Apropos of nothing. Felt it had to be said. Movie tagline smooth.
Aside from the Budget Committee, Public Works and Infrastructure may be the most important committee at City Hall*. This is where big decisions about big stuff get made. Transportation and streetscapes. The delivery of water and the collection of waste. None of it necessarily pretty but all of it absolutely vital. Properly done, public works and infrastructure is the difference between a successful, well run city and one that is neither of those things.
“The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee’s primary focus is on infrastructure, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on Toronto’s infrastructure needs and services.”
Public Works and Infrastructure offers up politicians and municipal civil servants the opportunity for greatness and lasting contributions to the city they serve long after they’re dead and gone. Read John Lorinc’s Globe and Mail article from last year about R.C. Harris, Toronto’s long serving Public Works Commissioner from 1912-45, and marvel at what can be done with some vision and fortitude. The R.C. Harris Water-Treatment Plant and Bloor Street Viaduct are the obvious example but as Lorinc points out:
Harris..left his civic fingerprints all over Toronto, building hundreds of kilometres of sidewalks, sewers, paved roads, streetcar tracks, public baths and washrooms, landmark bridges and even the precursor plans to the GO commuter rail network.
Of course, Harris wasn’t a politician and subject to the whims of the electorate. In fact, his contributions may’ve been the product of his time, impossible to duplicate outside of those particular circumstances. “…it’s unlikely a towering and outspoken figure like Mr. Harris…,” Lorinc quoting Professor Steven Mannell in his article, “would thrive in public service today, given years of political attacks on civil servants at all three levels of government.”
While I hardly mean to equate R.C. Harris with the ex-TTC CEO Gary Webster, it’s useful in underlining Professor Mannell’s point. Mr. Webster expressed an opinion about transit options our mayor disagreed with, and Mr. Webster was ousted. In such a politically volatile environment – a toxic mix of ‘parsimonious politicians’ elected on ‘narrow mandates’ to paraphrase Professor Mannell , and our dimly held view of bureaucrats — it’s hard to see how anything gets built, let alone anything on the grand scale that R.C. Harris imagined.
In fact, it could be argued that getting things built is the exact opposite goal of our current Public Works and Infrastructure big cheese, committee chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Unless it has something to do with road maintenance, he might be better referred to as Cap’n Tear Up. Jarvis bike lanes, gone, expensively re-replaced by that reversible 5th lane. Proposed Fort York pedestrian bridge scaled back for being too fancy. Scrambled intersections? I don’t know. We need to look at those just in case cars are having to wait too long at red lights.
And that Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment ordered up to examine the various options for the eastern portion of the roadway? Mysteriously disappeared upon the councillor’s appointment as PWIC chair, only to be revived last year when over half a billion dollars was budgeted for the Gardiner revitalization starting with its eastern portion. Wait? What did the EA recommend? What do you mean, what EA? Where the hell did the EA go? Den-ZILLLLL!
Like the administration it represents, the current Public Works and Infrastructure Committee reflects its mandate by doing the exact opposite of what it should be doing. Tearing down instead of building up (unless, of course, we’re referring to roads). Looking back instead looking forward. Status quo instead of adaptation.
Or as Rowan Caister so succinctly put it: …money that we could spend on public space and innovative infrastructure is being clawed back in order to dismantle inexpensive infrastructure (Jarvis) and keep expensive infrastructure on life support (Gardiner).
At Wednesday’s meeting the committee chair and one of the newest members, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, both indulged their colleagues by voting to receive the report update on the Gardiner EA while knowing full well what the outcome must/will be. There will/must not be any removal of any part of the Gardiner. Drivers depend on it. Any alternative will result in chaos.
As it was and has been, so it shall always be.
It isn’t the motto a Public Works and Infrastructure committee should try to uphold. Cities flounder when they do. That’s just how important this committee is to our well-being. We need to treat with the respect and attention it deserves.
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(*Not including the Executive Committee which is made up of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chairs of the 7 Standing Committees and 4 at-large members.)
— diggingly submitted by Cityslikr