Democracy By The Square Foot

August 28, 2015

As summer cools and fall looms, the options report for Toronto’s ward boundary review begins to sink into focus. (I’ve written – dare I say it? – voluminously about it . Most recently here.) wardboundaryreviewoptionsreportJust now, I am struck by a thought.

Should city council be the ultimate decider on this? How wards get reconfigured may have, will have, a direct impact on more than a few sitting councillors. It’s difficult not to see something of a conflict of interest inherent in this process.

It’s a horse that’s already left the barn, obviously, but you can see the optics of even the most well-meaning councillor being called into question, read it in the comments section of any news story about the issue. No politician will decide to get rid of their own job! Less pigs at the trough not more! The Jays are going to fold just like they usually do! Oh, yeah. And I hate politicians!!

Such a specter of negative public perception will most definitely hang over the proceedings. The consulting group responsible for conducting the public meetings, writing the reports and making the recommendations have taken the two most contentious and illusorily logical options off the table. Simply cutting the ward numbers in half elicited little, if loud, public support. thumbthescaleAligning ward boundaries with the new federal ridings failed to address the voter disparity, the democratic deficit that served as the ultimate reason for reworking our ward boundaries.

This doesn’t mean city council can’t revive them. Staff and expert reports are rarely treated as sacrosanct especially if they get in the way of politics. It would be naïve of anyone to think politics won’t play a part, a significant part, in this when all is said and done.

One political angle has already emerged. It emerged early on in the first round of public consultations and popped back up in a CBC article a couple days ago. “Residents of towers [high rise apartments and condo buildings, I guess] rarely interact with their councillor,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell said. apartmenttower“Most interaction we have I would say are residents calling about property issues. They are homeowners.”

Homeowners. Property issues.

In response on the Twitter, John McGrath made a very interesting and telling point. “Almost everywhere, municipal government is about and for single-family homeowners, with everyone else shoehorned in where necessary.” Councillor Campell’s mistake was just saying out loud what is true but nobody wants to talk about.

Homeowners. Taxpayers. Hardworking taxpayers.

In response to my rather pointed, shall we say, social media queries at the councillor about his comment, he informed me that in Ward 4 there are 14,000 homes versus 6,000 apartments, roughly a 70:30 ratio. densityandsprawlYet his office only gets 5% of calls from apartment/condo residents requiring work of some sort from him. Thus, to his mind, “equal distribution [of residents/ward] will not provide equitable representation.”

Setting aside the fact that on the city’s website, the Ward 4 profile (according to the 2011 census) has it that just under 47% of households are technically considered “apartment buildings”, a significantly different ratio than the councillor stated, Councillor Campbell seems to be equating representation at City Hall with how much work he is called upon to do for a resident. Homeowners demand more. So homeowners’ votes should count for more.

Or something.

Perhaps a more generous interpretation would be that, in Councillor Campbell’s view, an uneven distribution of residents per ward is warranted since different built forms demand different levels of work for councillors. If your ward is dominated by apartment towers, full of residents making fewer demands because, apparently,towers apartment dwellers are more content than those forced to mow their own lawns and shovel their own sidewalks, that councillor can not serve more of them.

“Capacity to represent” is certainly one of the considerations being factored in to the ward boundary equation but should hardly be the sole determinant in calculating full “effective representation” the report is striving toward. It’s the customer service aspect of serving as a city councillor, the crowd pleaser. Surely, there’s more to the job of being a city councillor than completing work orders, isn’t there?

If some of Toronto’s residents aren’t engaged with City Hall, maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out they can or why they should even bother. Shouldn’t at least one aspect of this “capacity to represent” be about proactive engagement by our local representatives? suburbs50sIf Councillor Campbell is only hearing from a very small section of Ward 4 residents living in apartment buildings, maybe he ought to wonder why rather than conclude, It’s all good.

As difficult as it might be to believe, given the last 5 years or so around these parts, civic engagement isn’t only about airing out our grievances. There should be a much more positive exchange. Of ideas and opinions rather than just complaints.

There’s also a bigger political question at play here. While certainly Toronto’s population and development growth isn’t concentrated just in the older legacy part of the city, people are moving in and moving on up in the southern part of Etobicoke, along the lake just under Ward 4, as well us up north in Willowdale and the northeastern part of Scarborough, there can be little denying that a critical mass are heading to a few wards right smack dab downtown. More people could translate into more wards in that area. shutthedoorIt would stand to reason and only be fair if we have even a passing interest in “voter parity” or the old rep-by-pop saw.

Such a demographic and democratic shift could well threaten to upset the ruling coalition of suburban council votes that has been a mainstay in Toronto since amalgamation, and even under the previous Metro form of governance when the population had migrated from the core of the city. Power shifts to where the people are, and I’m not just talking geographically. The reign of traditional ‘homeowners’, as Councillor Campbell defines them, detached, single-family houses, living the Cleaver lifestyle, is under threat. There’s no room anymore in Toronto. What there is now is all there will ever be.

In order to resist such change councillors like John Campbell, and Scarborough throwback, Jim Karygiannis who voiced similar flippant disregard during the first round of public meetings for those deemed not to be real homeowners, will have to work to diminish non-homeowners’ status as residents of this city. viewPeople living in apartments and condo towers have their own building management at their beck and call, the local councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt opined. Granting them equal representation at City Hall would be just unfair.

Democracy by the square foot, in other words. Nothing new, of course. But we need to call it what it is.

size mattersly submitted by Cityslikr


The Meddling Public Sector

August 26, 2015

While governments at every level and of every political stripe spend our money like it’s theirs, threatening to send all us hardworking taxpayers to the proverbial poorhouse, it is the private sector, the merchants of free enterprise, muckingupthewordswho keep the ship of state upright, generating the wealth which floats all our boats. With a laser-like approach to finding efficiencies, customer service and competitive pricing, the profit motive greases the wheels of a functioning society, pretty much as God and Milton Friedman proclaimed. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan crowed, “government is the problem.”

Allow me to introduce exhibit A.

Right now in Toronto, City Hall sits guilty of stifling not one, but two heroic businesses, trying their best to make this city a better place to live for all of us. lucyBack in 2009, city council demanded to pay Bombardier nearly a billion dollars in return for 204 new streetcars. Clearly, it was an unreasonable 10 year delivery timeline with 37 of the vehicles expected on the road by the end of 2014, 60 by the time 2016 rolled around. To date, only 8 are up and running along the streets of Toronto.

Obviously the only reasonable explanation for such a delay and overwhelming under-performance on the part of Bombardier is the intrusion of government into the sphere of the private sector. The company has also been forced to delay orders of new subway cars to New York City and Montreal. What’s the common factor in that equation? (Aside from the delays, that is.) Ethrowingmoneyaroundxactly. Cities, and government.

Where the hell are all these public pension bloated fat cats with their hands out full of money, offering to buy planes from Bombardier? Because of this stingy, public transit-oriented attitude of municipal officials, the company’s aviation arm has been hindered in its honest pursuit of an honest day’s capitalism. Reduced to near ‘penny-stock status’, according to the Globe and Mail, Bombardier sits helplessly on its stock of beautiful C-series flying technology, waiting for somebody, anybody, from the public sector to step up and perform as it was meant to do. Write big fat cheques to private companies with as few strings attached as possible.

Here’s the kicker.

Rather than sit around complaining about how Bombardier isn’t living up to its streetcar contract, Toronto city council could be channeling that negative energy into something positive. greasethewheelsSuch as, for example, bulldozing ahead with approval of the island airport expansion. This would allow another valiant private company, Porter Airlines, now obstructed by a pernicious officialdom, bureaucratically hung up on ‘proper environmental assessments’, ‘public input’, ‘people oriented waterfront development’ and other make-work, nonsensical jargon, to green light its order of Bombardier CS-100 whisper jets and expand its reach and, fingers crossed, bottom line.

In turn, flush with cash, Bombardier could ramp up its street and subway car assembly lines, delivering to the politicians what they’re really in the business of: vote getting. That’s what they call, out here in the real world, a win-win-win for everyone. Government keeps spending money in order for the private sector to make money. Wealth is then spread accordingly in the immutable law of Economics 101. lenderoflastresortAs it should be.

We elect our representatives to pay up, step back and observe the miracle of commerce. Nothing more. Until we learn to do that, and that only, we will continue to hinder the real engine of our well-being, leaving us empty-handed with fingers pointed in blame at the wrong people for delays, cost overruns, contract breaches and an underwater tunnel taking too few people to too few places.

If that comes to pass, who will be left holding the bag? In the end, somebody’s got to pay. That’s just the way of the world. Governments need to accept that responsibility, their responsibility, and fall into line, knowing it is always better to be the payer of first resort than it is the lender of last resort.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr


An Olympic Beg

August 20, 2015

Of all the reasons that steer me in the direction of, what would you call it? Fuck An Olympic Bid?, the one most compelling is the cynicism sitting right at the heart of Toronto 2024 proponents. haveigotadealforyouMaybe cynicism is too strong a word. Pure political calculation might be more appropriate.

It’s this.

If we get the Olympics, X piece of infrastructure will get done. The Olympics will bring us new social housing. A forced Olympics deadline will deliver all those things this city has been clamoring for for a generation now.

It seems in this day and age, a wholly adequate 1970s transit system for a city of 2.5 million in 2015 fails to meet the definition of any sort of deadline. 7500 homes boarded up in less than 10 years if more funding is not forthcoming from senior levels of government for Toronto Community Housing does not constitute any firm deadline. No. The only deadline that matters now is the discriminating gaze from the rest of the world as it turns its attention toward the Olympic host city, 20xx.

Our international reputation is on the line here, people. Time to pull up our socks. The clock is ticking!

I’m not about to get into all the nitty gritty about the pluses and minuses of hosting the Olympics.polishthesilverware It’d be generous, I think, for me to call it a wash. Sure, cities get stuff they didn’t have before, some of it necessary even. But the costs for that seem to be very, very steep.

On CBC’s MetroMorning this morning, former Olympic bid… guy, Bob Richardson (but definitely not that thing this time around) blithely assured the radio listening audience that the International Olympic Committee have changed their tune and the body is now more reasonable in its approach. “The IOC is really trying to ratchet down their costs…and making the rules a lot more flexible,” he told host David Common.

Somebody ought to tell officials down in Boston that news. A report that came out after the city decided it wasn’t going to bid on the 2024 Games after all paints a slightly different impressionistic picture of the IOC, the bidding and hosting process.

The report found that the risks it examined are inherent to the bidding process as specified by the International Olympic Committee, calling them “inflexible elements” of any bid. “In requiring these guarantees, the IOC imposes financial risk on the part of those entities providing the guarantees and, ultimately, in the case of Boston, on city and state taxpayers.”

That was just after stating this finding:

The State and Local governments, while having only limited ability to influence and shape the bid, would bear significant financial risks as the ultimate guarantors under the financial Letters of Guarantee. All of the risks associated with public infrastructure spending would fall completely on the Commonwealth. The taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be the ultimate risk bearers.

In my experience, always be wary of those assuring us that this time, it’ll be different.

Even if you can justify an Olympic investment in terms of the benefits accrued, all your t’s are crossed, your i’s dotted, it feels a little like a civic hostage taking. Do the bid or the city gets it. alcaponedeaddeaddeadRather, do the bid or the city doesn’t get it. Affordable housing? Dead. Transit upgrade? Dead. All infrastructure needs? Dead, dead, dead.

And what happens if your city is deemed not Olympic worthy? Sorry, Winnipeg. Nothing for you this decade because the feds are throwing a shitload of money at Olympic Host City X to show the world what a great country we are. Maybe team up with Regina and Saskatoon for a co-bid in 20 years or so.

“We got more done in the last 5 years [leading up to the PanAm/ParaPan Games] than we did in the previous 15 years in terms of infrastructure,” Mr. Richardson told Metro Morning.

Does that mean in order to invest in basic upgrades to the city, we have to be in perpetual bid mode? Bring the world to us and reap the benefits. Otherwise, this is the reality of our situation. “Almost half of Ontario’s municipalities have to hike property taxes by at least one full per cent to raise $50,000,” the Association of Municipalities of Ontario president, Gary McNamara, told the conference this week. olympicgoodies“Policy-makers at Queen’s Park need to understand (it all adds) up to one serious problem faster than they can imagine.”

“There is a strong case for municipal government to be better funded than it is, not just in Ontario, but in other jurisdictions across Canada,” he said, pointing out that “the federal and provincial governments receive 4 or 5 more times revenue than municipalities” which represents more than 90% of every tax dollar collected at every level of government.

Yet increasingly, cities have to gussy up and perform pony tricks to access necessary funds from their ‘partners’ at the senior levels of government in the hopes of keeping things running properly. Local politicians tap into that dynamic, some using it to absolve themselves of responsibility for, you know, governance. You want project X? Well, dance, monkey. Dance. The alternative is to go to war with Ottawa and Queen’s Park or, heaven forbid, start tapping into our own methods of revenue generation to get that project done.dogshow

Instead, we choose to use an Olympic bid as the middle man for major transactions between our elected officials, facilitating the movement of money from public coffers to public good. For their efforts, middle men skim a little of that cash off the top. Nothing underhanded or particularly shady, it’s just the nature of middle manning.

But it does raise the question why, in terms of building necessary infrastructure, a middle man is required?

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Now We’ve Got Options!

August 17, 2015

unreadableHave you ever found yourself thinking: Man I would just love to get my hands around the throat of a public policy issue and throttle it into submission but all those official reports and papers are so dry and dense and full of inscrutable bureaucratese that’s it’s impossible to figure out what to think almost as if nobody wants you to know what’s going on…

Yeah?

Well, first. You need a little punctuation in your thought process. I mean, come on. Run on sentences lead only to disorderly logic and a fundamental inability to think critically. Use (but never over-use) commas.

That said, and after deciphering your brain gibberish, I highly recommend you sit down and read the Ward Boundary Review Options Report. pageturnerIt is a beautifully written document. Clear, to the point, no messing about. Official and essential beach reading.

What is the Ward Boundary Review? We wrote about it, first back in November. (And then again, here and here, and talked about it a couple times too, here and here).

What exactly is a Ward Boundary Review? (From an earlier report):

As a result of significant growth in the City over the past several years there are some wards that have considerably higher populations, and some lower, than the average ward population. This means that the equity of representative democracy across wards has been compromised. The Toronto Ward Boundary Review is looking at the size and shape of Toronto’s wards in order to address this inequity and ensure that all Toronto residents are fairly represented at City Council.

The City of Toronto Act (2006) gives City Council the authority to make changes to its ward boundaries. It does not, however, provide specific instructions for how the ward boundary review should be undertaken or the parameters that should be followed. Municipalities in Ontario look to past Supreme Court cases and Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decisions for guidance. The historic Carter Case, which was one of the first electoral boundary cases to be taken to the Supreme Court, set the precedent for ward boundary reviews in Canada by establishing the principle of “effective representation” as the basis for making ward boundary adjustments.

Why is a ward boundary review and subsequent changes to ward boundaries necessary now?

Toronto’s current ward structure, developed approximately 15 years ago, has become unbalanced. This impacts voter parity (similar but not identical population numbers among wards) not just at election time, but every time City Council votes.

Not to mention that it probably doesn’t hurt to assess the state of your local governance structure at least every 15 years or so.

So after one round of consultations with the public, politicians and other various civic “stakeholders”, we’ve been presented with 5 options for ward realignment. wardboundaryreviewBigger, smaller, more, fewer, in a nutshell. I’m not going to break the options down much more than that right now, mostly because I really want you to read the report for yourself. Did I tell you it’s really fantastic and completely worth your while?

I will say this in terms of my immediate impression of the options, mostly having to do with what was left off the table. Both the idea of cutting the number of wards in half and keeping them aligned with federal/provincial ridings were deemed lacking in support and non-workable, respectively. Hoo-rah for that, I say.

“Since the idea of having 25 very large wards [aligned with the new federal ridings in Toronto, effectively cutting council size in half] gained virtually no support during the public process,” the report states, “it has not been pursued as an option.” intothebinThat may come as a surprise to all those chanting along with the former mayor and organizations such as the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition about reducing the number of councillors at City Hall but there it is. Despite the volume and repetition, there was ‘virtually no support’ to go down that reductionist rode. Good riddance.

While it seems to make sense to far more people to keep doing what we’re doing and design our wards along federal riding lines and then simply cut them in half, the report sense a problem with that too.

This option does not resolve the issue of very large wards in the Downtown and southern Etobicoke and the numerous small wards. It merely continues most of the inequities of the current situation that led to the TWBR. An option based on using the federal riding boundaries and then dividing them in two will not achieve effective representation and has, therefore, not been pursued.

And as I’ve said all along, why would the city want to design its electoral structure based on that of the level of government that has the least amount to do with our daily lives?

Shouldn’t we take this opportunity to come up with an actual made in Toronto formula? allergictochangeSince amalgamation, we’ve complained about the dysfunction at City Hall. Might part of that be the way in which we elect our local officials? Let’s try and figure out how why might be able to do that better.

I am not, however, hopeful of that occurring. Early signs are not encouraging. “The last thing we need is more politicians,” Mayor Tory said, summoning up his radio talk show, drive time persona, in response to one of the options for more wards with fewer residents in them. It’s a sentiment hardly more thoughtful than the cut-`em-half crowd but what passes for reasonable and rational these days.

Given the chill of maintaining the status quo that’s descended upon City Hall since our current mayor took office, it’s hard to see things going much further than Option #1, Minimal Change, “Change, if necessary, but not necessarily change,” as the report refers to it although even this one would guarantee an increase in the council size while “minimizing change”.haveyoursay

Still, there are now lines on a map, options for change to be considered and debated. Round 2 of public consultations happen in the fall before this gets decided next spring. Now is the time to read up and inform yourself about a decision that will affect this city through the next 4 election cycles. People will be listening.

excitedly submitted by Cityslikr


BREAKING: ANOTHER PANDERING POLITICIAN

August 14, 2015

newsflash

—–WE INTERRUPT THIS REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POSTING TO BRING YOU SOME BREAKING NEWS. FEDERAL NDP LEADER THOMAS MULCAIR IS IN TORONTO TO ANNOUNCE THE APPOINTMENT OF A STAR CANDIDATE TO A RIDING NOT LOCATED IN SCARBOROUGH—–

[PRESS]: Scarborough subway. Yea or nay?

[THOMAS MULCAIR]: If elected in October, an NDP government will, working with our provincial and municipal partners, develop a National Transit Strategy which will include delivering more money to cities in order for them to begin rebuilding their transit infrastructure that has been sadly neglected and abandoned by previous federal governments.

[PRESS]: Scarborough subway. Yea or nay?

[TM]: Well, it is hardly in the purview of the federal government to be weighing in on specific, local transit project decisions, to show up with an oversized novelty cheque in order to pander for votes or score political points. As I said, if elected in October, an NDP government will, working with our provincial and municipal partners, develop a National Transit Strategy which will include delivering more money to cities in order for them to begin rebuilding their transit infrastructure that has been sadly neglected and abandoned by previous federal governments.

—–WE NOW SEND YOU BACK TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POSTING—–

You’re welcome, you fucking idiots.

**sigh**

saddrinking

already-fed-upply by Cityslikr


Once Upon A Time There Was A Transit Plan…

August 12, 2015

Transit planning in Toronto is becoming more and more like one of the fables of yore. Tales told to teach children a valuable moral lesson. grimmFailure to absorb said counsel would result in rather… a-hem, a-hem… grim doings like throwing an old blind woman into an oven or cutting off your toe to fit into a shoe. Not so much happy-endings as, can you fucking believe what just happened?!

Read yesterday’s Toronto Star article from Royson James, Politicians ignore disaster coming down the track, and decipher the moral of the story, if you dare. Massaged ridership numbers. Deliberately downplayed costs. Overt political meddling in the planning process. What glimmer of enlightenment do you glean, standing as we do right now in the dark, foreboding forest?

Here, Little Red Riding Hood. Take this basket of goodies to your ailing grandmother. grimm1Take the shortcut to grannie’s house through that wolf-infested thicket of woods.

What could possibly go wrong?

Which is exactly where we’re sitting, waiting for staff reports to come back this fall on the feasibility of Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan as well as the alignment of choice for the Scarborough subway. Here, Toronto. Take this basket of goodies to your transit ailing system. Please ignore the wolves at your door.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now, it’s easy to cast the villain in this tale. Emerging from under the bridge, Rob “Subways, Subways, Subways” Ford plays the ogre. Once with the perceived power to do so (what politicians like to call their ‘mandate’) in his grasp, he killed off a perfectly good and provincially funded transit plan with no realistic alternative in place. grimm3Just killed it dead. Because he could.

The fact is, however, Rob Ford is nothing more than the inciting incident of this story. His madness could’ve been stopped in its tracks by people wielding far more power than he did. While city council was probably correct in not forcing him to bring his Transit City Dead motion immediately up for a vote during his brief but impressive ascendancy, and handing him an “official” stamp of approval, others could’ve stood firm in the face of his onslaught.

That is the real moral of this story. Political cravenness and calculation in the face of inchoate populism. Good governance brushed aside for good poll numbers. Doing the right thing? Define the word ‘right’.

Lies added to lies, multiplied by lies to the power of three. Compounded lies, all in the service of expediency and to the detriment of public policy. Everyone became a subway champion (under and above ground). Remember. grimm2Don’t take what you think is the best course possible. Take the one that’s most popular.

That’s the lesson of Toronto’s transit fable. Have no conviction. Disregard facts and evidence. Cater first and foremost to popular opinion. (I mean, come on. It’s not like I’m the only person advocating we burn the witch, am I right? Burn the witch! Burn the witch!!) Never, no matter what, whatever you do, stand up to a bully especially if he really, really popular. No good can come of it.

It’s a morality tale devoid of any morality or ethics. A story with far more villains than heroes. Taking and retaining power is all that matters, kids. If you want to get ahead in this life, best void yourselves of scruples as soon as you can. Integrity and principles are for suckers, boys and girls. Learn that now and save yourself a boatload of anguish and misery later.

The End.

grimly submitted by Cityslikr


Uber Allies

August 9, 2015

garyowens

Disruptive technology don’t need no stinkin’ regulations!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


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