From Circus To Freak Sideshow

March 2, 2012

You guys see that too, don’t you? Or I mean, you don’t see it either, right? It’s not just me. It’s not not just me. It’s not just not me. Not just me not. I’m not crazy, am I?

Apparently, there’s this tussle going on between two competing transit plans for the city. One side’s pushing LRT technology that a lot of the world is using, and has full funding in place for 3 new lines and another replacement one. In the other corner sit subway proponents, all juiced about burying any new piece of public transit at the cost of 3 of the LRT lines while still being woefully short of money to complete it.

So you see the problem I’m having here. There really isn’t any sort of battle or war between two equal and viable alternatives. One is currently funded and all ready to go, and was from about 2007 until the plug was pulled a little over a year ago by a mayor who didn’t have a workable alternative as much as he had a mirage, a notion, a flight of fancy untethered to any semblance of reality.

So it’s more of a shadow boxing match. No. It’s like a vampire shadow boxing match. Vampire’s still cast no shadows, right kids? Or is it you can’t see their reflection in a mirror?

What I’m saying is that there is no there there. Mayor Ford is attempting to make something fly that wasn’t designed for flight. And the more he continues to hold out, stamp his feet and demand subways, the more surreal the whole thing becomes.

Yesterday was some sort of esquie-esque combination of Kafka/Fellini/Carnival-esque as Team Ford desperately scrambled around to convince anyone who would listen that everything was good to go. You see, the previous day the mayor, having been rebuffed by city council and let down by his very own Sheppard subway report from Gordon Chong, turned to his much vaunted private sector and huddled together for a little confab with his closest developer peeps, some friendly councillors and sandwiches. Emerging from his office a couple hours later, he announced they were good to go, everybody loves subways, everybody’s going to pony up, problem solved.

Except, as with many of Mayor Ford’s transit claims, there was ample space between the truth and full-fledged fantasy. Newspaper coverage told a slightly different story. “[Toronto Board of Trade president Carol] Wilding indicated support for subways wasn’t unanimous…” On the notion of increased development fees, Councillor Peter Milczyn said “…developers in the meeting weren’t keen on that idea…”

City staff has taken the temperature of private sector interest in laying down some upfront bucks on subways and found it more than a little tepid. “This model doesn’t work. There is a huge (funding) gap,” said one staff. “The private sector want certainties (but) these revenue streams are risky. They are based on a ‘build it and they will come’ view. It’s not a sure thing…And there are huge political risks.”

Gulp.

A more deliberate or reflective politician might take a step back at this point, breathe deeply and go to plan B. But here’s the thing. Mayor Ford doesn’t have a plan B on transit. How can you when your plan A doesn’t even qualify as a plan? It’s nothing more than a loose collection of largely contradictory fleeting thoughts being touted as a mandate based not on a persuasive argument but by some creepy sounding ‘moral authority’ that Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong actually tried floating. His Worship does not need to explain himself to you. He’s the Mayor! He shall clap His hands and there will be subways!

If only, huh? Without any divine intervention of that sort, the mayor and his morally authorized mandate is looking down the barrel of new taxes (and some old… Hello, VRT. Where you been hiding, gorgeous?), levies, tolls to get his subway built, and if there’s one thing Mayor Ford promised more than even subways was…

Sigh.

With glimmers of movement that he was willing to budge on the issue of not completely hating taxes with a passion other people hold toward baby killers, the through the looking glass quotient went through the roof. What? Mayor Rob Ford was actually leading us in having an adult conversation on the necessity of taxation in building a better city? That’s crazy talk. Crazy talk.

And then, of course, by yesterday afternoon we weren’t having that conversation. Brother-Councillor Doug went DEFCON 1, pressing the button on any talk about tax/toll/levy increases or any other instruments of the Devil. “We are against all taxes,” Councillor Ford said. “All taxes are evil as far as I am concerned.” Right then. So, I’ll mark you down as undecided then, shall I? Lotteries, casinos are the way we should be going, according to Councillor Ford, TorontoReno. Except folks at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. aren’t as convinced that was a good idea. “I would have told them right off the bat,” stated Paul Godfrey, OLG’s chairman of the board, “this is a project that has no chance of being successful at all.”

Undeterred, the mayor fell back into line, snuffing out any future tax increase on cars for the rest of his natural life. “I will guarantee that were will never be a tax on cars again,” he told John Tory. Over my dead body, pushing up tulips. Or maybe that was Doug.

The shitshow didn’t feature just the Ford brothers. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said he would send back any money intended to build an LRT along Finch Avenue in his ward, and his constituents would wait 50 years if they had to for subway instead. This, three years after fully embracing the LRT for Finch. The leader of the provincial opposition, Tim Hudak, got in on the act, saying he would disregard any vote by council and build subways. Asked if he would chip in more money to fund that construction, Mr. Hudak demurred, yeah well, no. What do you think? Money grows on trees?

By day’s end, we were right back where we started. The mayor wanting subways he didn’t have the money to build and unwilling to even consider the most logical, straightforward revenue streams to help get the funding in place. And that’s the plan council and its LRT almost Transit City in everything but name was up against.

A couple days ago, we evoked Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta as the movie character our mayor seemed a lot like in his stubborn drive for subways. Today we’re thinking the resemblance is more Elwood P. Dowd with his invisible white rabbit transit plan, Harvey. “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Evidently, the mayor, his brother and all those still willing to follow them down their transit rabbit hole are hoping to recreate a little bit of that movie magic.

— barkerly submitted by Cityslikr