City Hall with little emphasis on just how well they do constituency work. There certainly could be some councillors who excel at fixing residents’ fences or sorting through on street parking while being complete duds at a more city wide level. formulation1I’ve chosen to accentuate the later.

As for the feasibility aspect, I’ve combined a rating for incumbency — the level at which a councillor is entrenched as an immoveable force in the ward – with their plurality in the 2010 election. So if they’ve been around for centuries and won by a shit ton last time around, they get big points in terms of feasibility. They may be terrible councillors but, for whatever reason, their residents keep putting them back in office.

It’s because of that measure, incumbency+plurality, the likes of councillors Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 York South-Weston) and Michael Del Grande (Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt) escape the wrath of my Better Off Gone list. While nothing could be more beneficial for the governance of this city than the removal of the likes of these two, given their respective time served and easy victories in 2010, it’ll be a very uphill battle to dislodge them. That’s not to say, no one should try. formulationBut go in with your eyes wide open.

And just in case you think I’m being overly partisan, I’d put Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre) on the list too for his scorched earth approach to the Scarborough subway debate last year. In vilifying every other form of public transit, he helped set the debate back years if not decades. However, he too, has a strong presence in his ward and won in 2010 in a walk. He’d be tough to knock off but should be challenged every step of the way.

One final note before moving on to my first entry. I arbitrarily declared both Ward 2 Etobicoke North and Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre open since Councillor Doug Ford has said he won’t be seeking re-election and Councillor Peter Leon pledged he wouldn’t run again before being chosen to replace Doug Holyday. rulesandregulationsAlso, I declared Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence open as it looks like the incumbent there, Councillor Karen Stintz, will be making a serious run at the mayor’s job. All those are subject to change but as of right now won’t be part of this process.

So with the rules, stipulations and caveats in place, and in no particular order, we shall commence with All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s 15 To Give A Run For Their Money list.

Up today:

The Madness of Clown-Prince Giorgio

Aside from the mayor and his councillor-brother (and maybe the above mentioned Councillor Nunziata), nobody represented the sheer breakdown of function and civility at City Hall more than Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 York West). Grandstanding does not do justice to the thing it is he does most frequently and annoyingly. He doesn’t debate so much as he brays. He baits rather than discusses. He sees conspiracy (usually of the union kind) and plots to silence him behind every door and under every bed.

Unprincipled? You betcha.

Back in the day, before Rob Ford became mayor, he and Mammoliti were bitter, bitter enemies. madnessofkinggeorgeDuring the 2010 mayoral campaign, candidate Mammoliti was then councillor Ford’s most caustic and aggressive critic. But when the winds changed in favour of Ford, Mammoliti scurried back to his ward race and hitched his wagon to Team Ford becoming, literally, the new mayor’s right hand man and most rabid attack dog.

Depending on Mayor Ford’s fortunes, Councillor Mammoliti’s hopped on and off the Executive Committee, clearly with an eye open to see if the ship sank fully. He claimed to be a new man after an illness felled him last year but by last council meeting when he was forced to apologize for his bad behaviour at council, it was difficult to make out any discernible difference in him. Same as if ever was. Same. As. It. Ever. Was.

Unethical? You be the judge.

He was charged last year under the Municipal Elections Act for 5 financial offences from his 2010 campaign. In December, the Integrity Commissioner launched an investigation into a fundraiser the councillor had last spring that featured some big name lobbyists. sameasiteverwasAlong with Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), Councillor Mammoliti has also allegedly been renting at below market rate an apartment from developers who conduct millions of dollars of business with the city.

Oh my.

As a local representative, the councillor was such a subway advocate that he claimed his residents would wait a 100 years for one to be built along Finch Avenue West rather than settle for some measly LRT. Knowing that’s never going to happen, he might as well have just admitted he could give a shit about public transit for Ward 7, York, northwest Toronto. In fact, it’s difficult to see an example of Councillor Mammoliti ever putting the interests of his residents before his own.

Now, no doubt that the councillor has big name recognition (good or bad, that’s very important in local elections) and definitely has the power of incumbency in his favour. But here’s an interesting tidbit I’ve pointed out previously. Since being first elected to city council in 2000, [as was pointed out to us by one of our readers, Councillor Mammoliti was 1st elected in 1997, coming in second to Judy Sgro when 2 councillors in each of the then 28 wards made up the 1st amalgamated city council in Toronto. Our apologies. -- ed.] Giorgio Mammoliti’s share of the popular vote in Ward 7 has dropped each election, runforyourlifefrom over 70% in 2000, to being acclaimed in 2003, to 63% in 2006 to 43.8% in 2010 after a high profile mayoral run earlier in the race.

One might conclude that the more his residents see Giorgio Mammoliti, the less they like him. He could be vulnerable this time out and knocking him off would be a huge step forward for both Ward 7 and the city of Toronto. It doesn’t matter who’d replace him. They couldn’t be any worse.

hopefully and helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Now Comes The Fun Part

September 23, 2013

Scarborough subway.shhh

Two words I never hope to write again. Ever.

Today the federal government announced they’re putting their skin into the game to the tune of $660 million for the city council approved subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line all the way up to Sheppard Avenue East. At first blush, it would seem that seals the deal. Scarborough gets its subway built for all the wrong reasons.

Damn. Scarborough. Subway again. Damn. Again.

On Metro Morning today Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, a Johnny-come-lately supporter of a Scarborough subway brandnewday(OK. After this post I hope to never write that phrase again.), called today’s news a ‘game changer’. He may just be right but like the subway he’s touting, for the wrong reasons. Or at least unexpected ones.

The provincial government, who seems to have been entirely side-stepped on this move from Ottawa, might look at this and see no further political gain from any insistence on ‘their’ subway line being built. They helped bring the feds to the table. A Scarborough subway will now get built. One way or the other, they will be providing the lion’s share of the funding, so they can rightly call it a victory.

Given the fractious relationship that’s developed between Queen’s Park and City Hall especially over this issue, however, I think anyone believing things will get quietly wrapped up in such a peaceful fashion are as deluded as those who see this project as a solution to the woes Scarborough transit users face. It’s not just the mayor I’m referring to on this point. elbowingThe TTC chair’s rather belligerent approach with the province can’t have made any friends.

So we really shouldn’t expect the Liberal government to simply shrug its shoulders, sign a cheque and assure us no harm, no foul, should we? This is where the play really gets rough. We now go into the corners, elbows up.

Here’s our contribution to the subway, the province tells the city. $1.4 billion plus the nearly half billion more going into the Kennedy station redesign and rebuild. Let’s call it $1.8 billion, shall we?

That’s already $400 million the city now has to make up.

Don’t forget the sunk costs already gone into the Scarborough LRT plans. And if we go with the council subway plans the feds are backing, the current SRT’s lifespan will have to be extended now to the better part of 10 years and then torn down completely. We might be looking at over a quarter billion dollars in additional money by some estimates that the province can rightly say are on the city.

And this is before we get to calculating our direct portion of the subway project we need to pony up through an additional increase in property taxes. payup1We know where our mayor stands on the matter, and going into an election year? How many incumbents will be willing to go to the electorate campaigning for either/or additional property taxes/service cuts to offset the costs of building the Scarborough subway?

That’s why I’d hesitate making any predictions about how today’s news is going to affect the outcome of upcoming elections. To date, the debate’s all been about fuzzy hypotheticals and wishful thinking coloured in crayon on pretend maps. Things just got real and it’ll be interesting to see how politically expedient an embrace of subways will be when the discussion turns to actual costs everybody’s going to be paying – payup1not just in terms of money in the form of property taxes but in cuts to other services we might suddenly be looking out to fund this one particular project for one portion of the city.

Everybody loves getting stuff. It’s the paying for it discussion that gets thorny. And we just walked into the Scarborough subway bramble.

Scarborough subway.

It’s probably not going to be the last time I commit those two words to the page.

so-so-so-tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Subways It Is

July 18, 2013

Hats off to Toronto city council’s subway warriors, for they won the hearts and minds of a majority of their colleagues and have earned the right to finally deliver more subways to our Scarborough brethren. robfordstreetcarsLet us take a break in the seemingly never-ending transit battles and allow them room to manoeuvre, to bring their subway dreams to fruition. This is, after all, a democracy, and that’s how democracy works.

After 3 years or so of Sisyphean struggles, Mayor Rob Ford can now claim to have delivered on his campaign promise of subways, subways, subways. On paper, at least. The devil, as they say, is in the details and having watched the mayor this week during the transit debate we were reminded that he is not really a details kind of guy.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the mayor attempts to square the circle of higher than promised dedicated property tax increases to pay for his Scarborough subway. Or, to put ‘skin in the game’ as he liked to say over and over and over again. Since the city manager’s report on the LRT-to-subway conversion came out last week, Mayor Ford has held firm on his no more than a .25% increase. rollingrockWell, yesterday he wound up voting in favour of the city manager’s recommendation of anywhere between 1.1 – 2.4% over 3 years, beginning with .5% in next year’s budget.

But as we have seen in the past, the mayor seems unperturbed by logical inconsistencies and operates under the assumption that normal rules of reasoning and accountability don’t really apply to him.

It’s a knack the TTC chair appears to want to hone and develop.

Councillor Karen Stintz, having a Scarborough subway road to Damascus moment sometime during the course of the past year, loved LRTs (after she didn’t) when she pulled the carpet from under the mayor’s bid to build a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. roadtodamascusShe thought they were just great running along Sheppard, east of the subway. And along Eglinton and Finch avenues.

But apparently not as an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Why the change of heart? Some chalk it up to mayoral ambitions but there’s no way of knowing that for sure. Until next year’s campaign, at any rate. For now, let’s just take her at her word that there’s a funding plan in place, based on a whole lot of contingencies and variables which, if they don’t all fall neatly into place, we will simply revert back to the original LRT plan.

But no one will be able to accuse Councillor Karen Stintz of denying Scarborough residents their long overdue subway. Especially not Mayor Ford if it just so happens they meet on the 2014 campaign trail.

Ditto Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, another late convert to the need for a subway in Scarborough. glenndebaeremaekerLike the TTC chair, he extolled the beauty and sleekness of LRTs during last year’s Sheppard subway debate but now finds them something less than perfect when proposed to run through his neighbourhood. He expertly tapped into the vein of entitlement, resentment and divisiveness in Mayor Ford-like style this week in demanding his residents in Scarborough get the respect and subway they deserve. LRTs may be just fine for other Torontonians but his tribe, well, they actually vote in Councillor De Baeremaeker’s ward.

As a confirmed and noted tax-and-spender, the councillor won’t have to contort and convulse having to explain the billion dollar+ extra expense for building the subway. Unlike some of his more “fiscally conservative” colleagues who gave the project a thumbs-up. Take Councillor Mike Del Grande, for instance. whome1During his time as budget chief in the first few years of the Ford Administration, no one was more vocal about the profligacy of the David Miller regime and its love of taking on debt to buy cupcakes for the widows and orphans.

But for a subway in Scarborough that will actually have little effect for transit users in his ward? Completely different story. Our debt is better than their debt, I guess.

But at least such naked parochial pandering on the part of the mayor, the TTC chair, Councillor De Baeremaeker and a bevy of council fiscal hawks that supported the subway plan could be visible to the jaded eye that chose to look at things through that sort of lens.

How the likes of councillors Joe Mihevc and Paula Fletcher got all caught up in these proceedings is more of a mystery, their motivations more opaque. Was it just to come to the rescue of their fellow leftie colleague from Scarborough? iminchargeIt’s one thing to compromise and juggle your integrity for the sake of your own political career but for another councillor? The nice word for that is loyalty. I’m sure the good people of Scarborough will find that devotion commendable if it amounts to any sort of delay in expanding rapid transit for them.

We have been assured no such thing will happen. Many of the amendments brought to the motion yesterday were safeguards against things like unforeseen delays, lack of funding from other levels of government and a multitude of variables, any of which could amount to an actual decrease in rapid transit expansion throughout the city. There’s even a drop-dead deadline, we’re told, September 30th, for the provincial and federal governments to shit or get off the pot. If this isn’t sorted out in full, all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, well, then an LRT it would be. No harm, no foul.

I will take them at their word on all that.

I will believe that city council is in full control of the situation, able to negotiate multiple competing agendum and put the brakes on any situation that arises that in any way threatens the plans we already had in place or risks any sort of significant delays in building rapid transit. stayquietThis is what we were told. At this point, I have no reason to not believe it and only my healthy skepticism whispering negatively in my ear.

I’ll try my best to ignore my concerns and take the next few months to think of other things than dismal transit arguments and dubious transit plans. It’s a big city, our Toronto. Plenty of stuff to focus on. Subway advocates won the day. They’ve earned the right to step forward and see this through.

That’ll be me, quietly standing on the sidelines, enjoying the sultry summer.

chill-ly submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers