Now Comes The Fun Part

September 23, 2013

Scarborough subway.shhh

Two words I never hope to write again. Ever.

Today the federal government announced they’re putting their skin into the game to the tune of $660 million for the city council approved subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line all the way up to Sheppard Avenue East. At first blush, it would seem that seals the deal. Scarborough gets its subway built for all the wrong reasons.

Damn. Scarborough. Subway again. Damn. Again.

On Metro Morning today Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, a Johnny-come-lately supporter of a Scarborough subway brandnewday(OK. After this post I hope to never write that phrase again.), called today’s news a ‘game changer’. He may just be right but like the subway he’s touting, for the wrong reasons. Or at least unexpected ones.

The provincial government, who seems to have been entirely side-stepped on this move from Ottawa, might look at this and see no further political gain from any insistence on ‘their’ subway line being built. They helped bring the feds to the table. A Scarborough subway will now get built. One way or the other, they will be providing the lion’s share of the funding, so they can rightly call it a victory.

Given the fractious relationship that’s developed between Queen’s Park and City Hall especially over this issue, however, I think anyone believing things will get quietly wrapped up in such a peaceful fashion are as deluded as those who see this project as a solution to the woes Scarborough transit users face. It’s not just the mayor I’m referring to on this point. elbowingThe TTC chair’s rather belligerent approach with the province can’t have made any friends.

So we really shouldn’t expect the Liberal government to simply shrug its shoulders, sign a cheque and assure us no harm, no foul, should we? This is where the play really gets rough. We now go into the corners, elbows up.

Here’s our contribution to the subway, the province tells the city. $1.4 billion plus the nearly half billion more going into the Kennedy station redesign and rebuild. Let’s call it $1.8 billion, shall we?

That’s already $400 million the city now has to make up.

Don’t forget the sunk costs already gone into the Scarborough LRT plans. And if we go with the council subway plans the feds are backing, the current SRT’s lifespan will have to be extended now to the better part of 10 years and then torn down completely. We might be looking at over a quarter billion dollars in additional money by some estimates that the province can rightly say are on the city.

And this is before we get to calculating our direct portion of the subway project we need to pony up through an additional increase in property taxes. payup1We know where our mayor stands on the matter, and going into an election year? How many incumbents will be willing to go to the electorate campaigning for either/or additional property taxes/service cuts to offset the costs of building the Scarborough subway?

That’s why I’d hesitate making any predictions about how today’s news is going to affect the outcome of upcoming elections. To date, the debate’s all been about fuzzy hypotheticals and wishful thinking coloured in crayon on pretend maps. Things just got real and it’ll be interesting to see how politically expedient an embrace of subways will be when the discussion turns to actual costs everybody’s going to be paying – payup1not just in terms of money in the form of property taxes but in cuts to other services we might suddenly be looking out to fund this one particular project for one portion of the city.

Everybody loves getting stuff. It’s the paying for it discussion that gets thorny. And we just walked into the Scarborough subway bramble.

Scarborough subway.

It’s probably not going to be the last time I commit those two words to the page.

so-so-so-tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Didn’t You Used To Be… ?

September 20, 2013

During yesterday’s mayoral portrait unveiling, I quipped that the looking out for the little guy mayor we’d elected back in 2010 had started to act quite regally. fawningNot only was he using the City Hall stage to promote a painting of him commissioned by his mother but when reporters started asking questions, his staff ran interference, yelling No Questions! No Questions, and generally harassing the assembled media for their impertinence in soiling such a solemn occasion by doing anything other than dutifully noting the general all around specialness of the spectacle.

The day culminated in Mayor Ford’s over-arching dismissal of any inquiries into how things were being done under his watch. In response to questions about one of his staffer’s aggressive antics at a GO station on August 27th (not the first time it’s happened allegedly), the mayor stated bluntly, “It’s actually no one’s business what happens in my office. I take care of the people that work for me and they do a great job, as you see.” Anything else?

So much for all that accountability and transparency Rob Ford touted back in the day. upyoursMatt Elliott does his usual bang-up job in outlining the many ways the mayor has veered away from his candidate self on this account. In short, the two wouldn’t recognize each other.

I’d argue that the gaping chasm between what the mayor campaigned on and what he’s delivered three years later extends much further past just transparency and accountability. Following along this morning with a Twitter conversation between Councillor Gord Perks, Marc Coward and James Aldersley on the ballooning state of good repair backlog, it seems that maybe the city does have a spending problem but not in the way the mayor convinced us it did. In terms of state of good repair, we haven’t been spending enough.

Or course, Mayor Ford and his supporters love beating that drum about David Miller especially over the Gardiner Expressway. But it seems this administration has been kicking costly capital spending down the road themselves while claiming all sorts of found savings sweptundertherug– as much as a billion dollars if pure, unsubstantiated hyperbole is to be believed — along the way. It’s such a fine line between sound fiscal management and outright dereliction of duty, isn’t it.

There are all sorts of ways to save money in the short term that don’t take any particular kind of financial acumen. As a homeowner I can not fix that leaky basement or crumbling foundation. I can decide to only pay the interest on mortgage and leave principle in place. On paper, at least for awhile, it would appear as if I’ve cut my costs and saved myself money.

Until the foundation gives way and the house begins to lean westward.

When that happens, it’s pretty tough to go around touting your credentials as a sound manager of money.

Like his promises of bringing a more open form of government to City Hall, Rob Ford’s Stopping the Gravy Train of wasteful spending was bogus and illusory. mayorfordportraitNothing more than a harmless sounding sound bite that masked a much darker intention to reduce spending, wasteful or not. Period.

In fact, Rob Ford’s entire campaign was chimerical. Just a host of test-marketed, anti-incumbent slogans packaged into an everyman’s suit. You’re angry, folks? Me too. You want simple answers to complicated questions? I’ve got them for you. Let’s go down to City Hall together and shake things up.

From the start, there was about as much intention to be fiscally responsible as there was to be open and transparent. Any savings he has actually registered, the $11 million/year on partially contracting out waste collection for example, have been dwarfed by cuts to revenue like a property tax freeze and elimination of the VRT. robfordshrugIn order to balance the books, state of good repair projects have been postponed.

His is not the first administration to perform this accounting trick but as mayor of the city Rob Ford was supposed to be different, supposed to do things differently. That was his whole schtick, wasn’t it? As we’re discovering, Rob Ford with no schtick is just another self-serving politician, in love with all the trappings of power but unwilling to accept any of the responsibility that comes with it.

Just the kind of politician 2010 Rob Ford campaigned against.

unsurprisedly submitted by Cityslikr


How May I Help You To Help Me?

September 19, 2013

So as the Scarborough subway saga continued to weirdly and depressingly unfold yesterday in and around Queen’s Park wheresthemayor– essentially, This subway-No. This subway. – the man right at ground zero of the debate, he who declared Transit City dead and cast all future transit projects in Toronto underground, Mayor Rob Ford was conspicuous in his absence.

At least, absent from the raging transit debate. Instead, the mayor was out on the hustings making mayoral house calls, totally not campaigning during a whistle stop tour of a Toronto Community Housing apartment in Rexdale. A little electoral trick-or-treating, handing out fridge magnets, business cards and free advice in return for friendly photo ops and voter folks’ complaints, concerns and issues and in no way a shoring up of a data base.

I’ll get right on that, the mayor assured everyone he talked to, whether or not it was fixing a leaky fridge, a crack in a garbage chute or recovering someone’s hearing aid that had fallen down the drain. soaringToo bad the mayor didn’t bring his adjustable wrench with him. He could’ve retrieved it himself.

This, of course, is what earns him the accolades of having that common touch, of looking out for the little guy. Customer service, am I right? You have a problem, call the mayor. He’ll be right there on your doorstep to sort things out.

That would be all warm and fuzzy if we were living in Mayberry and our biggest concern was Goober having more than a coupla pops and driving his truck through the front window of Floyd’s barber ahop. But it isn’t and we don’t. fullerbrushmanToronto’s a big-assed cosmopolitan city with complex issues that can’t be sorted out by a one man door-to-door crusade.

Really? The mayor should be ‘hands on’ and get out there to personally deal with a stray cat problem in the Beaches? It hardly seems like an efficient use of his time and the resources of the mayor’s office. And Mayor Ford is all about efficiencies, isn’t he?

His Fuller Brush Man’s schtick was revealed for all its emptiness yesterday when he discovered a perfectly serviceable gym at the Weston Towers that was closed for use. Making his patented vow to get to the bottom of why and get the gym opened up, the mayor was then informed by the TCHC CEO Gene Jones that the gym wasn’t in use because there wasn’t any money in place to pay for programs.

Ooops.

Mayor Ford has spent parts of the last week, popping into various committee meetings to help vote down improved gladhandservice level recommendations going directly to city council for debate on next year’s budget. Too many councillors would be spending like drunken sailors without his eagle-eyed oversight on things like, say, programs that would keep the gymnasium at Weston Towers open. The left hand, it would seem, isn’t entirely sure what the right hand is doing even though it’s constantly raised to register a ‘no’ vote.

That’s if I don’t want to be too cynical about it. The truth is probably closer to the assumption Mayor Ford goes out to make his rounds of glad-handing and customer servicing to put on a public face of caring about things like housing and social programs even while his votes at council are doing the exact opposite. Look at the mayor promise to single-handedly fix the damage and problems he himself has voted to create. Just like the firefighting arsonist who burns shit down in order to try and save it from going up in flames.

He is Shiva the Destroyer. He is Vishnu the Preserver. sweptundertherugHe will vote against any sort of Hug-A-Thug but will move heaven and earth to make sure your gym is open so he can do a photo-op lay-up. No questions, please. That’d be rude.

What Mayor Ford does in his respect for the taxpayers promenade with the media in tow is not customer service. It’s self-serving, giving the appearance of helping others when, in fact, the only thing getting help is Rob Ford’s image as a looker out for the little guy. It may not be official campaigning but it’s most certainly p.r. campaigning. And as revealed yesterday, it’s nothing but false advertising.

not buying itly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Own Worst Enemy

September 18, 2013

hanghead

*sigh*

No wait. I said I wouldn’t get despondent. No travelling down that gloom route. There’s an upside. There has to be an upside.

[hangs his head]

Nope. Just not feeling it right now. Today’s transit information flow could only be more disheartening if representatives of all three levels of government announced they were getting out of the public transit business altogether and, Oprah-like, everybodygetsacarwere giving us all a car to make up for it.

Actually, I’m not sure that wouldn’t be better news than what we heard today.

The Battle of Subway Press Conferences, pitting Premier Kathleen Wynne on one side, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak on the other. Wow! Two mid-week transit announcements, fighting it out for media supremacy. Must be big news a-coming! Come on, come on. Spill, already!

*sigh*

[hangs head]

The only thing we’re any the wiser about now than we were earlier today is the roster filling out the panel we absolutely don’t fucking need but were told about last week headed by Anne Golden. Now, no disrespect to Ms. Golden or the other members I know of – Paul Bedford, Cherise Burda of the Pembina Institute, Gordon Chong even – I believe you’ll be operating with the best of intentions. But we’ve already heard what you’re going to wind up saying to us. Transit expansion costs money. pissingmatchThat money doesn’t grow on the trees lovingly nurtured by the private sector. The only way to get this done is through taxes, tolls and other sources of revenue that must come straight out of the wallets of us taxpayers.

We know. We know. We’re just hoping somebody has a better idea.

That somebody won’t be PC leader Tim Hudak, if you were wondering.

His press conference was even less necessary than the premier’s. Essentially he strode to the mic to tell us the Liberal’s Scarborough subway was stupid face. The one championed by the TTC chair Karen Stintz and city council back in July was better and that a Queen’s Park ruled by him would fund it through… You all know where this is going right?… finding efficiencies.

How do these people keep a straight face? It’s almost like their sole intention with any of this is to make the public even more cynical and jaded. They know we know they are trying their damndest not to build transit if it means siding with new taxes and tolls. iknowiknowiknowWe know they know we know. But somehow, we keep up this fucking pretense of earnest hope that those we elect as our representatives will actually show some leadership and make the hard choices that need to be taken.

That’s hardly possible, though, when we insist on electing people like Councillor Michelle Berardinetti to city council. It takes some doing to top the bullshit inanity of the provincial transit press conferences but Councillor Berardinetti did her level best to do so.

At issue? High Occupancy Vehicle lanes along Eglinton Avenue East in her ward. Seems they are driving non-HOVers around the bend.

I’ll let the councillor speak for herself. She does wild-eyed, babbling indignation so much better than I do.

“HOV lane’s are designed to drive motorists off the road and all it does is serve to drive motorists insane. It’s not working. You’ve got two lanes that are backed up half a mile and you’ve got one that is completely underused. I think that we should remove them.”

But wait. It gets better.

angrydriver

 “We have one of the worst transit systems in the world.”

“What’s the alternative for drivers right now? To jump on the transit system? The TTC? Are you kidding me? They’re not going to do it because it is a deplorable system.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Michelle Berardinetti. Your councillor for Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest.

Now it would be easy to just lay on the horn and blare away at the quality of our politicians but they are simply doing our bidding. If those we elect are cheap, short-sighted and always on the look out for easy solutions to complex problems, it’s just a sad reflection of ourselves. If our transit is substandard, the system deplorable, there’s nobody to blame for that aside from us. outofmywayYou get what you’re willing to pay for, and recently, well, we haven’t been willing to pay for much.

Aside from one shining moment in our city’s history, from the end of World War II until the 1970s – transit’s greatest generation – it seems Torontonians have always been something of penurious lot, both with our wallets and attitudes toward public transit. It comes natural to us. A 1912 plebiscite to raise funds for a Yonge Street subway was rejected by voters. The late-50s saw court battles over extension of the Bloor-Danforth and University lines.

We want transit that will make Toronto ‘world-class’ (or, a little less grandiosely, make our lives more pleasant) but we don’t want to pay for it, spending inordinate amounts of time bending over backwards trying to figure out ways how not to spend money. No number of expert panels or public consultations will alter that fact. Until we come to grips with our continued cheapness in mind and money, all we’re going to do is what we’ve being doing for the better part of a generation now. Talk about it.

shame

*sigh*

[hangs his head]

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The Golden Rule

September 17, 2013

When it was announced last week that Anne Golden had been approached by the Ontario government to head up a panel to look at revenue generation to go toward building transit in the GTHA, hidebehindI joked that we should all be very excited as Queen’s Park has a history of listening to recommendations made by a panel chaired by Ms. Golden. Listening perhaps, then ignoring.

OK, joke may be too strong a word for it. That would suggest the statement was funny. More sagging, really. Under the weight of bitter, disillusioned sarcasm.

But it did get me thinking about the old Golden Report on the governance, competitiveness blah, blah, blah of the GTA, commissioned back in the twilight of the Bob Rae government. Delivered up to the Mike Harris crew in the early days of that government, it was greeted largely with a shrug. It wasn’t something they’d asked for.

That’s not exactly true either. The Harris Tories did use the report as a little bit of cover in the next couple years as they descended into an amalgamation frenzy including the one here in Toronto. Reading through Andrew Sancton’s account of what happened, shrugAmalgamations, Service Realignment, and Property Taxes: Did the Harris Government Have a Plan for Ontario’s Municipalities?, the immediate impression is of the ad hoc nature of it all.

To begin with, the idea of amalgamation wasn’t really on the party’s radar when it sat on the opposition benches at Queen’s Park. It certainly wasn’t a key part of the Common Sense Revolution. Here’s Mike Harris speaking in 1994, less than a year before he took over the reins of power.

There is no cost to a municipality to maintain its name and identity. Why destroy our roots and pride? I disagree with restructuring because it believes that bigger is better. Services always cost more in larger communities. The issue is to find out how to distribute services fairly and equally without duplicating services.

Bigger isn’t better? “Services always cost more in larger communities”? This was the exact opposite of what we were being told by the provincial government when they were ramming the megacity down our throats. aboutfaceHow times changed.

Sixteen years on, water under the bridge aside from pointing out that the 1994 Mike Harris was right about amalgamations while Premier Mike Harris was wrong. The change of heart might be easier to accept if there’d been a straight forward reason why he did what he did but there really didn’t seem to be.

Sure, there was the desire to bury the dissenting voice of the old city of Toronto’s council under the more friendly voices of the suburban municipalities but that seems to be just a small part of it. The Tories also wanted to remove the taxation power of school boards and put them on a tight fiscal leash. Plus, the whole matter of updating the property tax system was also in play.

Perhaps as important as any of these, the provincial government needed to keep a campaign promise of reducing government. Any ol’ government would do, regardless of the consequences. Six municipalities into one, plus Metro council? A double fucking trifecta.

Keeping up appearances, in other words. This anti-government government eliminating levels of government. It would make for good re-election campaign literature.

There are echoes of this jumbled miasma of reasoning currently going on with our whole heave-ho debate on transit. Everybody knows that the region’s public transit system is substandard. decisionsdecisions1Everybody knows that we’re going to have to pay substantially for the necessarily substantial expansion.

That seems to be where the agreement ends. Who pays? Who knows. What gets built where? Another head shaker. There are metrics to quantify the debate just like there were during the era of amalgamation. Unfortunately, few are very politically palatable.

Adding Anne Golden to the mix only serves to fuel the feeling that the provincial government is doing little more than throwing up more obstacles. Decisions aren’t the desirable outcome here. The appearance of process is, due diligence.

What’s weird about the way the Liberals are going about things here is, unlike how the Harris government did an about face on amalgamation, the Liberals are subverting a plan they themselves put into place. The Big Move. A breakdown of transit needs and priorities throughout the region and a smorgasbord of possible revenue tools to access in order to implement the plan.

Already the Eglinton crosstown construction is underway. selfsabotageThe Master Agreement with Toronto has been signed for 3 other LRT lines, one being the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line that the government seems determined to undermine at this point, ably assisted by a majority of city council. The motivation behind such a move is hard to discern.

You could just write it off to pure political pandering, to keep those Scarborough seats red in any upcoming provincial election. Pretty straightforward. But if it’s just that, why not go all in and build an actual subway? You know, at least all the way up to Sheppard? That way, you can put pressure on the proposed Sheppard LRT too. A subway to the west. A subway to the east. Complete the line from Yonge to Kipling with a Sheppard subway loop.

This two stop proposal just seems like a half-measure. How could this government be that invested and find themselves at this point of time so indecisive? To give the Harris government its due, they did a 180 on amalgamation and in the face of fierce political opposition pushed it through, damn the torpedoes. headlesschickenThese Liberals appear to have little inclination to be as bold even when they have the good cause on their side.

Instead of having to pull some clarity (misguided and malevolent as it was in the case of amalgamation) out of a stew of conflicting policy initiatives, the McGuinty-Wynne government seem bound and determined to reduce transit planning in the region to a chaotic mix of parochialism and unfinished business. If you are able to find a coherent narrative as to why, you have much better eyes for this kind of thing than I do. I just see a glaring lacking of leadership and a desperate desire for expediency coalescing into an all familiar puddle of incompetence that has plagued this city and region in transit building for a generation now.

disheartenedly submitted by Cityslikr