Coffee With Mr. Parker

April 29, 2015

“I’m sure you know how tear gas works.”

I don’t actually (or only from a safe, televised distance). teargasThat John Parker does, with real life, foot on experience, should settle the matter any City Hall watcher in all likelihood has contemplated at least once: How much fun would it be to sit down and chat with John Parker? Lots, in fact, and it heads off in directions you never expected it heading.

Like that time he was backpacking in Europe during the 70s and found himself in the middle of a square in Italy, in the middle of a political donnybrook. Or talking about Cats, the musical Cats, and one of the characters in it, Macavity. I don’t know anything about musicals, councillor. Yes, but T.S. Eliot? Coffee spoons. Coffee spoons.

Sure. We talked some politics too, beginning with his time as an East York M.P.P. and member of the Mike Harris government. I wanted to know how he negotiated the middle ground in the megacity amalgamation battle, representing residents who overwhelmingly didn’t want to be amalgamated. Resistance in his neck of the woods was surprisingly fiery but short-lived, he suggested, settling back once into a sort of acceptance once the deed had been done.

Governance reform was in the air when the Tories came to power. Reports were piled up, gathering dust. johnparkerThe big one, commissioned by the Bob Rae government, with Anne Golden at the helm was pretty much a non-starter with its suggestion of some sort of GTA-wide amalgamation. No one in power at Queen’s Park, not just Mike Harris, would contemplate establishing a local government that would rival the province in political clout, Parker believes. Not back then. Not now.

Was the Harris forced amalgamation an overt anti-Toronto act, I asked him.

He didn’t believe so although there did seem to be some ideological basis for going down the amalgamation path the way the Harris government did. Parker said there was a perception that Toronto, the older, legacy city, had grown “pampered” by its high tax base and social spending. It was thought the suburban municipalities would serve as a “moderating” influence on the excesses of dowtown.

We both chuckled, and thought of Rob Ford.

In retrospect, did amalgamation turn out as well as he’d hoped?

John Parker is in a unique position to address that question. Having been forced to fight for a second term in 1999 in another riding, ironically a victim of his own government’s anti-government mantra that reduced the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103, Parker lost. macavitySeven years later, he won a city council seat in Ward 26, vacated by Jane Pitfield for her ill-fated mayoral run against David Miller. So, like tear gas, he got to experience the effects of amalgamation first hand.

It wasn’t perfect, Parker tells me. The loss of a metro wide level of government without some sort of replacement was almost an off-the-cuff decision, and left city council as first 56 and then 44 squabbling fiefdoms. This basically undercut why Parker thought amalgamation would be good in the first place. The city and most of its big ticket services were already amalgamated. He thinks some of the current council problems could be alleviated with the addition of at-large councillors into the governance mix.

Parker does believe that one of the benefits of amalgamation is the slow but inevitable merging of the planning process from six departments to one. Planning is clearly a passion of John Parker’s, and one of the biggest disappointments for him in not securing a third term in last year’s election. There’s a lot to be excited about, the waterfront, plans and development along Eglinton Avenue as the Crosstown LRT comes to fruition. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be there, on the inside, to actively participate.

This seems to genuinely upset him.

And I think I speak for more than myself when I say, I’m upset with him. Of all the incumbents who were returned to office in 2014, 36 of them in total, only John Parker wasn’t. johnparker1Pick a name. Giorgio Mammoliti. Mark Grimes. Frank Di Giorgio. Ron Moeser. I could go on but I won’t. You get the point. All re-elected. John Parker was not.

Had he not won a 2nd term back in 2010 (another close race), perhaps no one might’ve noticed Parker’s exit from the local political scene. He certainly was not well-regarded on the left side of the spectrum, getting failing grades from media outlets like NOW and from organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Right-leaning news outlets like the Toronto Sun were lukewarm toward Parker, at best. “Not ready for the chop yet!”

He’d come to City Hall with a newly re-elected mayor, David Miller, who had his agenda firmly in-hand and needing little new support to get it through. Parker eventually found himself part of the Responsible Government Group, a handful of conservative leaning councillors often in opposition to Mayor Miller. The group never really gelled into a potent organized force, Parker says, the coalition often undercut by higher political ambitions of some of the members and other right-leaning councillors. It petered out further after its main target announced his intention not to seek a 3rd term in 2009.

Despite his outsider status and ideological differences with the Miller administration unionjack(although it is fun to hear Parker tout Transit City on more than one occasion when we’re talking transit policy), his first term must’ve been bliss compared to the next 4 years, the Ford era. “A complete disaster”, “disgraceful” is how Parker sums them up. He’d hoped that Rob Ford, after his surprising victory in 2010, would be distracted by the trappings of the mayor’s office and ignore policy which is what he’d done during his 10 years as councillor. What many councillors hadn’t counted on was his brother, Doug.

Parker has no kind words for his former council colleague who basically was calling the shots, and the one targeting things Parker holds dear, transit and the waterfront especially. It was on the transit file, from my perspective, that Parker rose up out of quiet obscurity. He had caught people’s attention as council’s deputy speaker, a calming, funny voice, stepping in whenever the more cacophonous, hyper-partisan speaker, Frances Nunziata, took a break from the chair.

But when Parker, also a TTC commissioner, went on record, referring to the Fords’ Scarborough subway plan as “goofy”, you knew something was up. Soon after, council took back control of the transit file from the mayor, only to take it off in another wacky direction.

ward26Parker had hoped that Transit City simply would’ve been reinstated

This all leads to the question that’s been nagging at me during our conversation. Why did John Tory, who was desperate to convince enough progressive voters that he was reasonable, rational, moderate, publicly endorse the opponent of a reasonable, rational, moderate incumbent like John Parker? Something he promised not to do and only did once, openly campaigning against an incumbent. Once.

If Parker knows the answer, he’s not telling although he did deepen the mystery further for me.

Back in 2007 when John Tory was leader of the Progressive Conservative and running for a seat in Don Valley West, Parker, who represented a ward in that riding at City Hall, reluctantly came out in support of Tory against the incumbent and future premier, Kathleen Wynne. His video appearance figured prominently on Tory’s website (and did not go unnoticed by Ms. Wynne). After the disastrous election results, Parker, as a former member of the party, advised caution in a rush to appear panicky and dump the party leader, once more backing John Tory.

So, why the snub in return? Not once, but twice, Parker informs me. As a high-profile non-candidate in 2010, John Tory also endorsed Parker’s opponent, Jon Burnside, giving his candidacy some legitimacy for any future run.

Parker shrugs. You tell me?johntoryjonburnside

Obviously, I can’t peek inside the “pure heart” of our mayor but it most certainly goes to a question of his character where loyalty and fair play get short shrift. Such machinations on his part would be slightly more understandable if his chosen candidate in Ward 26 appeared to be anything more than a compliant ticket puncher for the mayor. So far, evidence to the contrary is severely lacking.

John Parker doesn’t seem to be bitter about this. Just disappointed about this lost opportunity. Not for just himself but for the city if the new council doesn’t get the big decisions it’s facing right. Transit. The waterfront including stopping the island airport expansion. Eglinton Connects. He’s not sure the right person’s on the job to safely shepherd those issues.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, Parker was an initial supporter of Karen Stintz’s nascent and still undeclared mayoral bid. Policy differences, especially on transit, made that increasingly untenable. He found something of a natural fit in his support for David Soknacki. johnparker2The two men campaigned together.

When that campaign folded, Parker gravitated in a surprising direction. On the big issues that mattered to the city, he said that Olivia Chow was right. Transit. The bulging police budget. Spending on social issues. Olivia Chow got John Parker’s vote for mayor.

A lovely and entirely organic end to a very interesting run at City Hall, during huge upheaval and tumultuous times. Hopefully, now as a private citizen, John Parker’s voice isn’t lost. He’s got a lot of important things to say and it’s a lot of fun listening to him say it.

Thanks, John.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Shooting The Messengers

March 27, 2015

What the fuck is up with city council?

Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor wtf– What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.

It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.

What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. metooBut it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).

Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.

I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. pokeintheeyeThis has never been a question of competence or performance.

So, what then?

There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.

Such were dynamics of the day.

Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) suffocateIt’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.

With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?

We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.

Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, brooma senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.

dubiously submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Hoist Up The Mission Accomplished Just Yet

March 25, 2015

wetblanketNot to rain on anybody’s parade, and get their blanket wet in order to dampen out their enthusiasm, but a ranked ballot system of voting is not some silver bullet that’s going to singularly slay our election and governance woes.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of ranked ballots. Any improvement on the corrupted first-past-the-post manner in which we currently elect our politicians will be a good one. A system is fundamentally broken that allows a person/party with the support of less than 2-in-5 voters to make 5-out of-5 of the decisions.

And I heartily applaud Mayor John Tory for his enthusiastic endorsement of the ranked ballot initiative currently awaiting final approval at Queen’s Park. It’s one thing for a politician, elected the old fashioned way, to mouth platitudes about an electoral system that will possibly make it more difficult for them to get re-elected. Another thing entirely for that politician in power to actively push for that change.

Still…

I worry about our collective sigh of relief if ranked ballots do come to pass for the 2018 municipal election. There, that’s now done with. magicwandEverything will immediately be better.

While I have absolutely no reason to doubt the immediate impact the move to ranked ballots had on the municipal election in Minneapolis in 2013, I’d warn against any assumption of an automatic transference of similar success in Toronto. Variables between cities are many, starting with a big size differential between Minneapolis and Toronto. Toronto’s city council is 3 times the size of the Minneapolis council. Does that make implementation easier there than it would be here?

My guess is ranked ballots will have an instant effect in places of the city with an already highly engaged resident base. They know the issue. Some have helped fight to make it a reality. Ranked ballots will be an easy take in these places.

But as anyone who’s knocked on doors during an election campaign will tell you, such a heightened level of civic engagement is not uniform throughout the city. fallowgroundIn many spots, disengagement is the norm, and much of it has little to do with how we elect our members of city council. Indirectly, it’s not even about who we elect to city council. It’s about the low level of expectations residents have about what City Hall does to make their lives better.

Any notion that an improved voting system will suddenly re-engage a deeply disengaged citizenry is nothing short of wishful thinking. To imagine the voter who can’t tell you the name of their sitting city councillor will enthusiastically embrace a list of names to pick three from seems, I don’t know, overly optimistic. Just more names and more choices of do-nothing politicians who will only make an appearance when they want your vote.

Knowing Dave Meslin, the prime mover behind RaBIT, I can confidently state that he doesn’t view ranked ballots in this magic solution manner. I’m just afraid that too many of us will see its implementation and get complacent, figuring the deadweight city councillors that sit heavily on Toronto’s politics will be swept aside by the tides of history. Here’s a hammer, people. RaBITFinish building the house with it.

It’s fantastic to offer up the possibility of how to change the system. There’s little reason to expect ranked ballots won’t deliver the opportunity to shake things up. But true civic engagement lies with convincing those not yet convinced why they would want the system changed. The how to won’t fully work without the how will. How will electing new faces, more diversity on city council, improve the lives of residents, their streets, neighbourhoods and communities?

Answering that question will take a lot more than changing the way we vote.

not unenthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Treachery

March 4, 2015

Our list of municipally elected transit villains is well known. Why, just in the past 4+ years alone, names fly off the top of your head. villainRob Ford, Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker, and all the subway lovers who enabled them. We elected them. We re-elected them. They are our responsibility, our bad.

Yet, I am going to make a bold, perhaps controversial assertion here.

They are but bit players in this sad, sad drama we call transit planning here in Toronto. Supporting actors in our mad tragi-farce, farcedy. Wilfully self-unaware fall guys, the lot of them. Patsies. Patsies, not pasties. Mmmmmmm… pasties.

The real culprits here, the progenitors of this city’s — the region’s — diseased public transit, Ian McShane’s Teddy Bass to Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, is undoubtedly the provincial government. Ultimately, Queen’s Park pulls all the strings, fiscally, jurisdictionally. Theirs is the final yea or no although they would demur, preferring to project an image of sage partnership with its municipalities. Who us? We’re just sitting here minding our business, happily signing the cheques. Are you sure you don’t want a subway with that?

Follow the timeline with me on our current misadventure.benkingsley

In 2007, the city and province announced a grand plan, Transit City, as a step in the right direction to dealing with Toronto’s increasingly problematic congestion. We often forget that the project was more than just new LRT lines, 7 of those in total, running some 120 kilometres. New bus rapid transit routes were also in the mix along with increases to existing services. Looking at the original Transit City map, what is immediately apparent is the plan’s scope of bringing better transit into the long under-served inner suburban areas of the city.

Back then, the provincial government was picking up the tab for Transit City as part of their bigger regional transit vision, MoveOntario 2020. Unfortunately, the economic crisis and meltdown got in the way and, more attentive to politics than good governance, it scaled back Transit City to just 4 LRT lines. villain7Argue as we might about if the move made any economic sense but what we can say with a fair degree of certainty is that this change of plans instilled in Transit City a sense impermanence, assailability. Just more lines drawn on a map.

December 10th, 2010. Newly elected mayor, Rob Ford, unilaterally declares Transit City dead. That noise you heard coming from Queen’s Park? **Crickets**

Again, we can debate in hindsight whether or not city council should’ve stepped in and demanded the mayor bring the matter to a vote. Ford was as popular as he would ever be at this point. Had city council pushed, he may well have received the go-ahead to rip up the master agreement with Metrolinx and officially bury Transit City. Whether through wisdom or pure shocked inertia, city council stood pat, allowing the mayor enough time and rope to leave himself dangling.

The inaction on Queen’s Park in defense of Transit City is equally opaque and open to question. Remember though, they are the big bosses, the final arbiters, the holders of transit plans in their hands. They could’ve stepped in and stopped the insanity in its tracks. That power was theirs.villain1

Instead, they blinked. Deeply unpopular in the polls and facing almost certain defeat in the general election to be held the following year and not looking to have to face down the self-proclaimed Ford Nation flank in Toronto, the Liberal government shrugged and told the mayor and city council, Whatever you want to do. (It probably also didn’t hurt that any delays to the transit plan formerly known as Transit City would save the deeply indebted Liberals from immediately having to spend any money.)

Unsurprisingly, Rob Ford stumbled and fell flat on his face. City council seized control of the transit file from him. With only a 2 year delay to show for it, some semblance of order seemed to be on the horizon. Of course, it wasn’t. City council, led by a TTC commissioner eyeing the mayor’s office in a couple years, began dialogue on another transit plan, mostly pie-in-the-sky, unfunded schemes called One City. More lines on a map including – what the hell was that? – another Scarborough subway, this one a replacement for the proposed Transit City LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line.

It bears repeating at this point that, once more, the Liberal government could’ve put their foot down and put an end to the discussion. villain3They have the power to do that, rule by fiat pretty much. That is the nature of our municipal-provincial relationship. They didn’t, thereby perpetuating the farcical shitshow.

They’d been reduced to a minority status and their grip on power was tenuous. No false moves that might embolden the opposition to trigger an election. So just more of the, Whatevs.

But this is where the provincial government’s motives get really, really murky. During a by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, the Liberals dubbed their candidate, Mitzi Hunter, the ‘subway champion’. Sorry, what?! Increasingly, Scarborough MPPs (many of whom were former Toronto city councillors) went public with their preference for extending the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway rather than LRT. Everybody now had picked up the Rob Ford chant of Subways! Subways! Subways! Scarborough deserves a subway!

It’s like the boss, when you ask if you can cut out early to take your kid to soccer practice, tells you ‘no’ while winking and nodding his head ‘yes’. villain2No. *wink, wink, wink, wink* Quitting time is 5pm. *wink, wink, wink, wink* You cannot take your kid to soccer practice. *Nodding ‘yes’*

So it went. City council took the bait, cancelled plans for the fully funded by the province Scarborough LRT, taking upon itself all the risks and liabilities of building a subway instead, beginning with about $75 million it was on the hook for for cancelling the LRT plan, the plan the province covertly encouraged them to cancel. The Liberals scored a majority government last June and then pretty openly expressed its preference for who Toronto should elect as its next mayor, John Tory, a candidate with transit plans of his own, SmartTrack which, just so coincidentally, meshed nicely with the province’s own regional rail plans, and a candidate with no plans to reopen the Scarborough subway debate if elected.villain4

Why do I feel the need to revisit this recent, sordid history now?

On Monday at the Executive Committee’s budget meeting, buried oddly near the bottom of the 2015 Water and Waste Water Rate Supported Budget, a budget that doesn’t usually get the same spotlight its operating and capital budget brethren receive, a report surfaced revealing that the city and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) had been negotiating a $95 million bill Toronto was expected to pay for infrastructure upgrades that were happening along the Union-Pearson-Georgetown rail link. Hey! You want out-of-town visitors and commuters moving smoothly around your city? Pay up. That shit don’t come for free.

So, a city struggling to balance its operating budget (which it is provincially mandated to do) and with limited access to revenue to do that (and an even more limited propensity to access the tools it does have, admittedly) villain5is being told to come up with nearly $100 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements that will ultimately more directly benefit another level of government with increased taxation through economic growth. Oh, and the cost overruns on the main terminal of that rail link? You’re on your own, Toronto.

It is clearly evident that this city is more than capable of fucking itself. What’s becoming less apparent is why we have to continue putting up with a second fucking from a senior level of government more concerned about its own well-being than the municipalities it is purportedly looking out for. As my good friend MookieG77 said on the Twitter yesterday, this is just another form of provincial downloading onto cities.

While the idea of pushing for provincial status for the GTA remains quixotically out on the fringes of political discourse, it’s just not seeming that crazy an idea currently. For 20 years now, Queen’s Park has not acted much like a partner, albeit a senior partner in its relationship with Toronto. The dynamic is more like an occupier. villain6Happy to take our money but less interested in providing sound oversight or reasonable leadership unless it provides some tangible gain for them in return.

If we’re going to go down in some sort of ignominious flame out, let it at least be one of our own making and not imposed by a government who views us as little more than a liability, a vote rich and money laden liability.

rebelliously submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Fine. Ignore All Evidence To The Contrary.

March 3, 2015

I know the drill.nothingtoseehere

Take a deep breath. Rob Ford is no longer the mayor of Toronto. We are in capable hands now. We are in responsible, prudent, capable hands. Inhale, exhale.

Sitting through the morning session of yesterday’s special Executive Committee meeting to discuss, debate and amend the 2015 budget before passing it along to city council next week for a final vote, and I’m not feeling particularly reassured, however.

City staff’s message was clear. Holes have been plugged. Band aids and duct tape liberally applied as stop gap measures to balance the operating budget. But the recent approach to financing the city is not sustainable. A fiscal bullet was dodged again this year. Next year…?

Mayor Tory shrugged. Every year we hear the same doom and gloom tune. Every year things work out. Relax. alfredeTake a deep breath. The city is in capable hands now. Responsible, prudent, capable hands.

No matter the state of good repair backlog, manifested by the creaky condition of our public transit, the long, long repair list in our TCHC housing, the flood of broken watermains under duress from the extremely cold weather last month. What, me worry?

Everything’s fine. There’s no need to panic and start talking about new sources of revenue. An above the rate of inflation property tax increase? “An admission of failure,” according to the mayor.

Toronto does not have a revenue problem.

Sound familiar? It should. Because, no matter how much the appearance of responsible, prudent, capable leadership this administration wants to project, no matter how many times key members of the mayor’s team tell us that’s what they stand for (there’s some inverse proportionality to the number of times they say it to the actual reality of the claim), agenda-wise, Mayor Tory and his executive are little more than extensions of the previous holder of the office.

Think I’m exaggerating?failureisnotanoption

Of the 10 members on Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee who spent at least some of last term serving in the same role under former mayor Rob Ford, they collectively voted with Ford nearly 73% of the time (according to Matt Elliott’s council scorecard). Throw in Councillor Ana Bailão, as she worked with the Fords on the affordable housing file, and that brings this mayor’s Executive Committee overlap with Ford’s numbers down to 69%. Even factoring in the 12th member, the least Ford friendly of Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (she aligned herself with Rob Ford less than 1 in 5 times) and you still have nearly a two-thirds consensus between the two administrations.

Of course, the mayor, his budget chief and other team spokes people point to very obvious differences. Increases in services to the TTC, for example, eventually restored to 2010 levels before Rob Ford took an axe to them. Commendable, for sure, laudatory even if it were still 2010. In the interim, there’s 4 years of ridership growth, now packed onto and into 2010 service standards.

Clawing our way back to running to catch up from behind.

Mayor Tory brushes aside demands to even discuss an above the rate of inflation property tax increase or new revenue tools wolfinsheepsclothing(aside from hikes to user fees, the mayor loves user fees except for car drivers, leave the poor drivers alone, would you) because he believes that the big ticket items Toronto has to deal with must involve getting senior levels of government to the proverbial table. Until such a time, we can trim away here and there at city operations, gently nudge revenue in a way not to piss off too many people. Make the pretense of responsible, prudent, capable governance.

He’s not wrong, at least not in the first part of that equation. Toronto (and every other city in this country) doesn’t have the revenue or governance tools at its disposal to deal with what is essentially a gaping infrastructure deficit. Without those, both the province and federal governments have to step up and chip in.

But just how realistic is that scenario?

Ottawa hasn’t really been involved in municipal matters for a generation now. And how many times already during Mayor Tory’s 3 months in office has the province basically told him to get stuffed when he’s asked for financial help? Why, just yesterday we learned that Toronto got a double-dose of fuck you from Queen’s Park and Ottawa when the city was denied any funding help for cost overruns at Union Station, only one of the major transit hubs for the country’s biggest city and region that generates a fifth of the national GDP.loosechange

Sorry, pal. We’d really like to help but we’re a little strapped right now. In fact, maybe you could spot us a buck or two…

Yeah. Adding insult to snubbery, it also came to light yesterday after a two-hour in camera session that the city is expected to chip in on Metrolinx’s building of the Union-Pearson Express-Georgetown rail link. We’re facing a bill of nearly $100 million from the province for various improvements to their regional rail plans along the lines running through Toronto.

This is the environment Mayor Tory expects to make nice and extract money for the city?

Maybe if he’d have stepped up from the start and stated that there was no way he was going to raise taxes or introduce new revenue tools in order to pad provincial coffers, I’d be right there with him. neroThose demands from the government at Queen’s Park that the city needs to start using the revenue streams it was given back in 2006 sort of ring hollow now. Raise taxes, so we don’t have to.

But Mayor Tory isn’t doing that. He’s pretending like there’s nothing wrong, like this is just a little blip, a rough patch that can be managed with a capable, prudent, responsible approach. We just need to tighten our belts, be more efficient.

If Rob Ford set the city on fire or, at least, tossed gasoline onto the hot spots, Mayor John Tory is just fiddling while we burn, hoping, I guess, for the restorative powers of fire.

consumedly submitted by Cityslikr


Hallelujah For Somebody

January 23, 2015

“Hallelujah!”

The word of thanks Premier Kathleen Wynne uttered upon hearing John Tory had been elected mayor of Toronto back last October. hallelujahHis win heralded, among other things, a renewal of cordial relations between the city and the province. In fact, Mr. Tory had assured us he was the only one who’d be able to work productively with the other two levels of government. His rolodex and business networking skills and all that.

So this week when city staff delivered their recommended 2015 budget, confidently assuring everyone that gaping $86 million hole created by the provincial government’s unilateral decision to stop paying the long time pooling fund for provincially mandated social services (half of which had been deferred from last year’s city budget), we all assumed Mayor Tory had it covered. He was the one, we were repeatedly told, who’d get everyone to the table to iron out these petty grievances, ramped up largely by the clumsily defiant, confrontational braying of his predecessor’s administration. Hallelujah, right?

Consider that $86 million as good as gone… using a $200 million line of credit at the city’s disposal from the province. Market rate interest charges apply. Hallelujah! dontworryMayor Tory’s on the job.

Wait, what?

A line of credit? With interest?? That’s the result of getting the provincial government to sit down at the table and work things out?

It was only moderately less offensive than the original proposal that had the province offering to buy up land along the Eglinton Crosstown corridor in exchange for the $86 million. Land that was only going to appreciate in value as the LRT got going. An exchange that, by every other measure, would be illegal, owing to the province’s own decree that municipalities cannot sell assets in order to help plug holes in their operating budget.

I mean, holy hell. With friends like these, am I right? Arbitrarily stop making payments that, arguably you should be making because you’ve mandated the city to provide certain services and programs, and when this stopped payment makes it difficult for the city to balance its operating budget which it has to do because of provincial legislation, you offer to help out in return for the city selling off assets to you. takeitorleaveitThere’s a word for that, isn’t there? Not a very flattering one either. A word that rhymes with packet.

It’s difficult to choose the real bad guy in all this. I get the province being stingy with the city as we continue to budget on the cheap, refusing to really explore all our revenue sources except for the user fee route. Property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. Below again this year.

You can’t cry poor but keep your hands in your pockets when it comes time to pay for things and expect other people to make up the difference.

Still, the Liberal government barely could contain their preference for who it wanted to see Toronto elect as its next mayor last fall. Local MPPs and cabinet ministers falling over themselves to be seen endorsing John Tory for the job. They knew what they were getting, at or below the rate of inflation and all.

They continue on, starving the beast and encouraging even more of our tax dollars go to helping build their regional transit system while ignoring their ongoing obligations. Remember when the province used to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget? Remember when the Liberals promised to restore it, I don’t know, a billion dollars or so ago? takeitorleaveit1Got a problem balancing the books, Toronto? Here’s a line of credit for you. Plus interest if you don’t mind. Or… Or… You could sell us some of your sure-to-be valuable property.

There are times when it feels like the provincial government is not really any sort of ally of the municipalities it’s been casually, almost as an after-thought, given oversight of. There’s the obvious examples, Mike Harris and gang, 1995-2003. But have the Liberals done a whole lot more for us in the scheme of things? Now 12 years in, there’s not a lot to show for it. A couple big transit projects underway – underway – state of good repair ballooning every year in our social housing stock and other infrastructure. In asking the quintessential governance question, are we better off as a city than we were 12 years ago?

It could be worse is not an answer. The feds need to start contributing is also a little bit of misdirection. Although true, it deflects from the larger point that cities have been left to sort out the problems largely created by an absence of the other two levels of government. Guilt by disassociation, let’s call it.

Now we have a mayor who’s complicit in the neglect, taking scraps and telling us it’s the best he could do. But wasn’t John Tory going to be different? helpmehelpyouDidn’t he tell us he was the candidate to count on to restore a beneficial and productive working relationship with Queen’s Park and Ottawa?

That’s not what this feels like right now, quite frankly. It feels like we have a mayor who is more concerned with keeping the province happy than he is in fighting for what’s best for the city. Maybe he owes the Liberals for helping to get him elected. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should be paying off his debt.

unpraiseworthily submitted by Cityslikr


Our Man Godfrey

January 19, 2015

mymangodfrey

In his book, The Tiny Perfect Mayor, Jon Caulfield wrote about the ongoing battle over the Spadina expressway and the alignment of the proposed western arm expansion of the Yonge-University subway line which planners and other transit advocates wanted to see run under Bathurst Street.

The pro-expressway forces, who had still not given up the ghost, recognized a fatal threat. So long as the Spadina right-of-way was preserved, the expressway plan might be revived – perhaps by [Premier William] Davis if he had a change of heart, perhaps by a new provincial government (some Queen’s Park Liberals had made pro-expressway noises). A Bathurst route would hammer the final nail in Spadina’s coffin. And so on the same day in August 1972 that it proposed paving four lanes along the old Spadina roadbed, Metro Council rejected its transportation planners’ advice and ignored the pleas for reason of the two affected boroughs, the City and York. Rallied by North York Controller Paul Godfrey, leader of the pro-expressway forces and soon to be Metro Chairman, it opted for a Spadina transit alignment. Afterward, Godfrey expressed satisfaction that Metro had “left its expressway options open.”

From the January 15, 2014 podcast of NewsTalk 1010’s Live Drive with Ryan Doyle and special guest co-host, Postmedia/Sun Media Mr. Thing, Paul Godfrey:

The issues [facing the city] haven’t really changed. In some ways, they’ve magnified. Transit was always a problem. During my era [1964-84], we were building some roads but during my era they stopped building roads. The major moving point they did was stop building the Spadina Expressway. And I think because of that, and because other major roadways that were cut short or not built whatsoever. Everybody says, well, we’re going to do it by transit but the problem was that they didn’t do it by transit. So right now we have gridlock city.

Mr. Godfrey goes on to assure us that, not to fear, Toronto is ‘blessed’ to have John Tory as mayor who is dedicated to relieving congestion in this city. highwaysBut it won’t happen overnight. The problem was created over 20 years, Godfrey curiously suggests, a decade after he left the political scene, conveniently washing his hands of any responsibility.

I would suggest, however, Toronto finds itself where it is today precisely because of people like Paul Godfrey. Last fall’s Globe and Mail article on the man from Christine Dobby presents a picture of someone dedicated to building a personal empire not city building. Remember, he was a municipal politician for 20 years. What does he (or Toronto) have to show for his two decades of public service?

The Rogers Centre, nee the Skydome. A terrible ballpark, perfectly located, that cost various levels of government hundreds of millions of dollars to build and purchased for a sliver of the cost years later by the private company who owned the ball club Godfrey was then president and CEO of. Nothing represents the Paul Godfrey legacy better than that, I wouldn’t think. Public money providing private profit.davidblaine

His last public sector gig (at least for now) was as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Chair where Godfrey championed the idea of an “iconic” downtown casino. Nothing screams quality public space quite like an inwardly directed, profit-driven edifice dedicated to taking money from people in exchange for… well, not much really. Hey everybody! Look! It’s David Blaine!!

Paul Godfrey admits that he left politics because there wasn’t enough money in it. That’s fine, understandable even. Everybody’s got to eat, or put their kids through private school. Besides, as anyone will tell you, real power happens in the backrooms. That’s where Godfrey has made his real mark on this city. Way back in 2003, John Sewell – perhaps sporting his own bone to pick — claimed Godfrey was the one who floated the megacity idea in front of then-premier, Mike Harris. As Andrew Spicer wrote back then, “Some people just seem to find their way into everything in this city.”

I’d argue that Toronto is something less than it could be because of Godfrey finding his way into everything in this city. He reflects an antiquated, highly privileged view of what makes a city work. I hope his glowing approval of Mayor Tory isn’t reciprocal because, if it is, if the mayor looks to the likes of Paul Godfrey for advice on how to turn things around in terms of transit or housing, it would be akin to asking the chef who’d just burnt the main course, how to save the dinner party with dessert.

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Only by becoming a Paul Godfrey-free zone can Toronto start cleaning up the mess he helped create.

— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


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