Raging Bullishly On Subways

February 29, 2012

Following along with Toronto’s ongoing transit struggles, let’s call them, and I have a Raging Bull moment. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie but there’s that scene after, I don’t know, the 23rd fight between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson, LaMotta’s lost the middleweight title (or failed to regain it from Robinson), been beaten to a bloody pulp (again) and he staggers over to his opponent’s corner. “I never went down, Ray. You never got me down, Ray. You hear me? You never got me down.”

Kind of reminiscent of Mayor Ford and his Sheppard subway plan, don’t you think?

Leading face first with not much defence to speak of, he just bulls forward, taking shots to the head and body, swinging wildly in retaliation, landing significantly fewer punches than his opponents. “You’ll never take subways from me, Karen. The people want subways, Karen. You hear me? The people want subways.”

Having attended a couple transit meetings and discussions this week and listening to the subways versus LRTs argument, it’s hard not to conclude that it’s really a bit of a mismatch at this point. Proponents of LRTs cite academic studies pointing to the reasons why the inner suburbs of Toronto shouldn’t expect subways, the lack of necessary density being one of the prime reasons why. There’s also the question of money, austere times being what they are. LRTs are less expensive to build and maintain. So, they’ve got cost and suitability going for them.


Errrr….. ummmm…. uuuuhhhhhh… They go fast! Downtowners have them. Why can’t the suburbs? Suburban dwellers are not 2nd class citizens. The St. Clair right of way was a disaster! The mayor has a mandate to build subways. The mayor has a mandate!

Did we mention that subways go fast?

Mayor Ford and his councillor brother, Doug, took to the airwaves last Sunday for two hours of unobstructed time (minus the ads, news and traffic reports) to make their subway case. Instead, they talked to Wendel Clark about the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise, chatted Oscars and Norman Jewison and basically recited their transit script (see paragraph 6) over and over again, allowing Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to chime in with his opinion on the matter. “Hey, guys. Subways are great. Let’s build one under Finch sometime. Talk to you soon.”

No expert testimonials to back their plan. No objective study explaining why building subways would be worth it in the long run. No one-on-one, face-to-face debate with an LRT supporter. Just glib and unsubstantiated rhetoric from a couple knuckleheads with no interest in public transit except as an election issue. Well that, and keeping it off the streets they drive their big vehicles on.

Now, in the final rounds and up against the ropes, the mayor is desperately looking to land a haymaker – boxing’s version of the Hail Mary Pass (in this case case, why don’t we call it the St. Jude) – to try and salvage at least a split decision on the Sheppard subway. Something, anything in order to avoid being completely and utterly sidelined… unless of course that’s exactly what he wants. Like Jake LaMotta, he’s throwing the fight, deliberately losing this battle in order to win the wider war of re-election.

“Now he [Mayor Ford] can argue that, by thwarting him, council denied suburban voters their right to have underground transit like downtowners do,” as Marcus Gee surmised in his Globe and Mail article last week.

So the Sheppard subway isn’t really for the suburbs, the transit deprived Scarborough. It’s for Mayor Ford. Rather than step back and accept the fact that he’s on the losing side of this, that his failure to deliver a feasible, reasonable, sensible plan to replace Transit City that he single-handedly declared dead has left him on the verge of suffering a TKO, he’s picked it up to use a club to bludgeon his way back into the hearts of Ford Nation.

“You never got me down, Ray. You hear me? You never got me down.”

Maybe the mayor has become a little punch drunk.

In a recent Angus Reid poll that showed nearly an even split between those wanting subways and those wanting LRTs, some 57% of those asked said they had no interest in paying tolls, congestion or parking fees, increased taxes to build subways. Pretty much a prerequisite if they’re going to be built. Gordon Chong, the mayor’s handpicked representative to write a report on the viability of a Sheppard subway said as much. As has the mayor in recent days. As has the Toronto Sun.

No, wait. It didn’t. In fact it pretty much called out Mayor Ford for even broaching the subject of increased taxes or any sort of user fees. The Toronto Sun. Called out the mayor. No taxpayer money even if it meant no subways.

The Toronto Sun, people.

But Mayor Ford soldiers on. Even at the time of this writing, he’s holed up in his office with developers, the Board of Trade and a councillor or two, trying to hammer out a deal to get his subway built. There are rumours being floated of a proposal to reinstate the vehicle registration tax that would go to help financing subway construction.

The VRT, people.

This is getting ugly. Somebody outta stop this fight. The mayor’s gonna  get really hurt.

Maybe Mayor Ford shouldn’t be preparing for re-election in 2014. Maybe he should be working on some material in order to play host to some adult cabaret show down in Florida. “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody…”

deniroly submitted by Cityslikr

The Tipping Point

February 28, 2012

The race is on!

Team Ford has climbed aboard the unofficial 2014 campaign bus, now doing weekly radio spots to get the word out to its nation of all the things accomplished in their first year or so power. Things the rest of the media have twisted and bent out of all recognizable shape. Re-Elect Rob Ford in 2014 for all the great stuff he did in 2011!

For its part, irrelevant city council is working to fill the vacuum and get on with the business of governing the city for the next two and a half years in the absence of any positive contribution from the mayor or those still trying to push forward his already shop worn agenda. The 25 or so can muddle through on an issue by issue basis, fending off the worst obstructionist tendencies thrown at it from the mayor’s office, with an eye on the magic number of 30. If council is able to cobble together that number, Mayor Ford would be completely sidelined and anyone who wants to contribute anything whatsoever to the running of this city will man the mayoral lifeboats and leave the ship to sink in the fetid waters of its own pigheadedness.

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad political scene here in Toronto. Deathrace 2012. A council with a taste for doing things its own way without any input from the mayor or, at least, any positive input, discovers things run more smoothly without him. Why would it give that power up? So Mayor Ford must beat and berate a few lost sheep back into the fold with promised threats of electoral defeat in a couple years time in order to regain control of the agenda.

Where is the tipping point? If 27, 28 councillors become comfortable regularly working together, from those on the right of centre to the lefties, it’s no longer a black-and-white question of right versus left. The polarity that the mayor thrives on disappears. Those scary, frigid waters of partisanship moderate to more soothing temperatures. Come on, everybody. It’s beautiful in here. The once derided mushy middle, buffed up with increasingly impressive abs of steel, has transformed into a more desirable location. All reasonable councillors welcome.

Twenty-five councillors voted against Mayor Ford’s transit plans, twenty-six had Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby been present at the special meeting. Let’s say now since the petulant firing of former TTC GM Gary Webster by five members of the commission’s board, Vice-Chair Peter Milczyn has developed second thoughts about his close ties with the mayor. That’s twenty-seven.

And exactly how comfortable are the likes of councillors Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford, Michael Thompson standing tall for a mayor who is clearly floundering and that they aren’t strictly ideologically bound to? Same goes for Councillor Mark Grimes. And the stalwarts like councillors Vincent Crisanti, Frank Di Giorgio and Cesar Palacio, all who gained exposure by their willingness to oust Webster, don’t exactly have iron grips on the respective wards. Any further diminuation of the mayor’s popularity would surely threaten their political futures.

And of course, let’s not discount the protean nature of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s politics. An unconditional supporter now but remember back to those days he despised the mayor when he was just an outsider councillor? Is this somebody you want watching your back when the shit goes down?

I’d say we’re within spitting distance of reaching a critical mass of dissent where what Mayor Ford wants or thinks or says no longer has any relevance. That’s not simply wishful thinking or trying to undo the results of the last municipal election. The mayor himself is responsible for squandering the support he once had at council, support that, frankly, caught me by surprise. Perhaps he looked at the previous megacity administrations and believed that 2nd terms just came with the territory and carried on as if he were untouchable until 2017 or so.

And now he’s put his own political future ahead of that of the city by going all in with his ill-thought out, half-formed subway plan as a wedge issue.

“These guys, politically, they think they’ve got ya,” Councillor Doug Ford told the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee. “I was high-fiving Rob, even though he was down and out. I was saying, ‘Rob, this is positive, this is a clear agenda, you’ve got it.’” The mayor’s rivals “think they’re going to slice and dice him,” but defying him over transit was “the biggest political mistake they did.”

It’s not about better transit planning or some phantom mandate voters gave the mayor. It’s all politics. ‘A perfect springboard to re-election.’ “You can’t win the city unless you win Scarborough and Etobicoke. The numbers don’t add up.” So against all common sense and rational discourse, Mayor Ford offers Scarborough a subway, and we’ll get one going along Finch West too. You betcha.

How? M’eh. When? *Shrug* What’ll it cost to build? PPPs forever! How much to operate? Who cares? I’ll be Prime Minister by then.

If the mayor just wants to be the mayor rather than act like a mayor, his council colleagues have no alternative but to move forward without him. He and his brother seem to have decided to run for re-election instead of running the city. They’ve made their choice. Councillors now have to make theirs.

straight shootingly submitted by Cityslikr

Pirated Radio

February 27, 2012

Conservatives these days.

It’s almost as if they’ve given up on the traditional mechanisms of democracy. Debate, discuss, deal, decide. All that outdated crap our grandparents and great grandparents fought and died to protect back… whenever.

Look. Nobody watches black-and-white TV anymore, do they? So who says our democracy has got to be the same?

Federally, after 6 years of not being able to earn enough votes to form a majority government, it seems that the Conservative party resolved to help keep some Canadians from finding their correct voting stations last election, thereby denying them their right to vote. No voters. No problem.

Here in Toronto, conservative leaning mayor, Rob Ford, having experienced a couple important setbacks and rebuffs by city council, has deemed his fellow elected local representatives to be irrelevant, and headed to more friendly terrain: talk radio. For 2 hours every Sunday (at least until the 2012/13 NFL season), he and his councillor brother, Doug, are taking to the airwaves, talking about the issues they want to talk about, listening only to the taxpayers they want to listen to and just generally reaching out to the regular folks they’d normally have to travel to a mall or Tim Horton’s to talk to. “’You’re going to get the straight goods from Rob and I,’ Mr. [Councillor] Ford promised Newstalk 1010 listeners during an interview with host Jerry Agar. “’You aren’t going to have the media twisting it around like they’ve been twisting it around for the last year and a half.’”

In short, the mayor and his brother are looking to replace actual governing by out-and-out campaigning some two and half years before the next election.

It’s telling also how their radio gig came about. The show, The City, was already established, hosted for its first 6 months or so by Councillor Josh Matlow. Its format was essentially the centrist leaning host moderating two other councillors from either side of the political spectrum in a two hour long discussion about municipal issues. There’d be listeners calling in to ask questions or give their opinions and members of the punditry invited to chime in as well.

Neither the mayor nor his brother ever took part in the show aside from phoning in. Mayor Ford called once to give Councillor Matlow birthday wishes and the councillor a couple times when he had a bone to pick with him. Otherwise, they remained disengaged.

Until this past January when, according to the program director of Newstalk 1010, Mike Bendixen, ‘the mayor’s camp approached him’. Interesting. While never deigning to appear on the show as is, Team Ford wanted to simply take it over, rejig it for their own purposes. Replace wonky policy talk and debate with one-sided, loaded partisan bluster. Like snivelling schoolyard suckie-babies who can’t play the game very well, so they grab the ball and insist on changing the rules.

Say what you will about The City hosted by Josh Matlow but it actually explored the nuts and bolts of municipal governance here in Toronto, never allowing one side to go unchecked. The City hosted by Rob and Doug Ford?

Of the show’s 78 minutes of actual Ford Bros. airtime, 10 minutes or so was given over to Leafs’ Talk with former player, Wendel Clark, his fights, his bar, his views on how to turn the team around, 6 minutes to Oscar talk and how the city should do something to honour Norman Jewison and about 3 minutes for some community bulletins. The only council member invited to join in on the conversation was hardcore Team Ford loyalist, Giorgio Mammoliti, who talked about his dream of building a subway along Finch Avenue. In terms of callers, by my count 4 were pro-Ford, 2 against and 1 I couldn’t really tell. One caller challenging the mayor and his brother to expand on their Sheppard subway plans and questioning their claim of the St. Clair disaster was cut off for a commercial break. When they returned, Councillor Ford spouted forth some dubious numbers about financing the subway, uncontested.

In an opinion column for the Toronto Sun on Saturday rationalizing handing over The City to the mayor and his brother to do with it what they want, Mr. Bendixen made the following assertion: After all, sharing ideas and opinions is what talk radio is about. If that were true, talk radio would not be the almost exclusive domain of right wing, conservative thought because ‘sharing ideas and opinions’ is anathema to modern conservatives. It runs against their grain of tightly holding onto ideas that only confirm their worldview and ridiculing opposing opinions that don’t.

It smacks a little too much of the democratic process that conservatives seemed to have developed an aversion for.

fair-mindedly submitted by Cityslikr

Supplementary Reading

February 25, 2012

Since I’m sure the Ford Bros. are busily prepping for their co-hosting radio debut on The City, it’s probably good that we do too. Bone up on some facts and figures to counteract the less fact-y figures that’ll surely be flying fast and furious tomorrow afternoon. Write up a long check list of things that the mayor and his councillor brother don’t quite get right.

We’ll probably be hearing a lot about transit during their first show. The whole subways versus LRT (just fancy streetcars) debate. Jim, calling from an Oshawa Tim Horton’s, will regale listeners with that time he drove in downtown Toronto and was stuck for miles behind 9 streetcars that had nobody on them, his surroundings a dilapidated urban jungle.

Because you’ll probably be hearing much of the disastrous St. Clair right of way construction from the Ford Bros. tomorrow (I’m betting at least half a dozen times), take some time between now and then, if you haven’t already, to read James Bow‘s masterful blow by blow account of what actually happened. Full of intrigue and heroism, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that it didn’t turn out to be quite the mess you’ll be hearing nor were the problems that surfaced due in any way to building streetcars in the middle of the road.

It’ll serve as a nice antidote.

 Hyperbole and Axes To Grind on St. Clair Avenue.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr

Childish Behaviour

February 24, 2012

I could not disagree with Christopher Hume more if he were, well, Rob Ford.

He’s plea to the province to assume control of Toronto’s transit file is nothing short of madness, an adolescent whine. I want my mommy. Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

Long has been my stance, if not in these pages than in discussions I’ve had, that the main reason voters in cities including here seem comfortable casting their ballots at the municipal level for, how to say this delicately, clowns, clowns, jokers, the inept and certifiably deranged, is because they believe that it doesn’t really matter. There’s this blind faith that regardless of what happens, no matter what shit we manage to cover ourselves with, there’s a safety net to break our fall. The province would never let us burn our playhouse down.

We are the junior level of government, the farm team if you will, the bush leagues. Expectations are low, so why not have some fun with it? Politics as performance art. Since there are no consequences, we can afford to take a flyer or two, an appliance salesman here, a blustering buffoon there. It’s not like it’ll make any difference to our lives, right?

As we’re slowly beginning to realize, that’s not in the least bit true. In fact, it’s downright misguided from where we’re standing. Municipal politics matters. A lot. But to scream for a lifeline now, to call for the cavalry only reinforces the already hardened preconception that we’re not responsible enough to take care of ourselves. That when push comes to shove, we’re happy to hand over responsibility to the adults in the room and let them sort through the mess we’ve created.

And even that’s more than a little galling. In terms of public transit in Toronto, we are hardly the chief culprits in the bind we’re in currently. Plenty of blame to go around, with Queen’s Park topping the list. I mean, hey. If cities are nothing more than creatures of the province than the province has to bear some of the burden in how we’ve turned out, right?

Imagine if you will, the Mike Harris government (and yeah, I’m looking hard at you, Councillor John Parker) not filling in the hole that had already been dug in Eglinton Avenue back in 1996. This whole above/below ground LRT battle would be moot. We might even already have a Sheppard subway extension! Or what if the McGuinty government had long since made good on its promise to re-upload it’s portion of the annual TTC  operating budget that their predecessors had wiped their hands clean of (again, I’m looking hard at  you, Councillor John Parker)? That’s hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto would’ve had in its coffers or been able to give to the TTC for expansion or state of good repairs. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered back in the spring of 2010 and scaled back on some of the original Transit City plans, then candidate for mayor Rob Ford wouldn’t have seen it as negotiable. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered again, this time in the face of a Mayor Rob Ford, and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, throwing all transit planning back up into the air.

These are the people Mr. Hume wants to take charge? Arguably the very architects of our transit disarray? What on earth will that accomplish?

Despite Mayor Ford’s continued intransigence, city council is getting a handle on the situation. Doddering patrician types like the National Post’s Terence Corcoran sniffs at the February 8th city council meeting that asserted council’s primacy over the mayor, calls a timeout and declares we should just start all over. Well you know what, Mr. Corcoran? Fuck you. Democracy’s messy.

If people would just accept the fact that Mayor Ford lost, that city council (re)approved the Transit City plans for the Eglinton and Finch LRTs, that in a sop thrown to the mayor, a panel will make recommendations about Sheppard Avenue next month, we could just get on with things. Ignore the petulant child jumping up and down, holding his breath and turning red in the face. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention to him only reinforces the grade school view of municipal politics.

As does asking the province to come in and sort our problems out. Ironically, it also puts the normally fierce critic of the mayor, Christopher Hume, on the same side as the man he so obviously loathes. You don’t think Mayor Ford would love to divest himself of public transit decisions? Here, take it and all the related costs. Then we can just bitch and moan if it doesn’t work out to our liking, blameless. Take our traditional place in the backseat, counting on our parents to get us to where we’re going and only asking over and over, are we there yet? Are we there yet?

We’re not but we also need to realize that dad’s handed us the keys to the car.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr