Take Our MPPs, Please!

September 7, 2013

It’s times like these when I begin to ponder fondly on the idea of the province of Toronto.wistful

Let me stop you there.

I know what you’re thinking. Premier Rob Ford? Really? You want that guy leading your province of Toronto?

Yes. Our municipal governance isn’t always pretty. It gets downright nutty at times. Pull your hair out insane.

But the thing is, it’s our municipal government. It’s right here. Very accessible. Very hands on, if one so chooses. We can directly wrestle with the beast.

Our relationship with the province is a little more distant, let’s call it, more removed. We are represented at Queen’s Park by one of 107 MPPs. That representation can be even further watered down if your particular MPP doesn’t sit as part of the government. Municipally, we have a crack at two of 45 of the decision makers. provinceoftorontoThose are much better odds of being heard and counted.

So decisions that get made at City Hall, even the ones you might not necessarily agree with, feel like our decisions, decisions we had a hand in. Provincially? Completely beyond our control.

Take this week’s Scarborough subway mess, for example.

Back a few months ago, in response to a letter from the provincial transit body, Metrolinx, asking if the Scarborough LRT was our final decision to replace the current RT, council stupidly re-opened the debate and voted for a subway instead. A very particular subway, running from Kennedy station to Sheppard Avenue, with all sorts of stipulations to it, but a subway nonetheless. And if the province could please respond by the end of September, that’d be great.

Dumb-assed for sure, and for all sorts of non-transit related reasons, mostly revolving around political ambitions and pandering, I think it’s safe to say.toomanycooks

This past Wednesday, the provincial minister of transportation, Glen Murray, came back and said, hey wait, I got a better idea. A shorter subway, running along a different route than the one council approved and, in the process, knee capping a couple of the anti-LRT arguments that were made during the council debate. The only thing that mattered, however, was that the subway was located in Scarborough.

This subway plan might be even more dumb-assed, but again, for all sorts of non-transit related reasons, mostly revolving around political ambitions and pandering, I think it’s safe to say.

And if you think this is some sort of recent aberration, this profoundly political game of provincial interference, take a read through WorldWideWickens and the history of how we ended up with the much maligned Scarborough RT in the first place. Whose brilliant idea was that? Not the city of Toronto, as it turns out. eviloverlordFor different political but still political reasons, the Scarborough RT was foisted upon us by the province.

Here we are, barely 30 years on, hashing the same thing out again.

Of course, Minister Murray’s subway announcement doesn’t finalize anything despite what he might think. Reading Ben Spurr’s article in NOW, one might conclude that Murray’s only succeeded in pouring gasoline on the embers, re-igniting the whole thing back up into a conflagration of red hot clusterfuck. He’s just sent the flaming bag of shit back to be debated at city council again this fall and managed to wipe his government’s hands clean of it.

If council regains its senses and demands adherence to the signed master agreement which designates an LRT for Scarborough, they will be the ones (at least the councillors voting in that direction) denying Scarborough its subway. You know Mayor Ford will seize that club to use on any possible opponent in next year’s municipal election. The province can throw up its hands and say, what are you going to do with these squabbling kids? battleshipWe tried to give you a subway, Scarborough. They just wouldn’t listen.

The combination of both levels of government involved in our lives sometimes makes it feel like a 3-dimensional game of Battleship. Shit not only comes at you from the sides but from above and below as well. It’s this double-whammy that makes me think wistfully of being our own province. Halve the number of local representatives making dumb, self-serving decisions on our part. Let’s get rid of our MPPs and start making our very own dumb decisions.

At least we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

independently submitted by Cityslikr


Ask And Ye Shall Receive

September 5, 2013

Late Tuesday afternoon, we were told that the provincial Minister of Transportation, Glen Murray, would be holding a press conference the following day with important news regarding a certain Scarborough subway. raisedeyebrowEyebrows raised. Oh really? I honestly thought they’d let that die after having survived the by-election, relatively unscathed. No federal funding forthcoming. The mayor hasn’t so much as lifted a finger to find some additional financing. It was a great idea. The Liberal government really want to get it up and going but… alas, it was just not meant to be.

Oh well. That ol’ LRT is just gonna have to do, I guess…

Then came word yesterday morning before the minister’s press conference that, no, in fact, subway plans were still alive and kicking. Minister Murray and some faceless folks over at Metrolinx had been hard at it, busily revisiting and revising, ahead of the city council imposed September 30th drop deadline to deliver up a Scarborough subway. scribblingNo siree, bob. Queen’s Park wasn’t playing politics with this. They said they were the subway champions. They will be the subway champions.

And boom!

There it is.

The Scarborough subway, running from Kennedy station all the way up to… Scarborough Town Centre?

What kind of holy fuckery is this?!

The good Minister of Transportation couldn’t be serious, could he?

This story must be some sort of feint, a PR exercise to lower expectations, lower than low, so that the real plan they’ve been concocting throughout the summer will emerge, smelling all fresh and rosy. amimissingsomethingThere is no way in fucking hell the minister, this Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Centre can step up with anything even close to a straight face and announce a $1.4 billion expenditure on a subway that runs an even shorter distance than the much reviled RT now runs. He can’t possibly re-route the fucking the thing along the RT route when much heated debate had been expended at city council in June about interrupting that service and using a shitload of buses in its place while the subway was being built.

It. Just. Couldn’t. Be.

We are announcing that we are putting $1.4 billion into extending the subway to Scarborough Town Centre.

Apparently, I was wrong. Hardly the first time I’ve missed the mark, predicting which way a political wind will blow. Probably not the last. amimissingsomething1[Note to self: stop predicting things.]

I must not be seeing the bigger picture on all this. The one beyond the first blush of pure political brinkmanship, of simply some demented bumper car ride initiated back in 2010, on his very first official day of work when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City ‘dead’. This can’t be the end point. The Scarborough subway people have been clamoring for, Gollum-like, as some sort of symbol of equality.

“Today is a great day, they’re getting subways in Scarborough,” Mayor Ford pronounced. “We’re getting subways for Scarborough. I campaigned on it. Promise made, promise kept.”

That’s it? Subway Supporters of Scarborough (SSS™©®) are that easily appeased? No new extension further into subway-less regions of Scarborough. Simply a re-jigging of a pre-existing line. Burying (maybe) what is now elevated, with fewer stops and a terminus ending before the current one does.

youcanbeseriousIf we’re going to insist on being pandered to, we might want to extract a little more from the arrangement.

As it stands right now, this proposed subway does nothing to help the transit weary in Scarborough. In fact, as a line drawn on a map, it can only exacerbate what problems there are already. Looking at it and listening to its most ardent defenders, it’s hard not to think the only purpose this serves is to mollify those with their noses out of joint over the perceived slight of being subway deprived.

You wanted subways, Scarborough? We gave you subways. Enjoy!

When this discussion first got started, there were grand plans to extend the Sheppard subway east until it met Eglinton where the LRT would all be underground. Once that was in place, we could close the loop, bringing a subway all the way down to meet the Bloor-Danforth subway.

When that idea foundered on the rocks of Where the Fuck Would the Money Come From?, a more modest proposal emerged. Replace the proposed Scarborough LRT with a 3 stop subway, from Kennedy station up to what would be the Sheppard LRT. emptycupNot as all encompassing as the previous plan, and not without its serious concerns but a Scarborough subway nonetheless.

This is what it comes down to? This Sheppard subway redux is the measly result of all the fuss, all the indignation, all the foot-stomping and petulant screaming? We need a comprehensive transit network plan for a woefully under-served quarter or so of this city but we’ll settle for two lousy subway stops in the one spot in Scarborough that isn’t faring too badly when it comes transit service already?

We all can roll our eyes, shake our heads and mutter about the uselessness and self-serving of our politicians of every stripe and at all three levels of government. In this story alone, there is plenty of villainy to go around. But if our demands are so easily met, if our expectations and understanding of an issue as fundamental to the proper functioning of this city as public transit is are so superficial and little more than slogan thin that we can be assuaged with a token gesture which qualifies as nothing more than in name only, well, come on, folks. scratchedbellyThere’s nobody else but ourselves to blame.

The people wanted subways. The people got a subway. If all we ask of our elected representatives is for them to pander to us, we will be pandered to. That’s one prediction I’m fairly confident I’m right on.

 — postulatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Welcome To The Hot Seat, Mr. Budget Chief

September 4, 2013

Anybody else pause a moment reading the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat write that our budget chief, umwhatCouncillor Frank Di Giorgio, suggests the process of balancing the 2014 operating budget might ‘require a few miracles’? The man in charge of the $10 billion (more or less) purse strings casts an eye heavenward in hopes of some divine intervention to make sure revenues match expenditures because actual math might not do the trick this time round. Fingers crossed. Say your prayers. Hope there’s a rabbit to pull out of the fiscal hat.

I’m sure it was just an expression and the budget chief isn’t really that concerned. He has no choice but to balance the budget. The province mandates that he does so. It could even be he’s simply ramping up the concern, clearing the way for either service cuts or tax increases as necessary in order to meet the zero bottom line. ohdearHe won’t be the first budget chief to do so.

But it could also be that Councillor Di Giorgio, in his first kick at the can as budget chief, is now staring into the hard reality of Mayor Ford’s voodoo economic model for running the finances of the city. Cut revenues, cut the gravy but whatever you do don’t cut services the public actually wants. Those are much tougher numbers to crunch. And if all that easy waste wasn’t nearly as prevalent as the mayor claimed?

Well, that’s enough to make any budget chief look for a little guidance from the big guy upstairs.

The almost impossible task the budget chief faces was made glaringly apparent at yesterday’s budget committee meeting. City staff reported a $58+ million projected surplus after the 2nd quarter of 2013, made up largely of bigger than expected revenues from the Land Transfer Tax and money saved from unfilled staff vacancies, now in excess of 2500 positions including in vital departments like Human Resources, Planning, Health and IT. squaringthecircleIn order to keep the city in the black, it seems, the budget chief is going to have to keep that tax revenue coming in and maintain a freeze on making new hires.

The problem arises, however, when his boss wants to reduce that particular tax by 10% and preserve the façade of putting customer service first and foremost which entails keeping departments properly staffed up. Cut revenue and increase costs. It’s a difficult equation to keep in balance. Less money in + more money out = the same 0 it has to be every year.

To be fair to this administration, not filling staff vacancies – ‘gapping’, to use the euphemism — didn’t start in 2010. It has been an ongoing issue for some time now as an unobtrusive way to keep costs contained that isn’t immediately felt by the general public. A slight delay here. An unreturned call there. An accumulation of neglect owing to fewer and fewer bodies present to do the jobs that need getting done. workaloneKicking the can down the road, essentially, in the name of fiscal prudence.

Things become acute however when such gapping is combined with a downward pressure on revenues. Never mind hiring to fill in the gaps. The gaps just get bigger, deeper.

Under questioning from councillors, City Manager Joe Pennachetti admitted that maybe they had cut a little too much in the Human Resources department at City Hall over the last few years. So there aren’t enough people to hire other people in other departments. The gaps just get bigger, deeper.

Team Ford stalwart and budget committee member Councillor Frances Nunziata tried to suggest that many of these unfilled vacancies were unnecessary management positions that didn’t affect front line services. The city manager gently disagreed, saying the bulk of the vacancies were front line workers. He will deliver a report to next month’s meeting setting out the numbers in more detail.texaschainsawmassacre

But it’s hard to believe that the 36 vacancies in the planning department, say, are unnecessary management type positions. The understaffing in that vital department has long been decried, going back to at least the Miller years if not before but it’s staggering to think that it’s continuing all during the building boom that the city has been experiencing, not to mention the fact that we’re also reviewing our Official Plan… with a depleted planning department.

The city manager did point out that Toronto isn’t the only municipality experiencing problems hiring qualified people to fill its bureaucratic ranks. Competition is tight from competing cities as well as the private sector. It’s not as easy as just topping up your human resources department and telling them to go out and get hiring.

It’s going to take opening the wallets up and creating a desirable work place environment in order to successfully recruit candidates here. Both conditions seem to be the exact opposite of how the current administration operates. badnumbersDedicated to the best customer service that the money we refuse to spend can buy.

If that unworkable kind of Dr. Doolittle, push me-pull me approach wasn’t evident to the budget chief before yesterday’s meeting, it certainly should be now. How he’s going to straddle that divide, God only knows. So far, there’s no indication the budget chief does.

celestially submitted by Cityslikr


The Recumbent Incumbent

September 3, 2013

Gawd! These infernal pre-campaign polls. Story generators produced by those without caller ID on their phones, onthephonewilling to engage with anyone who dials their number. Idle speculation meant to fill in the gap between actual stories.

The only folks these polls are intended to help out are those mulling over a mayoral run. An informal testing of the waters. Polls establish front runners, differentiating them from those without a hope in hell of becoming the city’s next mayor. Hey. Possible candidate X was seen having lunch with John Laschinger at Spadina Garden. How would they do in next year’s election matched up against candidate Y?

The funny thing is, if the history of amalgamated Toronto is anything to go by, such polls conducted so many, many months before the actual election are pretty much meaningless aside from confirming the name (or names) of the candidates to beat. In 2003, John Tory and Barbara Hall. wiltsIn 2010, George Smitherman. All lost the subsequent elections to candidates few had on their radar when the campaign actually commenced.

So beware everyone currently placing their bets and hopes on the likes of John Tory (again), Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz. Our recent electoral history has not treated early front runners well.

I think the one certainty we can take from the likes of Forum Research’s most recent poll for next year’s municipal election in Toronto is that the incumbent, unlike his predecessors, is going to find himself in the midst of a bruising battle to keep his job. In 2000, Mel Lastman was as good as acclaimed for a second term, facing no politically established opponent in the campaign. In 2006, Councillor Jane Pitfield stood as little more than a sacrificial lamb in her attempt to deny David Miller another go-around at the job.

It ain’t going to be so easy for Rob Ford. The one caveat is that both Lastman and Miller went into re-election mode after only two years (of a 3 year term)donnybrook in office, perhaps seeming a little more fresh-faced than our current mayor who’s had an additional year of public scrutiny in office before his re-election campaign begins. Perhaps this will be the new norm with 4 year council terms now. A one term mayor facing an uphill battle in a bid for re-election.

For many incumbents that might seem a little daunting but may be this is nothing but good news for Mayor Ford. He loves playing the underdog, the outsider. The little engine that nobody said could and nobody better think of writing off as an impossible long shot again. Every indication suggests that 2014 is the mayor’s election to win. Just like 2010.

deweydefeatstruman

If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think that’s the exact spot he’s positioned himself to be in at this juncture. Failing miserably toward a second term

cassandraly submitted by Cityslikr