Shame On Us

June 3, 2015

“There are two kinds of statistics. The kind you look up and the kind you make up,” read city councillor, Michelle Berardinetti, during a press conference co-conducted yesterday with the city’s budget chief, Gary Crawford, to advocate for Mayor John Tory’s “hybrid” plan for the Gardiner east.sellingfear

The statement was made during a melange of words being said where the councillor contended that maintaining the elevated expressway was the best course of action, environmentally-wise, to battle carbon emissions. Idling cars, stuck all up in traffic created by the removal of the 1.7 kilometre eastern most stretch of the Gardiner, spewing their noxious fumes into the air. Don’t believe Councillor Berardinetti? Just look it up.

If you did, you’d discover that, according to a city staff report, replacing the elevated bit of the expressway with an at-grade 6 lane roadway would actually reduce carbon emissions by 12% over keeping things pretty much as they are now. So, kind of the exact opposite of the councillor’s assertion. But hey. She did warn us. Some stats you just make up.

Once more, we are left with the question that overhangs almost every one of the Tory administration’s decisions. Why? oppositeWhat are they thinking? What’s the end game here?

The stridency with which the mayor has pursued his preferred option on the Gardiner question, full as it is with obfuscation and blatant dishonesty, remains startling. In the face of mounting evidence against it and very, very soft support for it, he has chosen to side with the likes of the Canadian Automobile Association and its campaign of misinformation. When allies and friends publicly advise him to go in another direction, Mayor Tory brushes them aside. “I have to stand here in 2015 as the Mayor of Toronto.”

I know better.

Sound familiar?

Obstinancy and willful disregard of information that runs contrary to your opinions doesn’t always come dressed up in an ill-fitting suit with the smell of booze on its breath. notlisteningThat kind of small-mindedness gets easy to work around. With this mayor, it’s far more difficult. You think, but he seems so reasonable.

And believe me, Mayor Tory really wants you to think that. He tells us that’s the case every chance he gets. Sensible. Reasonable. Practical. He’s read stuff. Lots of stuff. He has an informed opinion that should be treated equally to that of the professionals who are standing in opposition to him. Let’s just disagree to disagree, shall we. Respectfully. Mayor Tory’s got a city to run.

Because his predecessor took such obvious pride in his anti-intellectual, going with the gut instincts, it was easy to dismiss him. Confronted with someone who assures us he’s put a lot of thought into issues and policy – he’s up early every morning, reading a stack of reports, in case you’ve forgotten – we pause, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. He does seem… How did he put it again? Sensible. Reasonable. Practical. Maybe there’s some merit in what he’s telling us.falseadvertising

If there was merit, Mayor Tory and his surrogates on council wouldn’t be resorting to what Councillor Berardinetti called ‘made up statistics’ and outright fabrications. “Reminder that objectively good policy ideas generally don’t need lots and lots of lies told about them.” The Globe and Mail’s Transportation reporter, Oliver Moore, pointed out that a claim being made by the pro-elevated expressway group, Don’t Cut Me Off, was “simply not true.” In [the] Gardiner East debate,” the Torontoist’s co-editor David Hains wrote, “one side is consistently disingenuous or wrong.”

That’s the side Mayor Tory insists on standing with. Toronto’s just endured 4 years of that kind of obdurate truculence and disregard of sound counsel and best practices. John Tory was supposed to be different. He heralded a return to reasonable, sound, boring governance. Too many of us bought it.

Fool me once…

shamefully submitted by Cityslikr


A Vision Of Toronto From The 50s

June 2, 2015

As the Gardiner east debate makes its way to city council chambers next week, I find myself increasingly obsessed with this video. From 2013, let’s call it CivicAction John Tory.

Thoughtful, reasonable, sensible John Tory. The John Tory progressive-leaning voters, scared shitless at the prospect of another Ford mayoralty, were assured was their only real alternative to stop that from happening. See? Lookit CivicAction John Tory. He’s progressive. Enough.

The CivicAction John Tory former mayor David Crombie endorsed late in the campaign last year.

“I am here just to underline one really strong reason why we need John Tory and that is that this city, city council need to be brought together,” Crombie told the press on the last weekend before election day.

Whatever happened to that CivicAction John Tory, many are now wondering just 6 months into his first term in office.polishedturd

Non-CivicAction John Tory was against removing the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway before CivicAction John Tory was in favour of it. Now again, non-CivicAction Mayor John Tory is against it.

A person should be allowed to change their mind. Even multiple times, as evidence and details emerge or adjust. Most reasonable people would do so, you’d hope. Previous opinions or stances were held based on the best accessible information.

Non-CivicAction Mayor Tory misses no opportunity to assure us he is reasonable and sensible. He reads all the reports, all of them, some going back even a decade. It’s all about evidence-based decision-making, he informs us.

Yet, here he is, “tragically wrong,” according to Crombie, poised to push city council into making a terrible mistake with the so-called “hybrid” option on the Gardiner east. Why? How has he arrived at such a position?wolfinsheepsclothing

My safest bet is that CivicAction John Tory was never an actual thing. It was all a put-on, a PR exercise to give the man a coating of progressiveness. John Tory was always and continues to be a.m. talk radio show host John Tory. A Bill Davis-touting, Mike Harris-doing Tory.

In the face of overwhelming and increasing expert support for removing the section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street, Mayor Tory stands defiant. They’ve got their opinion and I have mine. Let’s agree to disagree. He is the mayor of Toronto in 2015, making decisions about the future based on numbers and thinking firmly entrenched in the past.

CivicAction John Tory fooled just enough voters in Toronto into thinking he was something he wasn’t to enable Mayor John Tory to be who he always planned on being. The real John Tory. The John Tory David Crombie endorsed. The John Tory David Crombie is left scratching his head at, hoping against hope, isn’t the real John Tory. All evidence to the contrary.

ruefully submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Supercilious

May 14, 2015

In the back of my mind, I’ve always viewed the word ‘supercilious’ as onomatopoeic, sounding just like it means. Silly.twitoftheyear Shallow, nonsensical. Super silly. Really, really silly, shallow, nonsensical, childish in the extreme. Strap a diaper on that thing because I think it’s about to poop itself.

That’s incorrect, I know. And frankly, I think it’s a waste of a very good word. There are far, far better ones at our disposal that give meaning to the notion of arrogance or disdain or contemptuousness. In fact, I prefer those three even to supercilious. How about, lordly, imperious, uppish? You fucking toff.

When I watch our mayor in operation, I immediately think ‘supercilious’ but in my definition of it. He doesn’t project competence or a depth of understanding on any particular issue, just enough to string together a bunch of words on the topic at hand. Words and sentences that, when added up, seldom amount to much meaning of anything in particular.

Look at me, mommie! I’m mayor of Toronto! Stop being silly, Jonathon. Go wash up for dinner. Silly. Super silly.

Listening to Mayor Tory’s take on the Gardiner east removal/hybrid debate, and I’m all like, supercilious. The guy’s a mile wide and an inch deep. He actually has no ability to see more than 10 minutes ahead. toff1He cannot conceive of a future that isn’t almost exactly like the present which has changed little from the past.

Yes, he talks and talks of the challenges of change, the need to adapt but only based on immutable principles firmly anchored in a tradition, a tradition, not coincidentally, that favours people like John Tory.

John Tory cannot imagine a time when car drivers might be further inconvenienced for the sake of simply building and developing a less auto-centric city. It makes no impression upon him that it happened before, right here in Toronto, 15 years ago when another eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway was removed with little of the deleteriously overwrought fall out he’s now so concerned happening this time. This time. Never mind the evidence from other cities around the world that removed entire expressways and none burned to the ground because of it. This is Toronto. Things are different here.

At a Ryerson City Building Institute forum last night, Mayor Tory also came down against the idea of extending the municipal vote to permanent residents who live in the city. toff2“Tory said citizenship brings with it privileges and responsibilities and he has long advocated keeping voting as one of those privileges,” David Rider of the Toronto Star writes. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man, am I right?

When asked by the mayor of Ajax, Steve Parish, if permanent resident voting might help diversify a city council’s make up, our mayor shrugged, couldn’t see how. Teach `em how to get elected, Mayor Tory countered, teach `em how to fundraise. Money makes the world go around, am I right?

It is a view where the status quo can only be challenged by embracing the status quo even tighter. Besides, do you really want to challenge the status quo? It’s done perfectly right by John Tory. We just need to all be more like John Tory, united around a bulging rolodex.

So with the more pressing aspects of running the city left largely untouched (not to mention unchallenged), Mayor Tory busies himself with the appearance of being a serious agent of change, stumping for relaxed rules for food truck vending around the city and the taxi app, Uber. See? Who’s disruptive now? toffThis guy, that’s who.

Food trucks and taxi apps. The silly stuff. Supercilious.

But the truth is, I wouldn’t be far off the mark describing Mayor Tory with the correct usage of that word. He is proving himself to be contemptuous of facts that don’t coalesce with his very rigid view of the world, how they city should run. There’s a certain arrogance reflected in ignoring contrary evidence. His is the privileged disdain of change that could challenge the privileged position he is accustomed to, that he was born into, that he doesn’t believe exists because he can’t see it.

Yeah. Supercilious. Actually, I think it fits quite nicely.

down-to-earthly submitted by Cityslikr


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


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