Music To A Councillor’s Ears

April 28, 2013

Tell the truth.

communitybenefits

Have you ever heard of a CBA before? Community Benefits Agreement. Apparently, they’re all the rage in other places.

This from a handout I picked up at the Community Benefits Mount Dennis Weston public forum on Friday:

A community benefit agreement or CBA is a contract negotiated between a developer or public agency and a community that outlines the benefits the community will receive from the development in return for community support of the proposed project. Benefits can range from guarantees of local hiring and training to a Project Labour Agreement to community-space allocations and funs for community programmes.

When big development projects like the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Vancouver Island Highway came to life from the planning stages, representatives from impacted communities stepped forward to start negotiating for things like living wage agreements and apprenticeship programs. staplescenterBig development projects, you say? Toronto’s got development projects. Where are our CBAs?

The Community Benefits group is trying to get that on the table as construction for the Eglinton LRT kicks into gear. (Never mind that the PanAm Games are just a little over two years from now.) On the former Kodak lands in Mount Dennis, Metrolinx is set to build a maintenance and storage facility. Aggressive pursuit of a CBA would greatly help the area economically. An area in need of an economic boost.

Yet, on Friday evening the audience is told only six people in the entire city are working on the CBA angle. Six people. $8.4 billion is going into LRT lines in Toronto. How much in getting ready for the PanAm Games? And six people are trying to kickstart the idea of Community Benefits Agreements?

Our mayor expends what little energy he actually expends on his job talking up the economic upsides of a possible waterfront casino or island airport runway extension (while talking down new taxes that would directly lead to more jobs building transit). bigmoveWhy is he not tubthumbing about CBAs on projects that are already up and going? Fighting for fantasy jobs when there are real ones right here already to be had?

And Councillor Frances Nunziata whose ward the Kodak lands are in, one of the most economically disadvantaged wards in the city, where is she on CBAs? Why is she spending her time cheerleading Mayor Ford’s phantasmagorical pursuits rather than acting as a conduit between her community’s economic interests and Metrolinx on a development running right through her ward?

Councillor Nunziata is one of the biggest complainers at City Hall. Never does she miss an opportunity to point out how deprived and in need her Ward 11 is. An area of the city she has represented one way or another since 1988, it should be noted. Surely to christ she must be one of the six people in Toronto working away on Community Benefits Agreements for the Eglinton LRT construction. If she isn’t, why isn’t she?

The councillor made the briefest of appearances at Friday’s public forum. Shook a few hands. Stood in front of a camera. panamgames2015But was gone before the discussion got started.

A discussion that included Patricia Castellanos, the Deputy Director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, who was instrumental in forging a CBA on the Staples Centre development. Ms. Castellanos praised the municipal politicians in Los Angeles she worked with, calling them enlightened on the topic of CBAs and very helpful in getting them finalized. She said that many of the councillors she worked with were embarrassed with high employment rates in their districts, so were driven to find ways to provide jobs and benefit their communities.

Maybe the first step residents of Mount Dennis Weston and Ward 11 need to take is to elect municipal politicians who will actually care about such local concerns as employment, training and poverty. Some new blood willing to learn about alternative approaches to community building like CBAs. Enlightened politicians embarrassed about unemployment and poverty rates in their ward, and prepared to do something about them other than just to use them as a cudgel to make divisive noises.

headinsand

helpfully 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


Enemy Of Your Enemy

March 14, 2012

Is it me or is TTC Chair Karen Stintz operating like Michael Corleone these days? And I mean, the good, baptism scene, killing his rivals to assume control and avenge his father’s attempted assassination Michael Corleone, not the hyper-paranoid, soulless murdering machine Michael Corleone who offed his own brother. Yeah, as a matter of fact, there is a difference. It’s all about knowing where to draw the line.

At this point, it’s hard to square the cool, confident Councillor Karen Stintz with the pipsqueak who took voice lessons while contemplating a run at former mayor David Miller back in 2006. But hey. Six years is a long time in politics. And maybe this time, she’s more comfortable with her opponent. A far right ideologue, putting his future electability before good governance, threatening to cause irreparable harm to even Ms. Stintz’s brand of moderate conservatism in the process.

The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant reported yesterday that the TTC Chair and her newly appointed commission will move to ice the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited corporation the mayor revived and drained of money and significance in his bid to come up with a viable Sheppard subway plan. Note how I wrote, ‘her newly appointed commission’ as last week she successfully rid the TTC commission of the five members who’d done the mayor’s bidding and fired then Chief General Manager Gary Webster in reaction to his public expression of support for LRTs. This, during a special council meeting Stintz and twenty-three other councillors called that eventually set aside the mayor’s self-proclaimed transit plans and re-established the more Transit City-like designs on Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT.

It’s a transit file tit-for-tat that is increasingly marginalizing Mayor Ford. So emboldened is the TTC Chair that she walked into a wholly manufactured anti-LRT crowd last Thursday at the Scarborough Civic Centre and calmly, patiently stated her case in the face of shrill shrieking on all sides. Why? She had nothing to gain. There was no way she was going to win over that particular room filled as it was with antipathy rather than curiosity.

She took it on the chin, was heckled mercilessly by not only the audience but by fellow panel members. She got unsurprisingly bad, egregiously biased press coverage. But you know what? A week later, the TTC Chair is busy preparing to close down the last remnants of the mayor’s subway dreams while Mayor Ford… still has no viable plan to build a subway. A fact that Councillor Stintz made over and over again at the Scarborough transit townhall which, despite falling on largely deaf ears, doesn’t make it any less true.

So the councillor faces a hostile crowd as part of her job representing the entire city as TTC Chair while the mayor, in his capacity of city wide representation, retreats to the increasingly no-critics-allowed cocoon of AM talk radio.

This can hardly be the outcome Team Ford foresaw when they handed such a high profile position to someone they must’ve viewed as a mayoral rival in Councillor Stintz. In fact, allow me to hypothesize here for a moment, but this is the exact opposite outcome for them as they probably saw the TTC Chair position as a millstone to anyone’s political aspirations who took it on. Since public transit was not something Team Ford gave a rat’s ass about, if played just right they could fuck with it while taking out any potential suitor to the mayor’s job in 2014.

And up until about October last year, Councillor Stintz played the willing dupe, delivering up the requested 10% departmental budget cut the mayor asked for, the requisite service cuts er, ‘adjustments’ and minimal fare increase. She made the emptily strident call to maintain those service cuts during the budget debate this year in the face of Josh Colle’s motion to take them (along with other services) off the table. According to Ms. Grant’s article, the TTC Chair was even part of the group last year that revived  the TTIL to explore the Sheppard subway option. The TTIL she is now moving to finish off.

Playing along to get along or was the resulting tepid Chong report that emerged the breaking point?

Fissures had surfaced before that, certainly. The TTC Chair was on the vanguard last fall pointing out — what did she call it again? — ‘unresolved technical issues’ with burying the Eglinton crosstown LRT like the mayor wanted. “For one, the change of plans championed by Mayor Ford could trigger a new environmental assessment – a costly and time-consuming proposition,” Councillor Stintz said. “The Don Valley also is a problem. ‘You can’t tunnel there. It’s just not possible.’”

And it’s an issue that still hasn’t been fully addressed by underground fetishists and perhaps is one of the reasons for the TTC Chair’s break with the mayor on the transit file. She certainly gave him enough warning about her unease, raised a warning flag publicly that Team Ford either didn’t see or simply chose to ignore. No one can accuse her of operating by stealth here. She telegraphed this punch months ago. Maybe the mayor believed he couldn’t be knocked on his ass by a girl.

Now that he has been, Councillor Stintz seems determined not to let him back up on his feet. Having been rebuffed on numerous occasions at striking some sort of compromise with Mayor Ford on the Sheppard subway, it looks now as if she’s moving in for the kill come next Wednesday’s council meeting. If the vote goes her way there and LRTs are given the greenlight for Sheppard, she will have, in effect, run the transit table vote, relegated the mayor to the noisy peanut gallery and left the province with very little wiggle room in terms of the ‘will of council’.

It will also mean that Councillor Stintz fully owns the TTC file. Its successes will be hers as will the failures. The chances of the latter are greatly increased since there will be a mayor in office actively pursuing and magnifying her setbacks.

If this were her cunning political plan all along, her Machiavellian strategy to the mayor’s chair in 2014, well, I have to give her a nod, no, a bow of admiration. It is, perhaps, the most perilous route, the one most fraught with possible catastrophes imaginable. Surely to god there has to be an easier way.

But, stranger things have happened. I mean, there was that time just after World War II when nobody believed that war hero Michael would eventually succeed his dad as the Godfather. It was supposed to be Sonny, always Sonny.

admiringly submitted by Cityslikr


Seething In Scarborough

March 9, 2012

About an hour and a half, an hour and three-quarters into last night’s rage fest at the Scarborough Civic Centre – TTC Chair Karen Stintz had been there for roughly half of that and was neck deep in bile and vitriol – a woman across the aisle from me out in the overflow seating in the foyer shouted at the screen that projected the meeting going on inside the chambers. Where’s your plan, Karen!? What’s the plan?!

Rattled like I usually get in the face of such unbridle, inchoate anger, I reflexively turned to the woman and blurted out: Shouldn’t you be asking the mayor that? Where was Mayor Ford? This was his gathering, his town hall. He is the one demanding that Scarborough get a subway. Why was he not here, answering the crowd’s questions?

Yes, Councillor Stintz had recently taken control of the TTC from him. City council had reversed his unilateral declaration to kill Transit City and voted to unbury parts of the Eglinton LRT and put 2 other LRTs on Finch and the Scarborough SRT. But a subway on Sheppard Avenue remained very much in play, perhaps a final decision to be made by council on March 21st. Shouldn’t he be here, pitching his plan to the people? This was his town hall meeting after all.

That’s how these things usually work. Councillor Stintz had held a similar transit meeting a couple weeks back with Councillor Matlow. They brought in a planning expert to explain why we should be going with LRT technology rather than subways. Somebody from the city was present to lay out the proposed implementation. They fielded questions from the audience in a similarly packed room. They made their case.

Mayor Ford conducted his town hall in absentia, leaving others to try and respond to questions there weren’t yet any answers for. It wasn’t so much an information session as it was swatting at the hornet’s nest, stoking the flames of resentment. What do you want? We want subways! When do you want them? When we figure out a tax increment financing scheme and start up a transit lottery… something, something.

Over and over and over again Councillor Stintz tried to explain that she’d very happily vote for a subway on Sheppard if there was a viable plan in place to build it. It’s been more than 15 months since Mayor Ford swept aside Transit City in favour of all underground transit, 16 months since he’d been elected with that as part of his platform. In fact, it’s almost two years since Rob Ford announced his intention to run for mayor of Toronto, and yet he still has no plan how to build a subway on Sheppard Avenue.

So of course the mayor wasn’t going to stand in front of even such a rabidly sympathetic crowd as there was last night and admit that. He wanted them angry. He just didn’t want them angry at him.

Instead there were his proxies in place. The Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy played to the crowd, bashing the TTC, the disaster on St. Clair, former mayor David Miller. Of course we could build subways. How? Because Madrid did.

Former city manager John Morand was a proponent of casinos as a source of revenue for subways. He also uttered what might have been the least recognized bit of irony of the evening when he told the crowd that he had been fired from his position at the city for saying what he believed. Can I get a Gary Webster from the hee-ouse?

Dr. Gordon Chong started out as the voice of reason but when the audience didn’t take to his suggestion of new taxes, tolls, congestion fees, he changed course and turned his guns on the TTC Chair. When she expressed some disagreement with an aspect of his report, he called her ‘thick’ and proceeded to explain that public private partnerships were the way to go. Aren’t they always? A sole reliance on P3s is the last refuge of those without a plan.

Nearly two and a half hours later, we were pretty much right back where we started. People wanted subways. People were owed subways. World class cities have subways. Scarborough demanded their piece of that transit dream.

But there was no one there to tell them how that could happen. It was all vague notions, untested theories and a whole lot pie in the sky projections. I’d be plenty pissed too. I just think the crowd turned their ire on the wrong target.

Which wasn’t their fault in the least. The real target wasn’t in the room. He’d skipped the meeting, encouraging the anger while sidestepping any responsibility for it. Maybe he was busy preparing for his meeting today with the Prime Minister where, it seems, they’ll be announcing plans for a subway. Just not one in Scarborough.

He’ll get around to figuring out that one eventually. Until he does, just stay angry Scarborough. Angry at everyone else but the real culprit, Mayor Rob Ford.

carefully submitted by Cityslikr


Slumps Can Be Contagious

March 6, 2012

It feels a little passé to call a major setback for Mayor Rob Ford at city council historic since it’s become fairly routine, but to lose complete and utter control of the TTC, the number 1 operating budget outlay for the city, is well, kinda, sorta historic. Sure, with enough support at council the mayor can dictate the amount of money the city hands over to the TTC, but even that kind of backing should be considered highly tentative in light of yesterday’s vote. How the commission decides to spend the money the city gives it is entirely out of the mayor’s hands. LRTs, subways, bus route cuts, all are now up to a commission he has almost no sway over.

Imagine former mayor, David Miller, flush with provincial government money, claiming a mandate to build Transit City and his TTC commission members say, m’eh. You know what? We’re going a different route.

You can scream mandate, mandate, mandate all you want but it won’t mask the fact you’ve lost control of the agenda.

If the size of victory for ex-but-now-still TTC Chair Karen Stintz’s motion to dissolve the commission’s configuration from an all councillor board of 9 to a 7 councillor plus 4 appointed `civilian’ board, an eye-poppingly large, 29-15, twenty-nine to fifteen — a photo-finish shy of 2/3s of council voting against the mayor, two-thirds, a number that if replicated regularly would render him largely irrelevant in the running of this city – was not bad news enough for Mayor Ford, the composition of the new board made for an iceberg striking catastrophe.

He doesn’t have an ally on it. Of 14 ears, three could be considered sympathetic. Four of the councillors might take a call from him but probably 2 would keep him on hold for a couple minutes.

Politically, the commission is now as balanced as you could get. There are three right-of-centre members, Chair Karen Stintz, former vice-chair Peter Milczyn and Councillor John Parker. All survivors of the previous commission but none, save perhaps Councillor Milczyn, whose relationship with the mayor made it through the last month or so intact, let’s say.

Councillor Maria Augimeri is the other holdover and was never an ally of the mayor. She is now joined in that corner by councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Raymond Cho, both vocal critics of Mayor Ford and both, not coincidentally, representing Scarborough wards. This has been designated the key battleground by the administration and now it’s represented on the TTC by two non-subway proponents.

And right smack in dab in the middle is first term councillor, Josh Colle. As one of the newcomers on the commission, Councillor Colle doesn’t bring as much baggage to the fray except for that minor budget amendment he brought forth in January that snatched back $19 million in cuts from the mayor’s hands, and we all know that Mayor Ford rarely bears a grudge when it comes to perceived disloyalty and betrayal. If Councillor Colle was looking to grow his profile at council, he probably couldn’t have found himself in a brighter spotlight.

The geographic make up of the new commission is also very telling. As much as the Ford Brothers are trying to depict this transit fight as an urban/suburban one, downtown, subway riding elitists bound and determined to deny the rest of the city their underground transit riding right, there’s nary a corist on the commission. Councillors Colle, Parker and Stintz could be considered midtowners, and all three will see the Eglinton LRT being built through their respective wards. In fact, in Councillor Parker’s case, it will emerge from below about a third of the way through his ward 26 at Laird Drive.

The rest of the 4 are all from the inner suburbs. So if anyone could complain about being left out and ignored, it should be the residents of the old cities of Toronto and East York. But we have our subways and streetcars running down the middle of the street to comfort us.

Lest we get too smug however, this fight is far from over. The Sheppard subway/LRT question is not settled although, given yesterday’s lopsided vote, the wounded Team Ford has quite a formidable climb ahead of it. Seven of the twenty-nine councillors who voted in favour of Councillor Stintz’s motion will have to be peeled away back to the mayor’s camp and in favour of building the subway. Mayor Ford has made that doubly difficult on himself by refusing to come up with a viable plan to pay for it. No new evil taxes or fees to be considered while anything off the top of Councillor Doug Ford’s head including building new toll lanes to raise money for public transit, casinos, lotteries is on the table. In other words, a wing and a prayer that only the ideologically hidebound, power mad sycophants and just the plain ol’ scaredy cats could mindlessly embrace.

It’s almost as if Team Ford wants to be defied, wants to be relegated to the sidelines, wants to be the outsider, once more railing against those politicians down at City Hall, the very ones who’ve taken over according to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. Sound familiar? Mayor Ford morphs into candidate for mayor Ford and plays up the looking out for the little guy schtick, persecution complex on high alert. They didn’t accept my mandate, folks. You need to elect more councillors who respect the taxpayers as much as me, so that I can really turn this city around, stop the gravy train and… more talking points and stunt sloganeering.

The long game, they’re looking at, using the setbacks of 2011 and 2012 as the platforms for a re-election run in 2014. Losing the battles to win a war. Misgoverning in order to campaign.

Yes, we should remain alert to that nakedly obvious ploy but today, after a day like yesterday, it’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt to Mayor Ford and his brain trust in their ability to execute any sort of long game. Besides, lightning seldom strikes twice, and 32 months is a very long time in politics. The question voters may be asking themselves come October 2014 is if Mayor Ford couldn’t/wouldn’t figure how to run council, why he should be trusted in trying to run a city.

on the ballly submitted by Cityslikr


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