The Golden Rule

September 17, 2013

When it was announced last week that Anne Golden had been approached by the Ontario government to head up a panel to look at revenue generation to go toward building transit in the GTHA, hidebehindI joked that we should all be very excited as Queen’s Park has a history of listening to recommendations made by a panel chaired by Ms. Golden. Listening perhaps, then ignoring.

OK, joke may be too strong a word for it. That would suggest the statement was funny. More sagging, really. Under the weight of bitter, disillusioned sarcasm.

But it did get me thinking about the old Golden Report on the governance, competitiveness blah, blah, blah of the GTA, commissioned back in the twilight of the Bob Rae government. Delivered up to the Mike Harris crew in the early days of that government, it was greeted largely with a shrug. It wasn’t something they’d asked for.

That’s not exactly true either. The Harris Tories did use the report as a little bit of cover in the next couple years as they descended into an amalgamation frenzy including the one here in Toronto. Reading through Andrew Sancton’s account of what happened, shrugAmalgamations, Service Realignment, and Property Taxes: Did the Harris Government Have a Plan for Ontario’s Municipalities?, the immediate impression is of the ad hoc nature of it all.

To begin with, the idea of amalgamation wasn’t really on the party’s radar when it sat on the opposition benches at Queen’s Park. It certainly wasn’t a key part of the Common Sense Revolution. Here’s Mike Harris speaking in 1994, less than a year before he took over the reins of power.

There is no cost to a municipality to maintain its name and identity. Why destroy our roots and pride? I disagree with restructuring because it believes that bigger is better. Services always cost more in larger communities. The issue is to find out how to distribute services fairly and equally without duplicating services.

Bigger isn’t better? “Services always cost more in larger communities”? This was the exact opposite of what we were being told by the provincial government when they were ramming the megacity down our throats. aboutfaceHow times changed.

Sixteen years on, water under the bridge aside from pointing out that the 1994 Mike Harris was right about amalgamations while Premier Mike Harris was wrong. The change of heart might be easier to accept if there’d been a straight forward reason why he did what he did but there really didn’t seem to be.

Sure, there was the desire to bury the dissenting voice of the old city of Toronto’s council under the more friendly voices of the suburban municipalities but that seems to be just a small part of it. The Tories also wanted to remove the taxation power of school boards and put them on a tight fiscal leash. Plus, the whole matter of updating the property tax system was also in play.

Perhaps as important as any of these, the provincial government needed to keep a campaign promise of reducing government. Any ol’ government would do, regardless of the consequences. Six municipalities into one, plus Metro council? A double fucking trifecta.

Keeping up appearances, in other words. This anti-government government eliminating levels of government. It would make for good re-election campaign literature.

There are echoes of this jumbled miasma of reasoning currently going on with our whole heave-ho debate on transit. Everybody knows that the region’s public transit system is substandard. decisionsdecisions1Everybody knows that we’re going to have to pay substantially for the necessarily substantial expansion.

That seems to be where the agreement ends. Who pays? Who knows. What gets built where? Another head shaker. There are metrics to quantify the debate just like there were during the era of amalgamation. Unfortunately, few are very politically palatable.

Adding Anne Golden to the mix only serves to fuel the feeling that the provincial government is doing little more than throwing up more obstacles. Decisions aren’t the desirable outcome here. The appearance of process is, due diligence.

What’s weird about the way the Liberals are going about things here is, unlike how the Harris government did an about face on amalgamation, the Liberals are subverting a plan they themselves put into place. The Big Move. A breakdown of transit needs and priorities throughout the region and a smorgasbord of possible revenue tools to access in order to implement the plan.

Already the Eglinton crosstown construction is underway. selfsabotageThe Master Agreement with Toronto has been signed for 3 other LRT lines, one being the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line that the government seems determined to undermine at this point, ably assisted by a majority of city council. The motivation behind such a move is hard to discern.

You could just write it off to pure political pandering, to keep those Scarborough seats red in any upcoming provincial election. Pretty straightforward. But if it’s just that, why not go all in and build an actual subway? You know, at least all the way up to Sheppard? That way, you can put pressure on the proposed Sheppard LRT too. A subway to the west. A subway to the east. Complete the line from Yonge to Kipling with a Sheppard subway loop.

This two stop proposal just seems like a half-measure. How could this government be that invested and find themselves at this point of time so indecisive? To give the Harris government its due, they did a 180 on amalgamation and in the face of fierce political opposition pushed it through, damn the torpedoes. headlesschickenThese Liberals appear to have little inclination to be as bold even when they have the good cause on their side.

Instead of having to pull some clarity (misguided and malevolent as it was in the case of amalgamation) out of a stew of conflicting policy initiatives, the McGuinty-Wynne government seem bound and determined to reduce transit planning in the region to a chaotic mix of parochialism and unfinished business. If you are able to find a coherent narrative as to why, you have much better eyes for this kind of thing than I do. I just see a glaring lacking of leadership and a desperate desire for expediency coalescing into an all familiar puddle of incompetence that has plagued this city and region in transit building for a generation now.

disheartenedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Other Woman

October 16, 2012

I’ve been sitting here for most of the day, trying to write something, anything about the departure of Premier Dalton McGuinty. The writer’s block on the subject is telling. Formed from a mixture of rage and indifference, coherence is difficult.

Mostly, Dalton McGuinty is the reason I never voted Liberal provincially during his tenure. (Yes, I have been known to cast a ballot that way now and again.) To me he represented everything that was wrong with Liberals these days. As it was put in the Twittershpere, his “greatest achievement was finally putting a kind face to neoliberalism”.

From the outset, his whole approach seems to have been to operate slightly less right than the Progressive Conservatives. After 9 years in office, maybe it wasn’t merely playing politics. It’s possible to look back over his record and conclude that maybe Dalton McGuinty ruled only slightly less right than the Progressive Conservatives because he himself was only slightly less right than the Progressive Conservatives.

But “Well, at least he wasn’t as bad as…” isn’t much of a legacy to leave behind.

It certainly didn’t help Toronto much.

Despite his continued promise to undo the damage inflicted on this city by the Harris government, Premier McGuinty approached it without much sense of urgency. He re-uploaded services on his own timetable, according to his own state of finances. Rather than see the process as righting a previous government’s wrongs, it came across as doing the city a favour, tossing a few coins our way when we went to him, cap in hand.

The same could be said about his handling of transit.

He promised in 2003, and continued to promise throughout his time in office to resume paying the province’s 50-50 share of the TTC’s annual operating budget as well as the 75% for state of good repair capital expenses. He never did. He even stopped handing over the occasional chunk of money that made his government look magnanimous when it needed to. So the TTC languished during his reign as ridership increased, leaving the city property taxpayers having to foot more and more of the bill.

The McGuinty government played an even bigger game of politics with Transit City. Announced to great fanfare in 2007 as part of the province’s Big Move, $12 billion+ for 7 new LRT lines would be the biggest investment in transit the city had seen in decades. But then came the economic crisis and the province cut back to $8.4 billion and 4 lines thereby establishing that transit planning in Toronto remained politically negotiable and susceptible to whatever whim blew through.

We all know the recent history.

Now McGuinty exits, the future of Metrolinx’s Big Move unfunded and up in the air. He leaves the door open for the Opposition Leader Tim Hudak to openly muse about future reversals of plans. Nearly a decade of ambivalence gives way to another period of uncertainty.

And then there was this Liberal government’s role in the G20 debacle in June 2011. No one should be surprised at the Premier’s thumbing his nose at democracy with the craven prorogation of parliament on his way out the door, putting party before province. The Public Works Protection Act was a prorogation of our civil rights. Dalton McGuinty seemed comfortable in autocratic mode. Premier Dad, indeed.

Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse. The open contempt shown Toronto by the Harris government (and one sure to be emulated by Tim Hudak if he’s ever elected premier, based on his transit views and the behaviour of his municipal brethren, the Ford brothers) or the very, very conditional love shown by the McGuinty Liberals. We at least know where we stand when we’re hated. But with McGuinty? It was like being the mistress to a guy who’s never going to leave his wife, no matter what he says. We never knew when he was going to show up, and the roses and sparkling wine were just his way of currying favours.

The Tories abuse us. The Liberals use us. I guess this is what happens when you’re considered nothing more than a creature of the province.

cuckoldly submitted by Cityslikr


Those Friday Afternoon Transit Blues

September 21, 2012

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate This Week In Transit News at about a 4. The grade’s only that high because I’m trying to put my best foot forward. Smile on the outside when I’m really crying on the inside as I sift through and evaluate all the pertinent information.

It started with our federal government voting down a national transit strategy put forward in the House of Commons by the NDP. National Transit Strategy? Strategy? National? Sounds a little interventionist. The outcome was hardly a surprise.

That element was saved for a day or so later when Queen’s Park announced through their agency, Metrolinx, that the design, construction, building and operation of the Eglinton LRT was going to be outsourced as part of a public-private partnership. Take that, TTC! Who’s yer momma? Huh? Who’s yer momma, TTC? Say it. Say it! Metrolinx, baby! Metrolinx.

Now, I’ve been battling hard for the past couple days to suppress my gut reaction to the news. I don’t want to disappoint my friend Matt Elliott and be one of those on the left giving over to immediate, unthinking nayism. Maybe a viable case can be made for the move. Perhaps it is the first step toward a fully integrated regional transit system and, hopefully, that would be a good thing. Metrolinx’s track record to date in dealing with local concerns gives me pause however.

But for now, I’ll attempt to see the upside. The general consensus seems to be success or failure of the Eglinton LRT P3 will come down to the details of the agreement, how the ‘i’s are dotted and ‘t’s crossed. If the private sector can actually deliver the necessary transit at a lower cost, and if that’s the only element we’re looking for, I’ll hop aboard and go along for the ride.

I’d probably have more confidence in the whole thing if the McGuinty Liberals had any robust credibility on transit. I have long since concluded that Mayor Rob Ford has been nothing but manna from heaven for them, providing cover for a rather lacklustre, wishy-washy approach since they came to power in 2003. Announce big, deliver significantly less. What is now $8.4 billion for 4 LRT lines was once supposed to be 7 lines with an additional $4 billion in funding. Delay has followed delay and we’re now talking decades hence not years.

And remember that initial election promise of restoring provincial funding for half the TTC’s annual operating budget? Nine years on. Tick tock, tick tock.

As if to add insult to injury, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli seems to be suggesting that once the Eglinton LRT is up and going and the TTC no longer runs buses along the street, the money it saves should be handed over to the private company running the LRT. Yeah, really. Of course, our mayor is otherwise occupied and hasn’t weighed in on the matter to defend the city’s interests, leaving that – along with almost all matters dealing with transit — up to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz.

Defenders of the province will, with much justification certainly, point to our electing of Rob Ford as mayor and the subsequent subway-versus-LRT battle as a prime example of the city not being a serious player in this transit debate. They wouldn’t be wrong. Toronto took a big step backward on many fronts when Rob Ford became mayor.

But I’d argue, at least on the transit file, the city righted itself. The TTC chair took control, sidelined the mayor and his most ardent supporters and got everything back on track. (Yeah. I just wrote that). All of it done without any assistance from the province who, when it mattered most, indulged Mayor Ford’s subways, subways, subways fantasy and further exploited the situation by delaying the start of the Sheppard LRT construction yet again, making it vulnerable to any changes in power at either City Hall or Queen’s Park.

It’s all part of a familiar pattern for the McGuinty Liberals of appearing to be just slightly less worse than the other guy. Think they’re bad on public transit? Look at Toronto and Mayor Ford. We may be outsourcing control of the Eglinton LRT but remember Mike Harris buried the subway there.

I am trying to keep an open mind but the province inspires little confidence. Rather than see the move to a P3 as a cost containment measure, it just smacks of outsourcing responsibility and governance. I’m willing, though, to be convinced otherwise.

forced smiledly submitted by Cityslikr


Now We’re All Friedmaniacs

August 29, 2012

Maybe somebody can help me out with the math here. I’m trying to crunch numbers in order to understand what’s going on and something’s just not adding up.

The government of Ontario wants to freeze teachers’ wages for a couple of years (and prohibit them from striking during that time as well – but that’s another story). This is being done, we’re told, as part of an austerity drive in order to reduce the provincial deficit/debt which, we’re told, is nothing short of crushing. The accompanying strike ban is just for kicks, really. Something to do with a couple upcoming by-elections. But that’s another story.

Here’s what I don’t get.

We freeze teachers’ wages, therefore reducing the amount of money the government has to dole out. This reduces costs and reduces our deficit/debt. That’s pretty straight forward.

But by freezing wages doesn’t that flat line or, in real dollars, reduce the amount of taxes being collected by this same government? So while cutting costs, this move also reduces revenue. Surely there must be a study somewhere, with facts and figures that show overall this will ultimately amount in more cash for the government not less because if it’s less, well then, this manoeuvre could be seen as somewhat counter-productive to the claimed goal of reducing our deficit/debt.

Certainly, if we’re frolicking in the murky waters of economic theory, freezing wages will also dampen consumer spending especially in these our tough economic times. Less money in our jeans, as members of the former provincial Tory government would like to say, means less spending and less spending means less tax revenue in government coffers and less money in the coffers makes reducing our deficit/debt that much more difficulty.

Again, Premier McGuinty and his brain trust has factored all this in, obviously, tabulated costs versus spending, money going out and money coming in, and rationally decided that this makes good fiscal sense, yeah? It’s my math that’s bad not theirs, I’m hoping. This will all be short term pain for long term gain. That’s what’s happening here, isn’t it?

And it’s not just some fucking knee-jerk reaction to mollify right leaning voters in a couple ridings in order to, not prop up his government from defeat, but to secure another majority. A politician’s timeline shrunk from building a future for our grandchildren to nothing more than a five week campaign run. For what?

I keep hearing from our elected officials about this time in the future when we have wrestled our deficits and debt to the ground, when governments will spend again, judiciously of course. Where our taxes will remain low and our quality of life high. A time when our wealth/job creators will return to the table and deliver prosperity for all.

This is the theory. All our textbooks say it should work. It’s just that the numbers, the numbers don’t really back any of it up.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


Queen’s Park Strangers

July 3, 2012

“Too much time has been wasted,” intoned Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli last week, “and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now. There is no time left to waste.”

All reports suggest he said this with a straight face.

If it wasn’t obvious before, it couldn’t be any clearer now: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto has been nothing less than manna from heaven for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. In the havoc Mayor Ford’s wreaked on this city’s transit file (havoc the provincial government could’ve stemmed if it so chose but more on that later), Queen’s Park has been able to cover its tracks, hiding nearly a decade of neglect and indecisive mishandling of such a vital portfolio. So much so, that after TTC Chair Karen Stintz launched what was nothing more than an embryonic idea about further transit expansion in Toronto with One City, Minister Chiarelli was able to condescendingly brush it aside as a ‘future-looking concept’ with ‘a lot of merit’ but – and hold your stitches together with this — “We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay,” the minister said. “Transit in a city like Toronto isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The stones on these guys. Really.

For the past 17 years, transit in this city has been little more than a political football to successive provincial governments of both red and blue stripes. Kicked and punted this way and that, depending on the direction the winds were blowing, there hasn’t been anything really resembling an overall strategy as much as there’s been basic calculated ad hockery.  While the current transportation minister mouths the word ‘necessity’ in terms of transit, it’s really only been about expediency from Queen’s Park for some time now.

1995.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris decides to bury the already in progress Eglinton subway line. Unaffordable. So we’ll wait a decade and a half when the costs of building transit inevitably come down and we can have this debate all over again in its entirety.

Later on as a sop to then Mayor Mel Lastman, the Tories OK a Sheppard subway line. This little stub of a thing contributes little to alleviating congestion much. In fact, it only seems to be helping load up the Yonge subway line to past capacity. It also serves as a flashpoint to the great subway debate of 2010-12, a key element to the delays the transportation minister bemoans.

And then there was the decision to stop funding the provincial half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, a decision that candidate for premier McGuinty promised to reverse if elected but has yet to get around to nearly 9 years on in his mandate. Taking a very conservative estimate, say $150 million a year, for 17 years now, that adds up to some $2.5 billion that the TTC and taxpayers of Toronto have had to shoulder or simply dispense with for the better part of a generation now. That’s a lot of expansion of services deferred and new technologies ignored.

What Mike Harris taketh away, Dalton McGuinty hath kept tucked away.

And like his predecessor, Premier McGuinty also bestowed upon the city a subway that had more to do with politics than with practicality. The Yonge-University subway line extension up to Vaughan was hardly where a new subway was needed most. Transit? Sure. But a subway? If there, why not Scarborough was a legitimate question asked during this spring’s transit debate. Until you elect a high ranking member of the provincial government, Scarborough, might’ve been the actual answer.

Then there’s Transit City.

Until we elected Mayor Ford in 2010, the main culprit in the delays in implementation of Transit City has been at the provincial level. Originally planned to build 7 new LRT lines and upgrading the Scarborough RT, along with new rapid bus lanes, Queen’s Park blanched in the face of the economic meltdown in 2008 and pulled funding that reduced the plan to 3 new LRT lines and the work on the Scarborough RT. (What’s that again about transit in Toronto being a necessity, Minister Chiarelli?) This reversal signalled that Transit City was subject to change and opened the door for Mayor Ford to crayon in a few alterations of his own.

As our friend David Hains pointed out last week, the Liberal government seems to have a selective memory when it comes to what, who and when modifications to a plan can occur. While brushing aside One City with a pithy ‘the train has already left the station’ bon mot from Minister Chiarelli, they weren’t as decisive when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City dead in December of 2010. Fearing for their own political future in the face of the supposed might of Ford Nation, Queen’s Park played along with the charade, allowing the debate to drag on until city council itself sorted things out. Now, it’s like, time’s up, folks. The clock is ticking. Time is money.

This is not to absolve Toronto city council of all responsibility for the transit woes it now faces. We elected an obvious anti-public transit mayor in Rob Ford. We demanded our councillors repeal the VRT and put further pressure on our own ability to pay our share of things. The subway-versus-LRT debate revealed a continued parochialism running deep throughout the city.

But, as they say, a fish rots from the head down. (I don’t know if that’s true but the saying comes in handy at the moment). This city and this region have suffered from a provincial leadership vacuum on transit for nearly two decades now. At least. $6 billion in lost productivity due to traffic congestion per year in the GTA and Metrolinx’s report on funding ideas for its Big Move isn’t expected until June of 2013. If still in office then that will be almost 10 years after the McGuinty government took over power. It hardly screams urgent or not a luxury but a necessity for transit from them.

So you’ll have to excuse me, my dismissal of the provincial government as honest or serious brokers on this issue. It reminds me of my favourite line from The Sopranos. “They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat.”

snittily submitted by Cityslikr


Scenes From A Life With Cars

May 25, 2012

Three car themed vignettes today, all crashing to one inevitable conclusion which I won’t spell out directly, leaving it up to the reader to arrive at on their own. Hopefully, it will give the post an art house film feel.

Yesterday the McGuinty government announced a $1 billion eastward extension of the 407 highway, sounding as if it were some revolutionary act of patriotism. “Our intention is to ensure that this is a people’s highway, owned by the people, tolls are set by the people, service standards set by the people and the revenues that are generated are returned to the people.” And this road, this getter of the people from point A to point B, shall be known from this time forth as the Volksroute!

I don’t have the information at hand to judge if this is a good use of money or not. At least they’re tolling it, so drivers will be paying more for the pleasure of using it. As to a new highway ‘tackling congestion’ as the CBC site claims? There’s little evidence to prove such a case. Google the question do more roads reduce question and judge for yourself. What jumped out at me was this point in link #3 from a U of T study: For interstate highways in the densest parts of metropolitan areas we find that vkt [Vehicle Kilometers Traveled] increases in exact proportion to highways.

I only wish that our premier would embrace the building of public transit with the same kind of grassroots gusto he has for the 407. His support of Metrolinx and its Big Move has been what we might call mercurial. An initial enthusiasm perpetually dampened by an eye on the bottom line. One could argue that, along with the David Miller administration’s failure to really get out and sell the idea of Transit City to the people who would benefit from it most, the Liberal’s quick trigger finger in reducing funding for it in the face of the economic crisis of 2009 made the plan seem, if not expendable, at least elastic to those intent on doing it harm.

Public transit, it seems, is for downtown elites. Highways are for the real meat-and-potatoes, drive-through Tim Horton’s salt-of-the-earthers.

[Cue awkward segue.. A traffic jam as far as the eye can see, under a menacing sun cutting through a smog filled sky. The sound of blaring horns slowly fades into those of hockey sticks on pavement; angry shouts of drivers are replaced by the gleeful peels of joy from kids playing road hockey. The scene of traffic congestion dissolves to a leafy neighbourhood street, curiously devoid of any cars. Only children, boys and girls, all races and creeds, together playing road hockey.]

It seems Councillor Josh Matlow’s quixotic quest to end the city’s ban on ball hockey has come to a stultifyingly bureaucratic end. Too much red tape for many of his colleagues although the idea and its demise provided plenty of opportunity for hockey related puns. So there’s that.

I got no particular dog in this hunt nor do I blame the councillor for pulling the plug in the face of what seemed to be certain defeat certainly at the committee level. Is this an issue you’d waste political capital on? It’s the source of the alleged bureaucracy that grates.

As explained on the councillor’s site, the determination for allowable road hockey would be based on the level of car use. “The street would have to have a speed limit of 40 km/h or less, 1,000 or fewer vehicles passing per day, an average gap between vehicles of one minute or more, and sightlines sufficient to allow vehicles to stop before crashing into the goalie.” In other words, kids, streets are for cars. Sharing is entirely up to them. Maybe if you ask nicely and there’s not too much red tape involved…

Think I’m just being petulant? Read Confession of a former engineer. It seems road/street design runs contrary to how many of us think a proper neighbourhood/community should flow. 1) Traffic speed 2) Traffic volume 3) Safety 4) Cost versus 1) Safety 2) Cost 3) Traffic volume 4) Traffic speed. It’s a car’s world, man. We’re just allowed to live in. Unless we get in their way, of course.

This sense of entitlement defines our 3rd car tale. (Oooo. Seamless transition. Well done.) And it’s a story that actually happened to me. So it has a more gritty, hand held, verité feel.

Earlier this week I picked up an Autoshare car for a couple hours. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do drive occasionally. As a reminder why I fucking hate it so much. And to pick up items that are too big to fit in my bike baskets.

Chores and loathing finished, I returned the vehicle only to find someone parked in the spot. Right in front of a sign clearly indicating it was reserved 24 hours a day, each and every day. No parking. Yes, that includes you, dickhead.

This ought to be interesting I thought, never having encountered such a problem before. With no other place in sight to leave the car, I honked the horn a couple times, thinking that the driver might be within earshot, knowing they were illegally parked. Nothing.

So I called Autoshare, hoping that the solution would be to throw the anchors out right behind the motherfucker and force him to call Autoshare and explain why he thought it OK to park his car wherever the hell he wanted. Unfortunately, no. I was advised to find a place wherever I could in the area, leave it there and let them know the location.

“You’re going to call and have the jagoff towed though?” I asked. “Right?”

Apparently, no. That’s not a thing Autoshare does. It’s more live and let live. Inconvenience rather than enforcement.

I did find a place not far away. But as I finished up I caught a glimpse of a meter guy, walking along a street, writing out tickets. So I raced to find him and point out a certain transgression.

“Excuse me, sir. If you’re looking to fill your quota, some asshole” — yes I do swear this much in real life especially when a car’s involved – “just parked his car in my Autoshare spot. Come on. Follow me. I’ll show you.”

But what do you know? Apparently, this was not an infraction he could ticket. “It’s sort of like private property,” he tried to explain. Unless someone working for Autoshare showed up to complain, his hands were tied.

Shaking my head, I headed home. Unless Autoshare came and moved the car I’d parked from the street in a couple hours or so, it would get ticketed. Ultimately I’d bear the cost in some indirect form or another, as a member of the organization. Some piece of shit would walk away, his wallet none the lighter. Just another freeloading car driver.

THE END

[An addendum: after showing this to a couple test audiences, I was informed that 71% didn’t get it, didn’t see how the three stories were related, failed to understand the point. Some voice-over narration was needed. Don’t worry. It’ll be removed for the director’s cut edition.]

OK, SO NOT THE END

Cars kill cities. Cars kill communities.

NOW, IT’S THE END

auterly submitted by Cityslikr


Going Our Way?

April 5, 2012

While the cat’s away, we will take about something other than municipal politics today.

Gaze averted for the past year or so from the train wreck that has become the Ford administration, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with the goings-on at other levels of government. Not that there’s a whole lot more to commend from that view either. But at least it lends one a different perspective.

Which is (Segue alert! Segue alert!) what this country is slowly, incrementally facing, a changing perspective. The Albertazation of Canada, let’s call it where the government is the problem not the solution, taxation is a dirty word and all economic problems can be solved by digging into the ground below your feed and mining the resources.

Or as Erna Paris wrote in a Walrus article from March of 2011, “The New Solitudes”: … an outlook more familiar to Americans than to Canadians, at least since the Reagan revolution of the 1980s. Its organizing principles are a powerful commitment to individualism, and to maximum freedom in every sector. Governments should be small, their powers limited, their taxing capacity curtailed. The market must be free and unfettered. Individuals are uniquely responsible for their failures, as well as their successes, and they cannot expect assistance from the ‘nanny state.’

A twist on an old theme, the two solitudes revisited. No longer English and French with its healthy dose of disregard for those here before any European set foot on these shores. But a new division, grounded in western alienation that may be less geographic than it is philosophical. It’s not that Alberta ever wanted in. They wanted the rest of Canada to be more like them.

Or maybe it’s nothing more than sour grapes written from the heart of what was once the economic engine of the nation. The tables have turned. Power has shifted. Money talks, baby, and these days it’s the west with the deep pockets, Canada’s sugar daddies. The new payer of the piper gets a different tune played. If you want to keep dancing, you better learn the new steps.

Not so fast there, bucko. There’s nothing radical going on here. It’s simply business as usual. What we’re witnessing from this long feared stable Conservative majority government is little more than a slightly bluer tinged Chrétienism.

Take last week’s federal budget for example. Nothing out of the ordinary, no draconian hidden agenda. The new normal. Nothing to see here, folks. Everybody back to work.

You see what just happened there?

It is now taken as a simple matter of fact, plain as the nose on your face that government deficits and debt are due to excessive spending. On bailouts and stimulus spending during the global economic crisis. On pensions and other outrageous luxuries afforded to those not willing to do an honest day’s work in the private sector. We are all now true believers in the Rob Ford maxim that governments have a spending not a revenue problem despite all evidence to the contrary here in Toronto.

Buying into that mantra, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government in Ontario instructs Don Drummond not to even consider new taxes as a way of helping to alleviate the provincial deficit. This is a spending problem, remember? Tell us how to spend less not how to generate more revenue.

The flip side of this leap of faith, this embrace of the Alberta way, is that low taxes, cutting taxes creates a robust economy. It’s that simple, people. Although the Ontario government in its recent budget put off further corporate tax cuts, it was seen as a concession, a sop to keep the NDP happy rather than an admission that having slashed the rate over the last few years has generated little economic benefits to anyone but those businesses now paying less tax.

Lower personal income tax rates and the reduction of the GST at the federal level have also proven to deliver somewhat illusory economic benefits. Yet there’s nary a mention of that in much of the budget coverage. Little analysis to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy blowing in from the prairies. Taxes are bad, evil even to some minds. End stop.

No, the only way to turn this ship around, to build a sustainable economy, is to dig our way out. Addition by extraction. Ontario? Quebec? Stop expecting handouts from the rest of the country and get mining. There’s gold (of something else valuable) in them thar hills. Drill, baby, drill!

You see, according to the Alberta way, green may be good in theory but terrible in practice. Where’s the money to be made in wind, solar? Ontario’s very tentative baby steps in that direction have proven to be a bust to those inclined to view alternative energy with scepticism. Nothing more than a vain hope in the eyes of the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson.

Never mind what’s been going on over there in Germany, say. That country propping up the European economy at the moment. Its embrace of solar and wind power has helped turn around moribund manufacturing areas in the former east bloc parts of the country. In just 12 years, green energy went from contributing 6.3% of the country’s energy output to now over 20%, creating over 300,000 jobs in the process.

Hmmm, revive a flagging manufacturing base. Reduce dependence on unsustainable fossil fuel sources. Seems like a win-win strategy to those not wedded to the Alberta way.

Unfortunately, there’s little boldness in leadership in that direction currently. Politicians of all stripes have accepted the handcuffs of fiscal restraint to dampen expectations of new ideas and nip any discussion of charting a new course in the bud. Hewers of wood and drawers of water we once were. Hewers of wood and drawers of water we shall continue to be.

Those of us demanding something different are now another solitude, looking forward rather than backward. With a majority federal government intent on reshaping the country and its institutions bit by bit into a decentralized, corporate-minded, neoconservative plaything, we may have to take the prime minister up on his offer to seize more regional autonomy and assume control of our future. A future divergent with the Alberta way. That, to borrow Erna Paris’s title, is our new solitude.

sneakily submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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