Who Should Pay The Piper?

November 24, 2015

This has been nagging at me for a couple weeks, and kind of bubbled up to the surface yesterday, following along with the TTC commission debate over a fare increase in the new year. forkitover“I believe fares should be adjusted every year because the cost of running the system,” Mayor Tory responded when asked about any possible fare hike. But when it comes to the question of property tax increases because the cost of running the city? Or, I don’t know, a vehicle registration fee to help pay for expedited repairs on the Gardiner expressway?

That’s another matter entirely.

There are those with a similar political bent to the mayor who don’t agree with such an obvious double standard, certainly when it comes to charging drivers more to pay the costs of roads. Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne, for one. He was on a panel I attended (and wrote about earlier this month) where tolling and road pricing was very much the rage. We must stop subsidizing car drivers, Coyne pronounced. We need to let the free market deal with congestion.

OK, sure. Let’s have that conversation. At least we’re agreed that drivers in no way, shape or form, fully pay the price of the road space they use.

And stop subsidizing public transit, Andrew Coyne went on. waitwhatWhy our public transit system is so bad, he stated, was because the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ had been kept from performing its magic on it. (He’s been saying such things for a while now.)

If wishes were fishes and all that. An argument can be made that the private sector might augment the delivery of public transit but there are few examples of it doing so alone especially in larger metropolitan areas, and especially in North America. That’s not to suggest it couldn’t here but it does lead to a bigger question. Should it?

If public transit is, in fact, a public service, what role does the profit motive have to play in that? There is a considerable segment of the population living in places like Toronto who don’t view public transit as just another option to get around the city. It is the only way they can do it. They’re what we refer to as a ‘captive ridership’. They don’t choose to take public transit. They depend on it. Start with everybody under the age of 16 and count from there.tollroad

Should they be subject to the vagaries of the private sector as they endeavour to get to school, to work, to their doctor’s appointment?

I’ll take it a step further.

Shouldn’t those who use public transit as their mode of transportation be viewed as people actually delivering a public service rather than receiving a public service (for which they are charged here in Toronto nearly 75% of the operating costs)? Along with cyclists and walkers, aren’t transit users contributing to the quality of life in a city by not driving? Why does Andrew Coyne believe people using transit should be treated equally to those moving about a city in cars? No subsidies for anyone. Pay your way. Our current mayor, John Tory, is less even-handed, demanding “… those who use the system [public transit] should continue to maintain their proportional share of the cost.” crowdedsubwayHe wouldn’t dream of suggesting the same from car drivers.

The private vehicle is the least efficient, most expensive form of mobility there is in large urban areas like Toronto. Cars and driving place onerous demands on municipal budgets, pervert quality design and planning, overuse public space while underpaying for the privilege of doing so. So it’s way past time we have a discussion about them owning up to all that, starting with opening their wallets a little wider.

Those who either choose to or must use public transit have been paying more than their fair share, their ‘proportional share’ for some time now. We need to start acknowledging the contribution they’ve been making to this city and stop penalizing them for it. They’re doing us a favour while we keep acting like it’s the other way around.

fairly submitted by Cityslikr

Speed Kills But In A Worthy Cause

June 24, 2015


When it comes down to it, there are only 2 types of city dwellers. Those who hold tight onto their belief that car travel maintain its privileged spot atop the transportation hierarchy and those believing otherwise. standfirmStatus quo versus agents of change.

In Toronto, there can be little doubt which gang holds the upper hand. Any perceived attempt to even the playing field, to demand a more equitable division of our public spaces, to take a step a little bit closer to the 21st-century is met with squeals of outrage. An umbrage of sloganeering, boiled down short and sweetly by the champion of private automobile champions, Rob Ford: A War on the Car!

Unsurprisingly, this week’s decision by the Toronto and East York Community Council to reduce speed limits on downtown streets from 40 km/h to 30 was met by great gasps of roadster rage. SPEED TRAP rips the Toronto Sun headline. “It will make congestion worse,” the paper’s editorial predicted without qualification, as if speed has something to do with traffic flow. That reasoning, followed logically, should translate into the highways around the city being unfettered by gridlock since drivers are allowed to go so much faster on them. carspeedingStill bogged down? Bump up the speed limit to 140 km/h. That’ll fix things.

Even better was the Sun’s angle that the decreased speed limits would just be ignored anyway, “impossible to enforce”, it stated. Drivers be driving, am I right? They don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!

Just how Fuck You is that? And coming from a no-nonsense, law-and-order publication like the Toronto Sun too. Where do we draw the line on what nanny state rules and regulations to ignore? Speeding, as we know, is not just some benign, victimless crime. Speed Kills, the PSA said back in the day, and even the Sun didn’t seem to dispute the fact that the faster a car is going, the more likely serious injuries and fatalities will result in any sort of collision. Oh, and there will be collisions.

Setting aside that reality for the moment, this knee jerk reaction against the lower speed limit proposal reveals a life not led around the city much on foot (or, god forbid, on a bike). givethefingerThe faster cars are allowed to go, the more dangerous and less enjoyable it is for everyone not behind the wheel. Ever stand on the side of the 401, say? Or even an 8 lane boulevard where vehicles are allowed to go 60 km/h? It isn’t a pleasant experience. Most people would avoid it, given a choice, thereby completing the nasty feedback loop that cedes pole positioning to cars. People don’t walk (or ride) here anyway. So why are we being forced to slow down?

The Sun cites traffic planning staff in warning against blanket speed limit reductions, calling for case-by-case approvals. “Not all streets are suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit…” the staff report says. Ignoring the delicious irony of the Sun embracing the red tape loving bureaucracy at any time, we are in agreement here. In the perverse way of traditional traffic planning, streets were designed with pedestrian safety in mind, built wide to accommodate driver mistakes travelling at X km/h. Wider, assuming a certain disregard for the posted speed limit; a worst case scenario, if you will, that enabled drivers to comfortably travel above the desired speed limit.

City transportation departments are filled with people raised in that tradition, the tradition of putting cars atop the transportation hierarchy. icantdrive55Lay out streets and, therefore, cities, first for the private vehicle and adapt everything and everyone else around that. Of course said street is not “suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit” (whatever the hell ‘suitable’ means in this circumstance). It was designed for 40 km/h and is easily driven along at 50 km/h. That was the whole point.

That is the status quo. Changing it means challenging it. Drop the speed limit to 30 km/h and then slowly redesign the streets to physically enforce the lower speed limit. Narrow the streets. Give back the extra space to other users, pedestrians and cyclists. Flatten out our transportation hierarchy.

Drivers won’t put it up it, we’re informed, matter-of-factly.

“…an unsuitable speed limit could result in widespread disregard or non-compliance by motorists,” writes city staff. deathrace2000“The resulting variation in operating speeds of vehicles could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions.”

In most other circumstances, that would be taken as a threat.

Reducing speed limits won’t change motorist behaviour which ‘could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions’. Better keep drivers happy or else. An angry or frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.

I love to play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud wherever I go, whenever I want. Nobody better tell me when and where I can play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud. That would make me angry and frustrated. So angry and frustrated, I’d punch anybody who tells me to turn it down.

Why are we so quick to exempt car drivers from adhering to the rules of the road we collectively seek to establish?crybaby

Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Jaye Robinson, brushed aside the need to lower speed limits on downtown streets, pointing out that 90% of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, and 85% of the resulting fatalities happen on arterial roads which, for me, suggests maybe we should look at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety on arterial roads not ignore trying to improve it downtown. 15% of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as collateral damage, acceptable losses in our ongoing war on the car.

Or as Rob Ford famously put it: “My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”

Like the Gardiner East debate a couple weeks ago, drivers and their hardcore apologists cannot fathom a world where their transportation priorities do not take precedence over those of everyone else. Even a less wild-eyed reactionary than the Toronto Sun editorial board, the National Post’s Chris Selley, eye-rolled at the critics of John Tory, calling the push against keeping the 1.7 kilometre eastern bit of the expressway elevated, “overblown in quantity and misbegotten in kind”, a decision that doesn’t “matter all that much”. wrongwayWhat’s a few hundred million dollars in lost development potential, untold amounts of property tax revenue and a decade, more or less, of painstaking waterfront planning in the face of the intractable demands of car drivers?

Any pushback against those is seen as radical, unreasonable and unworkable. Change that cannot be countenanced for fear of the ensuing chaos which will inevitably follow. (It’s always with the chaos.) As A Matter Of Fact, I Do Own The Road, says the bumper sticker. Driving as some sort of divine right rather than a granted privilege.

leisurely submitted by Cityslikr

A Lasting Legacy Of Fear

April 14, 2015

Late last month Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star about Rob Ford’s ‘legacy of fear’. The choirmaster may have been chased out in disgrace but the same hymns continue to be sung. texaschainsawmassacreIt remains all about the hard working taxpayer (and a very specific, single family home owning taxpayer at that), drivers, finding efficiencies and looking out for any sort of downtown elitist assault on the little guy.

“Political paranoia has so unnerved current leaders that they are unable to make the choices they must,” Hume states.

I would venture to say that such skittishness extends to this city’s staff and public servants. Avoid spending money on anything other than what’s politically acceptable – witness the outrage with cost overruns on the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization versus the collective shrug about the nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. There’s still plenty of bloat at City Hall, so keep your departments ‘lean’. Objective analysis replaced by ideological and politically opportunistic ‘deserves’.

Think about that as the Spacing series continues to unfold, Parks in Crisis (parts 1 and 2). Toronto has, in the neighbourhood of $250 million, in what is called the Parkland Acquisitions & Development Reserve Fund. This is money paid by developers, set aside to purchase new parks and green spaces or rejuvenate existing ones in order to keep up with the increased development happening in the city, higher density development dependant on public spaces as ‘backyards’ basically for the growing number of multi-residential inhabitants.

That’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? coweringWeren’t you under the impression the city was tapped out, little room for the nice-to-haves like parklands the former mayor was always on about? Now we’re hearing there’s hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting there. What gives?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than I’ll make it out to be here (that’s why John Lorinc is an actual journalist and I’m not) but I’m going to argue that this culture of fear that has descended on City Hall plays a big part in the inertia that’s allowing park space to fall further and further behind the pace of current development.

Who was the biggest loudmouth against the purchasing and refurbishing of green space over the last 5 years or so? Rob Ford. There were very few items along those lines he did not hold and did not rail against. Too much money, was his constant mantra, to be wasting on parks, playground and almost any public space that wasn’t a road.

In such an antagonistic environment, who in their right mind would step up with a park push? Keep your head low and money pile out of sight. Rob Ford may not even know the cash is there.

More structurally problematic, as Lorinc and Kimberley Noble point out, is the understaffing at City Hall due to the continual budget cuts and revenue decreases. The city can’t even keep up with maintaining existing parks and public spaces. sittingonmoneyWhat’s the rational for building new ones that won’t be looked after?

Moreover, there’s not the departmental staff to deal with the complex negotiations that go into securing these development funds, sometimes ranging into the tens of millions of dollars, or to implement some big, mega-park enterprise. “If somebody said, ‘here’s $100 million, let’s go,’ there isn’t the staff to execute those kind of projects,” Spacing is told. In the end, the city winds up taking the money and stashing it away, in the hopes of more favourable conditions, sometime in the future, I guess.

What about now, you might ask. Isn’t our long, municipal nightmare over? There’s a new sheriff in town, we’re told.

Bringing us back to Christopher Hume’s point. Rob Ford has effectively poisoned the civic well and his successor has done little so far to suggest he’s willing to stand up in a spirited defence of the commons. Mayor Tory has claimed repeatedly he was elected to keep taxes low. Check. He’s confident he can find savings through more efficiencies, ordering a 2% reduction in departmental budgets. Check. The point people he’s tapped to oversee many of these matters don’t instill much confidence in reversing the spending chill at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor and Waterfront TO board member Denzil Minnan-Wong doesn’t see a public expenditure not on roads he can’t rail against. cuttotheboneRemember Sugar Beach and those outrageous pink umbrellas, rocks and fancy public bathrooms? Surely, cheaper. And who’s chairing the Planning and Growth Management Committee? Why that old Spadina expressway enthusiast himself and noted tightwad, Councillor David Shiner.

These are names not usually associated with policies of smart growth or generally friendly to the common good. If anything, they signal a retrenchment of the Fordian era of illogical fiscal skin-flintery. Remain invisible, city staff, and don’t get flashy with any of your valuables.

Nor should there be any expectations from Team Tory of addressing the green space inequities the Spacing series points out. 69% of the parkland reserves between 2011-2014 came from what is most of two former municipalities, Toronto and East York (47% of that from just three downtown wards). Yet that same part of the city has received just 15% of all total new parkland since amalgamation.

But wait. That can’t be. Conventional wisdom says that downtown gets everything. Conventional wisdom (even when coming from the disreputable mouths of Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti or Glenn De Baeremaeker) cannot be wrong or, at least, cannot be contested. Certainly, Mayor Tory wasn’t elected to contest such politically sensitive conventional wisdom.blowhole

“…[Rob] Ford turned self-doubt into self-hatred,” Christopher Hume writes, referring to our reflexive anti-government opinion toward City Hall. Mayor Tory has embraced that sensibility, putting a smiley face on the empty boosterism that rarely includes any positive public sector contribution. In so doing, he threatens to milk the current building boom in Toronto dry, leaving the mess that will inevitably follow for others to clean up.

fearfully submitted by Cityslikr

Eventually You Have To Stand For Something

March 18, 2015

That’s why it’s not C51 that’s the issue. The problem in this country is we have a prime minister called Stephen Harper. And long as he is prime minister, whether it’s the Supreme Court, the workings of parliament, the politicizing of the police force and the walk away from science and evidence, all of these things can be laid at the feet of Stephen Harper. It’s the reason why he must be beat in the election…The focus we need to have in this country, quite frankly, is not on one bill it is on all the legislation which has been problematic. We need to change this government.

Elect Justin Trudeau and the Liberals or Bill 51 gets it! And by ‘gets it’, we mean, gets enacted and implemented by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. You wanna talk about fear now? Fear that.

Vote Liberal!orthebunnygetsit

I sat listening to two of my favourite Toronto political figures, Trinity-Spadina M.P., Adam Vaughan and one of the best reporters around, Desmond Cole, on the latter’s Sunday afternoon talk radio program (where the above quote comes from). Before being elected to Parliament in a by-election last year, Vaughan was pretty much enemy number one of the Rob Ford administration, riotous fun to watch poke great big smoking holes in that clusterfuck we called a mayoralty, sometimes with righteous anger and other times outright mockery. Cole has established himself as a major voice writing (and talking) about the stuff most of us would choose not to think or talk about: racism, poverty and the corrosive effects of poor policing. He’s now taken to sitting for one hour a week in the belly of the beast, hosting an a.m. talk radio show.

Their segment, unsurprisingly, centred mostly around the Canadian government’s proposed bill, C51, their terrorist bill which has generated much (and increasing) pushback. c51protestsThere had been nationwide demonstrations protesting the bill the day before, on Saturday, with the turnout numbered in the tens of thousands. Vaughan had appeared at the one in Toronto, raising eyebrows among some folks, since the leader of his party, Justin Trudeau, has come out and stated that, despite some serious reservations, the Liberals would support the bill. Support it and then change it if elected as the government in this year’s elections.

Once more, the Liberal Party of Canada quakes in the face of theoretical machinations of the diabolical Conservatives. If we do this, then they’ll do that. If they do that, then we’ll look like this.

At a purely crass political level, it’s understandable. c51protests1For the past two elections, the Liberals have been defined to the electorate by the Conservatives, fighting both campaigns from back on their heels. In 2011, the unthinkable happened. They wound up in 3 place, setting out immediately to find a fourth leader to lead them into a fourth straight campaign.

With Justin Trudeau then in place, rather than burst forth with a sense of purpose, driven by, I don’t know, youthful optimism and a truly liberal or progressive agenda, they chose instead a certain tentative amorphousness, nothing which could be defined by anyone especially the Conservatives. Sure, they purged the party of anti-choicers. Trudeau mused about pot decriminalization. But mostly, it was vague generalizations that could not be pinned down.

Nothing anyone could throw a punch at. Equally, nothing anyone could hang a hat on and call home. Just place your worst fears or greatest hopes here.c51protests2

Pretty much the not-conservative politics of our generation. The progressive collapse of vigour and ideas. Hum and haw while licking our wounds in defeat, waiting for the inevitable crash and burn of whatever right wing government is in place. A crash and burn that is inevitable because modern right wing politics is designed to crash and burn, and take everyone around with it.

Tony Blair after the disintegration of Thatcherism. Bill Clinton, post-Reagan. Barak Obama in the wake of W.

We here in Ontario are living it with the McGuinty-Wynne doing little more than smoothing out the rough edges left behind from the Harris years. Much of Toronto’s current woes aren’t due to the Harrisites’ assault but because the Liberals haven’t done enough to fully reverse those policies. Conservatives destroy. nothingleftLiberals validate the principles but deplore the excess.

(Don’t mistake this as some partisan attack. No party on the left, as far as I can see, has stood up strongly enough against the basic tenets of modern conservatism. Challenged its bankrupt orthodoxy.)

So it happens again with Bill 51. Few I have encountered or read outside of Conservative supporters have expressed anything less than outrage, horror, contempt for this piece of proposed legislation. The words of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, appointed by Stephen Harper, as Michael Geist points out:

…the scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient.  While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive.  All Canadians would be caught in this web.

As a result of SCISA, 17 government institutions involved in national security would have virtually limitless powers to monitor and, with the assistance of Big Data analytics, to profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security agencies to determine the limits of their powers. Generally, the law should prescribe clear and reasonable standards for the sharing, collection, use and retention of personal information, and compliance with these standards should be subject to independent and effective review mechanisms, including the courts.

The scope of the new powers is ‘excessive’. ‘Limitless powers to monitor’ by national security institutions. ‘All Canadians would be caught in this web’.

Yet somehow, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals found enough in bill C51 that they could get behind, support even without changes in oversight or to the vague language defining terrorism. duckandcoverNothing problematic enough to make a political issue out of it. Just go along to get along.

From a strategic standpoint, it may work out for the Liberals. The Conservative government is currently setting itself on fire in a flaming burst of racist demagoguery and other populist nonsense. Support for bill C51, which initially ran high, now seems to be tanking the more people read and talk about it. Perhaps we are witnessing yet another right wing crash and burn. The Liberals might’ve played this one right for a change.

Yet, by mouthing any type of support for the bill, regardless of how guarded or calculated, Liberals again endorsed a conservative narrative. milfordmanThat there is need for increased surveillance, further intrusion into our privacy, perceived security trumps individual rights and freedom. Accommodation not repudiation.

In the above quote, Adam Vaughan runs down a list of offenses committed by the Harper government against the country as proof of why they have lost any sort of authority to govern. It’s long and damning, for sure. But somehow, he wants us to think that such an immoral, unethical government is still capable of delivering a surveillance law with enough integrity to it that his Liberal party can get behind.

That’s the vacuity of our modern day liberalism, folks.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr

Same Ol’ Song, Same Ol’ Dance

March 12, 2015

“It is the easy way out to say, let’s just have 3.0%, 4.0% more put on to property taxes…”

So began Mayor John Tory’s pitch to city council this week, presenting his maiden budget for their ultimate approval.upisdown

That this was in direct opposition to, well, reality, nobody much noticed. No, Mr. Mayor, in fact the easy way out is to campaign on an anti-tax platform, to assure voters that there were magical ways to fund city’s services and programs with a little left over for special pet projects. TIF. New money pouring in from senior levels of government. Efficiencies.

In other words, just what the previous administration told us minus the crack smoking and drunken stupors.

In my experience, it is far, far easier to pretend there’s no tough decisions to be made than to accept the unpleasant reality staring you directly in the face and deal with it. At least, initially. The bills do eventually come due, however, and very, very rarely do crossed fingers and a wish on a star provide much of a soft landing.

Oh but the sky is not falling, we were assured time and time again by the mayor, his budget chief, and ancient regime dinosaur, Councillor David Shiner, who told us every year that he’s been around (and that’s a lot of years), it’s been the same ol’ song. everythingsfinePredicted shortfalls and terrifying opening pressures amounting to millions and millions of dollars, only to be dutifully wrestled into submission, the operating budget balanced, as it always must be. The sun rises. The sun sets.

Never mind the ever growing state of good repairs elephant in the room, a To Do List backlog of infrastructure needs now somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7 billion. Social housing upkeep that, in some cases, if not done in the next few years will force the closure of units, sending some of our most vulnerable residents looking elsewhere for shelter. Transit. And transit. And transit.

But somehow, there’s no connection between that beast and the fact that since amalgamation, our property tax rate increases have not kept up with inflation meaning, in real dollars, there’s less money going to even core services and programs, let alone the items a municipality should not be paying for like, the aforementioned social housing or major transit infrastructure builds. Yes, cities are expected to do more with less but what do we think is going to happen when our response to that is to try and make do with even less? That’s what insisting on property tax rate increases below the rate of inflation does.

When Councillor Gord Perks introduced a motion on Tuesday to increase the property tax rate an additional 1.59%, bumping the total hike to over 5% in order to pay off the $86 million hole in the operating budget created by yet more provincial downloading, a hole the mayor is papering over by borrowing from the city’s investment portfolio, Councillor Josh Matlow rose to speak in opposition. nothingtoseehereWhile he understood the intentions of Councillor Perks’ motion, he couldn’t support it because that would let the province off the hook for its obligations. Once we established that precedent, what else would Queen’s Park expect us to start paying for?

A fair point, to be sure, but it leaves the lingering question: WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO IN THE MEANTIME? Oh, that’s right. Cross our fingers and wish upon a star.

It also ignores the fact that a 5+% property tax increase is not unheard of except here in amalgamated Toronto. Ask our GTA neighbours about their recent property tax hikes and see if you get any soothing words of comfort. Toronto has been shortchanging itself since 1998. So its demands for the other levels of government to live up to their responsibilities in funding cities, correct as they might be, ring a little hollow.

Rather than face up to that unpleasant truth, Mayor Tory chose instead to take the easy way out, referring to any such proposed tax increase as ‘through the roof’ and, therefore, out of the question. Neither was the mayor in any mood to discuss other forms of revenue at the city’s disposal. notlisteningCouncillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to bring back the vehicle registration tax and dedicate it to fast-tracking accessibility redesigns for the remaining last half of the city’s 69 subway stations in order to comply with provincial legislation (more of those damned state of good repairs) was soundly defeated. Increasing revenue, in a John Tory administration, was simply not prudent.

Unless, of course, you use any of the city’s services, programs or facilities (not including roads). This budget continued to lean on increasing user fees. From garbage bins to sports fields, above the rate of inflation increases were in effect (except for roads). There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that but it does lead to the question: Why there and not property taxes?

The simplest explanation is that Mayor Tory is playing to the same constituency Rob Ford sings for, both administrations deluding them (and themselves) that the city’s fiscal problems are not of their doing, and that somebody else will swoop in, all deus ex machina like, and pay the piper. deusexmachinaWe just need a little discipline and patience, cross our fingers and send our wishes skyward (which totally isn’t falling) and it’ll all work out fine.

Easy peasy.

Making it official in the process.

Toronto didn’t elect John Tory, the civic leader. We elected John Tory, the talk radio show host. So let’s stop expecting any sort of leadership from him and settle in for another 4 years of sound bites and simple solutions that will solve few of this city’s problems.

heard-it-beforely submitted by Cityslikr

The Reckoning

January 14, 2015

OK. That’s it. This has to stop.notthisshitagain

For the sake of future civic sanity, Toronto City Hall has to sit down and do a full, frank costing of services, programs and capital expenditures across the city, breaking it down into the 4 community council brackets. How much gets spent on what in each area of the city. Top to bottom, from street maintenance through to swim times, after school programs to park grass cutting. The whole enchilada.

Because I am so fucking sick and tired of this parochial drumming up of regional resentment that has led directly to the white elephant-in-waiting council decision like the Scarborough subway extension. The usual suspects were at it again this week, led of course by the Scarborough {air quote} Deputy Mayor {end air quote} Glenn De Baeremaeker, on the subject of skating rinks. “I can’t imagine many people would object to building more outdoor ice rinks anywhere in this city,” he said, insisting that it needed to be done on a more ‘equitable basis’.

The back story is, Scarborough has only 1 of the 52 outdoor artificial ice rinks on the city which, no argument here, is clearly way out of whack, disproportionately speaking. shortchangedThings are only a little more even-handed but still not what anyone would call equitable when it comes to outdoor natural rinks, only 11 of 69 in Scarborough, and indoor skating rinks, Scarborough has 9 of 49. Discrepancies abound, no question but the sentiment, vaguely hovering over the numbers, is that Scarborough, once again, is getting the short end of the stick. Raw numbers in terms of skating rinks or subway stations presented as proof that while the city splurges on these things elsewhere, Scarborough remains frozen out in the cold.

Is that actually the case?

Could it be that, historically speaking, pre-amalgamation, Scarborough was a municipality that placed little emphasis on public spaces (aside from streets and roads), and adhered more to a pay-as-you-go approach to providing services and programs? You want it? You pay for it. (An approach epitomized by the former councillor for Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt and budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Cupcakes for widows and orphans.) Traditionally, skating rinks might not have been a priority for Scarborough and now we’re playing a game of catch-up.

I’m just posing that possibility. I have no hard data to back it up but neither does anyone else when they start making noises about the unfair treatment Scarborough receives when it comes to the doling out of municipal nice-to-haves. please sirWe need a full, robust accounting in order to have a full, robust conversation.

We need to expand on the Fair Share Scarborough report Councillor Norm Kelly undertook early in amalgamation. Let’s not just look at soft services the city provides – the skating rinks and parks — but the hard ones too. How much of our public works expenditure goes toward maintaining the wide streets of Scarborough. As a percentage of our waste collection budget, what’s Scarborough’s take in order to provide the service to all their big-lotted, detached homes. What’s the portion of our police budget that is spent in Scarborough. The buses serving as the backbone for commuters in Scarborough (and that will continue to even if it gets its subway), how much do they cost the TTC.

It may well turn out that Scarborough is underserved and underfunded in comparison to other parts of the city. There’s just no way of knowing that currently, and counting skating rinks (or subway stops) isn’t really the best way to tally it. thebillWe downtowners acknowledge your lack of rinks, Scarborough, but where’s our sidewalk snow shovelling or windrows clearing or leaf collection?

That’s not to say that if it were to turn out that Scarborough is a money-suck due to the high maintenance and delivery costs to service its sprawling built form, sorry, folks, no outdoor skating for you because you have so many roads to plow. This shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. But the Scarborough Warriors need to start putting solid evidence on the table, showing exactly how they’re being short-changed in this amalgamated deal of ours. Otherwise, it’s empty carping. Divisive governance intent only on benefitting their narrowly defined interests at the expense of everyone else in the city.

— resentfully submitted by Cityslikr

Building A True Sense Of Community

August 20, 2014

On Friday Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway interviewed Roger Cattell about the slow down campaign that emerged in response to slowdown3last month’s death of Georgia Walsh, a 7 year-old who was struck and killed by a car in the Leaside area of the city.

If you haven’t heard the entire interview, I suggest you click on the above link. For the purposes of this post, I just want to excerpt a few quotes from Mr. Cattell (except where noted), hopefully without de-contextualizing them.

You’ll find a community that’s ready to engage in a conversation, not just about what should be done but what could be done and how they can help…

I’m not a social activist. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a neighbour, and I’m a guy who was affected by events that, in retrospect, maybe I could’ve been more active in my neighbourhood making sure something like this never happened in the first place…

There’s great conversation and great dialogue in the neighbourhood. Out of that can only come good things…

We’re seeing local businesses come together. We’re seeing the principal in our school engage with politicians in ways they haven’t before…

I’m not fully prepared to comment on that only because I do find local politics a bit too embedded in administrivia. Things become motions and ideas become things. But nothing ever seems to get done. I know there’s a process…but until these become tangible changes they remain good ideas…

Matt Galloway: This has come out of something terrible, and yet has led to a larger conversation, and a sense of true community in this neighbourhood.

We would always finish our statements when complaining about traffic and complaining about things with What’s It Going To Take? This is our What’s It Going To Take moment…

Now’s the time to do something about it…

This shouldn’t be seen as any sort of criticism of the grassroots activism that seems to be emerging from this incident, particularly with Roger Cattell and his neighbours. slowdown2It’s more of an instructive assessment, let’s call it. In the hopes that it won’t take another terrible situation to spur more of us into civic action.

“I’m not a social activist,” says Mr. Cattell. “… I’m a guy who was affected by events that, in retrospect, maybe I could’ve been more active… making sure something like this never happened in the first place…”

We really need to cease designating people for the role of ‘social activists’. In a vibrant democracy, all of us would be ‘social activists’. That’s not to say everyone needs to get involved with every issue that arises. But for this issues that truly matter to you? Don’t expect someone else to do the legwork for you, including your elected representatives.

The fact is, Toronto’s Board of Health raised the issue of reducing speed limits a couple years ago, receiving something of a chilly reception to the idea from the likes of Mayor Ford and Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Their report took a backseat, if you’ll pardon the pun. What might happen to it if a group of determined ‘social activists’ started making noise and demanding action?

“… I do find local politics a bit too embedded in administrivia,” Mr. Cattell states later. What exactly is ‘administrivia’? slowdown1I mean, I get it, a funny little made-up word that denotes boring and useless tasks of administration. But city government is nothing if not ‘adminstrivia’. It is about the mundane, day-to-day slog of trying to make sure the city functions properly, including the determination of speed limits on city streets. It ain’t pretty but somebody’s got to do it.

“But nothing ever seems to get done.”

This is where I’ll take the most exception to Mr. Cattell. Flush your toilet, step out your door, hop in your car and drive to work. None of this is possible if nothing gets done. Much gets done, each and every day. We just sometimes stop noticing because we take many of those things for granted.

“Things become motions and ideas become things…but until these become tangible changes they remain good ideas…”slowdown

Politicians, especially local ones, do not operate in a vacuum. It is their job to try and keep as many people as happy as possible. Some of it is self-serving. Happy residents make for content voters. But it’s also the nature of democracy, creating a consensus based on competing interests and the best evidence available.

If you remain on the sidelines, finding the ‘social activist’ dress ill-fitting, you forgo any influence. A voice heard only every four years is listened to only that often.

From the large buffet of damage done to governance in Toronto by Rob Ford, the customer service item is a pretty hefty one. This idea of voting for a politician and then only getting involved with a phone call when something’s not working for you is a smiley face on dysfunctional civic engagement. It’s reactive democracy, a one-stop runt of resident participation.

You got a problem, folks? Give me a call. I’ll pretend to sort it out and we can all pretend that’s how democracy is supposed to work.

“This is our What’s It Going To Take moment…Now’s the time to do something about it…”getinvolved

If we all took that challenge and accepted the responsibility on matters that are really important to us, there’d no longer be any distinction between social activists and, I don’t know, hard working taxpayers. We’d all be social activists. None of us would be social activists.  We’d have in the words of Matt Galloway, ‘a sense of true community.’

helpfully and hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 303 other followers