Transit Intransigence

October 30, 2015

Just a quick (here’s hoping) update on the post yesterday re the Brampton city council rejection of the north of Steeles section of the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT, and the ugly horrors the intrusion of parochial interests have on transit planning. columbo1(Still looking at you, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker).

I late linked to a more in-depth article about the Brampton debacle from Sean Marshall at Marshall’s Musings. If you didn’t catch it then, I advise you to do so now. Here’s a snippet.

The Hurontario-Main corridor was selected for LRT simply because it is one of the busiest transit corridors in the Greater Toronto Area outside the City of Toronto; it connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors, it would help urbanize south Brampton and several neighbourhoods in Mississauga. It’s part of a larger regional network, yet six city councillors in Brampton, looking out for narrow, local interests, sunk it.

Earlier in the post, Marshall points out that the line at its proposed southernmost terminus, at the Port Credit waterfront, had been snipped off in a similarly, if less dramatic fashion, due to what he called “community opposition”.

This brought to mind stories our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, told us about the obstacle that city faces in its transit plans, a place called Beverly Hills, swimming pools and movie stars. It is one of 88 municipalities in Los Angeles County, home to 35,000 of the county’s 10 million people, and yet it has the heft to be constantly throwing up road blocks to wider regional projects. Bike lanes? Forget it. Rush hour dedicated bus lanes? No way, José. As for a westward subway extension tunneled under Beverly Hills High? Ummmm…

Yikes!

What often times gets lost in the back-and-forth debate over transit planning and proposed projects, all the wonkery and nerd talk pushing it from polite conversation, is any discussion on class and race. The northern portion up into Brampton of the HMLRT was opposed by that city’s well-heeled living in big houses on Main Street. This group included former Ontario premier Bill Davis. monoclewearingTerms like ‘heritage preservation’ or ‘maintaining neighbourhood character’ get tossed around but it’s hard to avoid looking at the deeper context. Public transit is for other people.

Rarely do you hear those who depend on public transit — many, economically and socially marginalized — complain that the service is too close to where they live. That it negatively impacts the character of their street. That it threatens the heritage of their neighbourhood. How the overhead wires interfere with their view. Those kinds of concerns are for other people.

Equally, just how much say should we be giving to individual communities when it conflicts with wider objectives? Yeah, I’m talking about the greater good here. As Marshall writes in his post, the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT was chosen because it runs along “one of the busiest transit corridors” in the GTA and “connects three GO lines and several major bus corridors”. upyoursAnd it gets tossed aside because a handful of elected officials, listening to a handful of voices, albeit persuasive ones, don’t want it?

It’s a prickly situation, to be sure. I’m advocating for the railroading, so to speak, of local opinion because it’s acting as a detriment to a wider regional transportation plan for no other discernible reason aside from self-interest. But I’m at a loss how else you put the ‘we’ ahead of ‘me’ when it’s the emphasis on the latter that’s got us all bogged down in the first place.

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A Disturbing Reflection

October 29, 2015

I’ve been thinking about variations of the We Get the Politicians We Deserve quote over the past couple days and decided to run with H.L. Mencken’s version:

hlmencken

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

This comes in light of the Brampton city council’s decision a couple nights ago to reject a plan for an LRT connection, fully funded by the provincial government. Why? Well, I’ll let other people who’ve been following the proceedings much closer than I’ve been explain it. I’ll just sum it up in a word: change. No, wait. More words. Change, we don’t care for it.

It gets darker and somehow sillier still. brilliantideaTurns out the plan, after rejecting money from Queen’s Park, is to solicit cash from the new federal government to build an LRT more to the city’s liking (h/t Andray Domise). Just like that, as if there’s no sort of co-ordination of infrastructure building between Ottawa and the provinces. As if the federal government is simply going to hand over money to a proven capricious municipal government.

But presumably, the Brampton city council was simply doing the will of the people who elected it to office.

Similarly, here in Toronto, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker reflects the views of his constituents who’ve sent him to City Hall since 2003.

The good councillor was at it again yesterday during a TTC meeting, his fitness to serve on full display. madhatterAfter a staff presentation on the state of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack, the councillor assured the room that this plan was just another name for the downtown relief line. It isn’t. Not by any measure. Not in a million years.

“… And people wonder why we elected Rob Ford,” Councillor De Baeremaeker said. Huh? Wait?Apparently, according to the councillor, in response to “Scarborough parts of Transit City being ‘lobbed off’”.

Correct me if I’m wrong here but it was Rob Ford who, on his first day of assuming the office of mayor, declared Transit City dead, effectively lobbying off the Scarborough parts along with it. So what the hell is Councillor De Baeremaeker talking about?

More to the point, here’s Councillor De Baeremaeker in 2012, Transit City supporter and especially the Scarborough parts of it.

And here’s Councillor De Baeremaeker just a couple years later, after having been scared by then Mayor Ford about his re-election prospects for his support of the Scarborough parts of Transit City.

Fact is, it was Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker who helped lob off the Scarborough parts of Transit City, long after Rob Ford was elected mayor. He’s somehow — and very conveniently, I might add – got cause and effect all mixed up.

But the nonsense didn’t simply end with that, however.

In a press scrum after the TTC meeting, responding to the commission’s decision to sue Bombardier for its failure to deliver new streetcars to Toronto as per its contractual obligations, the councillor spoke into the microphones about his feelings toward Bombardier. iloveyouto“I can’t repeat what we’d say in Scarborough…” What? Presumably, once you cross east of Victoria Park Ave, people use different, extremely local invective?

I should not be amazed but I still am that such parochial pandering works. It’s the political equivalent of a musician up on stage shouting I LOVE YOU, TOR-ON-TOE! in order to garner wild applause. Totally cheap and meaningless.

Yet, it does the trick, evidently. Glenn De Baeremaeker is a totally unremarkable politician with an undistinguished record in office who’s wrapped himself in a Captain Scarborough cape in order to seem relevant. Brampton city council rejects both a transit connection to the wider GTA region and the opportunity to redevelop its downtown core for no other reason than it being a break from past approaches.

And there doesn’t seem to be any consequences to those decisions.captainscarborough

So what does that say about us, the electorate?

We like our municipal politics local, extremely so? Politicians succeed by pandering to our worst, most myopic instincts? When push comes to shove, it’s being the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know. The status quo bias. In the case of Glenn De Baeremaeker, he’s conflated his own personal, political best interests with the best interests of his constituents and Scarborough as a whole.

Politics as comfort food. Don’t upset the apple cart. Don’t do anything to disturb the as is. No sudden moves. Placate our concerns and, above all else, don’t challenge our preconceptions.

We get the politicians and politics we deserve. Why would we expect them to act any differently if this is what we expect of them?

reflection

reflectingly submitted by Cityslikr


1 Year Down, 7 To Go

October 27, 2015

Hey!

Here’s an idea nobody’s thought about until this very moment.brightidea

How about today, on the first anniversary of John Tory’s election as mayor of Toronto, I assess his job performance, by issuing a, what would you call it, a report card of sorts? So obvious. It’s amazing to me nobody’s come up with it before I did.

I kid. I kid.

While children throughout the province may not be receiving report cards this term, Mayor Tory has been inundated with them. So don’t mind me while I just pile on here for a second. I’m sure I’ve got something to say about his time in office somebody else hasn’t said already.

A+s all round, it seems, for Mayor Tory’s restoring of civility to City Hall. Out with the shit show. In with decorum. Toronto’s reputation in the eyes of the nation and the world has been salvaged and revived.

Make no mistake. This is important. While it’s tough to wholly quantify, local governance had been worn down to a slow grind even after the previous administration crashed and burned. oneyearanniversaryThe appearance of serious-minded competence is a vital first step in realizing serious-minded competence.

So, with absolutely no facetiousness intended, well done. Mayor Tory has largely succeeded in relegating the lunacy to the fringes where it belongs. At the local level, this is no small feat.

But this should come as no surprise, really. It’s pretty much as advertised. John Tory campaigned heavily on being the anti-Ford. That’s what the city voted for. That’s what the city got.

But is it enough? Going forward, is simple peace-and-quiet all we can demand and expect from this mayoralty? One year in, what other accomplishments can this administration point to?

I ask because, over the weekend, I was involved in a discussion on social media about the long term electoral prospects of Mayor Tory. It stemmed from a Toronto Star article by David Rider, outlining how the mayor seems to be operating with his attention focused on a rematch with Rob Ford in 2018, catering to the issues perceived to be important to the Nation: cars and low taxes. notthatguyAn unnamed councillor suggested the mayor doesn’t want to be perceived as ‘downtown-ist or urbanist’, and that his staff isn’t concerned with any sort of unrest from the ‘left flank’.

Essentially, as long as Rob Ford remains a viable contender (or the perception exists that he’s a viable contender), Mayor Tory can just waltz toward re-election, scaring left-of-centre voters into supporting him for no other reason than simply to keep Rob Ford from being mayor again.

I questioned the wisdom of that, and heard from some very non-Tory types that, yeah, as long as Rob Ford is in the electoral picture, nobody serious from the left would challenge the mayor, let alone win. This had been a sentiment expressed to me by more than a few voices on the left almost immediately after election night last year. Plan for two terms of Mayor Tory.

That’s 7 more years, folks. All this administration can point to by way of accomplishments is not being Rob Ford and we’ve resigned ourselves to expecting nothing more? For 7 more years?

What happens to a city presided over by a mayor who defines himself by something or someone he isn’t? Where exactly is the aspiration in that? Come 2022, at the end of Mayor Tory’s presumed 2nd term, what does that Toronto look like, aside from being Rob Ford-free for nearly a decade?yoursforlife

Nothing the mayor has done over the past 12 months can point to anything transformative taking place during his tenure. He’ll tell you SmartTrack despite every indication suggesting otherwise. He’s got a report on a plan to tackle the city’s poverty and growing income inequality. But so far, it’s just that, a report on a plan. In the words of the mayor’s chosen right-hand man, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “When the rubber hits the road, it all comes down to money.” Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but, ultimately, show me the money. “There are going to be competing priorities,” Mayor Tory concurred.

As much as he’s relied on differentiating himself from his predecessor for the goodwill he’s generated from Torontonians, policy-wise, there’s little sunlight to be seen between the two men. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has solidly aligned himself with the suburban, conservative rump of city council, filling his Executive Committee with them almost to the exclusion of downtown councillors. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has rejected any discussion about property tax increases above the rate of inflation. foggytoLike Rob Ford, Mayor Tory grudgingly accepts public transit fare increases but will not so much as consider user fees on other types of commuters (*cough, cough *drivers* cough, cough * cough, cough*). Both Rob Ford and Mayor John Tory euphemistically talk efficiencies when they actually mean cuts. Rob Ford uses the low-brow terminology, ‘gravy’, while Mayor Tory goes all Michelin Guide, 5-star rating, ‘marbling’.

Mayor Tory talks a much bigger, brighter picture than Rob Ford ever did but he steadfastly refuses to discuss the grim reality of how we achieve such things. We might have to pay more. We might have to re-prioritize how we go about doing things, how we go about getting about the city, say. We might have to accept the fact it’s 2015 not 1975.

In no way do I see Mayor Tory willing to accept that challenge. He’s an agent of change from the Rob Ford way of doing things but he seems risk averse to much of any other sort of change. He’s returned us to the pre-Ford status quo, one chock full of intractable problems and structural concerns he seems no more prepared to face than Rob Ford was.unsure

Lest you think I’m just some Douglas Downer, on a positive note, I do think Mayor John Tory is both amiable and pliant enough to establish good working relationships with the other levels of government which, when all is said and done, will be vital for the city to deal effectively with those intractable problems and structural concerns. We’ve seen hints of it in his first year in office despite some setbacks. (You want us to pay how much for our portion of UPX?!) I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But is that enough to feel good about the prospect of 7 more John Tory as mayor anniversaries, to simply concede to him certain re-election because he’s proven little more to us than he’s not Rob Ford? We get it already. Who exactly Mayor Tory is and what he represents remains a mystery. One he needs to start unwrapping before we give him the keys to the office for as long as he wants.

notthatguy1

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No Service Cuts Guaranteed

October 26, 2015

Can we finally put to rest the still simmering notion of Rob Ford’s sound economic stewardship of this city while he was mayor? mythsfactsThis delusional belief that, his personal problems aside, he turned Toronto around, establishing a firm fiscal foundation. He stopped the gravy train, cut our taxes, all without reducing services whatsoever.

It seems, for the second year in a row now, that TTC ridership numbers did not reach projections, 6 million fewer this year after falling short by 5 million last. While no one thing can be specifically attributable to these shortfalls, it seems that cuts in service back in 2012 may have played a significant part. Cuts in service then Mayor Ford claimed (and Councillor Ford still claims) never actually happened.

I cannot comment on a reduction in service I have not seen or does not exist.

“I don’t think anybody can be very surprised if you don’t put more transit on the street that your ridership doesn’t grow with it,” TTC deputy CEO Chris Upfold said. “We are just reaching the stage where we are not leading transit growth anymore.”crowdedttc

Yes, TTC ridership has continued to increase. The city continues to grow. But ridership has been curbed due to a lack of added service to accommodate the population growth and demand. “We’re full and our customers know that,” Upfold claimed.

How does a city allow its public transit system to become “full” or, as anyone who’s squeezed onto a packed subway, streetcar or bus might see it, over-capacity?

Again, there are no simple answers to that question. Certainly a lack of funding from higher orders of government, especially at the operational level, contribute to service inadequacies. Toss in unsatisfactory management practices, if you want. Don’t forget our political fixation on big, shiny projects at the expense of the more mundane task of ensuring proper and functional access to public transit to all areas of the city. A combination of these factors (and more, no doubt) created a scenario where supply fails to meet demand.

But, back in 2012, city council decided to cut TTC service, especially along low ridership routes, thereby making transit a less viable option to move around the city. crowdedttc1Service that Mayor Tory began to restore not long after coming to office, but also not long after he mocked his opponent in the mayor’s race, Olivia Chow, for proposing a similar service restoration. He also reversed his campaign pledge to freeze TTC fares with a bump in them to help offset the cost of the service improvements.

A hike Mayor Tory, like his predecessor, has yet to contemplate when it comes to helping improve drivers’ travel times. Speed up Gardiner repairs? How about bringing back the Vehicle Registration Tax to help pay for it? Off the table. Increase property taxes above the rate of inflation? Get the hell out of here.

And look, this is simply bringing back transit service to 2012 levels. In case you haven’t looked at a calendar recently, it’s 2015. Forget ‘leading transit growth’, like the TTC deputy CEO suggests we’re not doing, we’re falling behind. What city of this size, with the kind of dependence we have on public transit to keep people moving, would allow that to happen?crowdedttc1

Mayor Tory wants to give the impression that his SmartTrack plan is a solution to this problem. It isn’t, certainly not immediately, if ever. He’s got nothing else to offer that we didn’t already hear from Rob Ford. Inflationary property tax increases at most. Elimination of gravy marble across City Hall departments with 2% budget cuts. Something, something efficiencies, something, something.

As we’re learning now from previous experience, that’s no way to build a 21st-century transit system.

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Leaving Town To Sell SmartTrack At Home

October 23, 2015

We hear it regularly from our mayor that, as CEO of the corporation of Toronto, one important aspect of his job is to be the city’s ‘chief salesman’. salesmanPitch it. Sell it. Tell the world this is a great place to live, work, a prime location to set up a business in.

Thump the Toronto tub. Cheerlead. Boost civically.

Nothing wrong with that. In the urban age we live, it can’t hurt to have someone out there, trying to get a place noticed although I am more a proponent of actions speaking louder than words. Build a livable city and they will come which, of course, is much easier said than done.

But have at it. Go forth, Mr. Mayor, nationally, internationally, sell the product that is Toronto. Hey, world! We are open for business.

It’s tough, though, on his current trip to London, England, to figure out what aspect of this city Mayor Tory’s trying to sell. Most of his second day over there was spent comparing his barely embryonic SmartTrack transit plan to that city’s Crossrail project, well underway and under the streets of London. boosterismMaybe this isn’t a sales trip so much as a journey of discovery?

Or perhaps, and much more cynically, this official excursion is about selling SmartTrack to its critics back in Toronto. Photo ops with Mayor Tory swooning over transit maps and tunnels, citing Crossrail as the inspiration for his SmartTrack plan. “Talking to UK Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin about Crossrail & what we can learn as we build SmartTrack,” tweeted the mayor’s office. If Crossrail exists (and it does, we have pictures to prove it), so does SmartTrack.

The mayor is even receiving some uncharacteristically uncritical boosterism from the Toronto Star whose Jennifer Pagliaro is over there, covering the trip. “Touring the future 118-kilometre rail line in London, Mayor John Tory sees a future he’s been dreaming of for Toronto,” states the article’s sub-headline.

The tour Thursday appears to have renewed Tory’s resolve to make SmartTrack work no matter what. For too long, he said, there has been arguing without end in Toronto, which has struggled to secure the kind of funding it needs from other governments to build bigger and better transit. It’s what Tory calls the “Old Toronto way.”

“Crossrail went through a whole lot of stages where people were doubting it, people wondered if they had the money . . . the private sector participation wasn’t assured and so it had a lot of hiccups along the way but now they’re sitting here saying, ‘Thank god,’“ Tory said. “For me the lesson is also patience.”

Never mind that SmartTrack itself is contributing in a major way to Toronto’s transit argument ‘without end’, as the mayor puts it. An election campaign platform hastily grafted onto an already overdrawn transit wish list map, it has, once more, thrown concrete planning into disarray, nudging other, longer established priorities into limbo. crossrailAs for patience? 22 stations in 7 years, we’re told. The clock is ticking. Tick tock, tick tock.

What inspiration SmartTrack drew from London’s Crossrail is also not immediately obvious to the naked eye. Both could be classified as using surface rail — although the mayor liked to refer to SmartTrack as surface subway until some people frowned on that usage. How about regional rail ‘urban service’? While we saw lots of pictures of Mayor Tory touring tunnels yesterday, as Steve Munro pointed out, at the beginning, there was no talk of SmartTrack tunneling. In fact, that was the exact up sell selling point about it. Using existing infrastructure to speed up the delivery and reduce the cost of a new transit service.

SmartTrack is nothing like Crossrail, and not just because the latter exists while the former doesn’t aside from the stubborn figment of one man’s election campaign promise. crossrail1When Crossrail opens in 2018, it will be after a 40+ year, up and down, back and forth stretch of time that wound up incorporating both private and public funding, and will serve as a long sought after link in what is already a very extensive transit network. Compared to it, SmartTrack is an unwelcome interloper that will do little to alleviate Toronto’s transit backlog and bursting at the seams system.

If Mayor Tory was truly taking in the lessons of Crossrail on his trip to London, he’d come home convinced that his SmartTrack dream is not only wholly inadequate but equally as implausible. Good public transit planning is a tough slog. You can’t just summon it out of thin air during a night of election strategizing. It isn’t cheap and someone else isn’t going to pay for it. smarttrackAn overseas PR exercise won’t magically bring it into existence.

Like I said, I’ve got no problems with our mayor and other elected officials hitting the road to sell the Toronto brand. I’m less sanguine about a trip abroad used, at least in part, to convince those of us already living here about the viability of a clearly troubled transit plan. Say what you will about Rob Ford, but it’s hard to imagine him wasting hard-working taxpayers’ money to travel outside the 416 in order to try and persuade people back in Toronto that the People Want Subways. Subway! Subways! Subways!

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I Prefer ‘Doubting Thomas’

October 21, 2015

There’s a certain childlike candor, a terrible beauty, in a politician matching the simplicity of messaging to the simple-mindedness of a policy platform. “Subways! Subways! Subways! The people want Subways!” Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want! I want! No justification, no rational, no cost-benefit pitch to it. Just a need identified and demand made.

And then, there’s this hot mess of pure obfuscation and tangential meandering of campaign tinged tired talking points.

Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack is no more a solution to this city’s transit woes than Rob Ford’s SubwaysEverywhere chant was, yet he wants us to think otherwise, and spends a lot of words and money trying to convince us of that. Assailing critics of the project as ‘Douglas and Debbie Downers’, legitimate questions are fine, as far as they go, but what’s really needed here, the mayor stated, is for us “to start finding ways to get to Yes on things instead of finding ways to get to No.”downer

Take that, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig who, in a letter earlier this month to the city manager, Peter Wallace, called SmartTrack (an “independent and parallel service” of the province’s improved RER plans) “unaffordable and unworkable.” That’s no way to start out on a path toward Yes, Mr. McCuaig. Although Metrolinx quickly tried to smooth over that bump in the road with a subsequent media release to say that everybody’s still “continuing to work together on how to integrate key elements of the SmartTrack proposal with the Province’s GO Regional Express Rail (RER) program.”

Integrating “key elements of the SmartTrack proposal” isn’t anywhere near the same as providing an “independent and parallel service”, something that doesn’t just help move GTA commuters around the region but also contributes to the alleviation of transit congestion within the city. fineprintFor SmartTrack to work and be worth the money spent on it, it has to deliver local service as part of an express framework. So far, 11 months into the process (more like 18 if you count back to its appearance on the campaign trail) that sticky dynamic has not been worked out, not even close, judging by the staff presentation at Executive Committee yesterday.

Mayor Tory told the room that what they were reading, what staff had delivered was just “an interim report.” No need to rush to any hasty conclusions and get all Douglas Downer-ish. All would be revealed as assuredly as the sun would rise in the morning. If the route to Yes was an easy one, it would be as clogged with foot traffic as Bloor-Yonge subway platform on your average workday rush hour.

Despite his flurry of words in defense of SmartTrack and the diligent process it is currently enduring, none of the concerns critics have expressed have yet to addressed, despite the extensive work being done between the city, the province and Metrolinx, despite the millions of dollars having been spent. None. The ridership projection model still isn’t in place. emptytalkFeasibility studies are still to come. Funding sources? Yep. TBD.

Mayor Tory is the one who set the clock ticking on SmartTrack. 7 years. “Admittedly in an election campaign,” he confesses, “where I didn’t have access to squads of engineers and ridership experts and various other people. I had what I had.” Which was bupkis, it turns out, other than a craven campaign team that ran with an empty slogan it passed off as a well-thought out plan. Even now, a year later, with none of the concerns addressed, the mayor triumphantly crows about having opened both federal and provincial government cheque books wide to fund SmartTrack even with its viability still very much in question.

In your face, doubters. Douglas and Debbie Downer-Doubters.

At least the Fords, in their crass politicization of transit planning, ceased trying to con us that they had anything more than a catchy chant, an earworm, a few words to slap on an election sign. elephantintheroomMayor Tory’s insisting on wasting our time and money in an effort to prove his scheme is much more serious and worthy of consideration, and not just some campaign gimmick run up the flagpole in a successful effort to become mayor. Suggesting such a thing is simply throwing up a roadblock on the way to Yes.

Bad transit plans are not the enemy of proper city building. Doubting is.

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And Then He Was Gone

October 20, 2015

In the end, he couldn’t even come out on stage, look us in the eye and say, I quit.

stephenharper

The Canada Stephen Harper detested, Liberal Canada, after nearly a decade of derision, came roaring back and punched the man right in the face. Irony, eh? It often (or especially or eventually) undoes the most hubristic of us.

Ding dong, the witch is dead. The dog barks. The caravan moves on.

My enjoyment of the moment was short-lived, not just because the man denied us the pleasure of resigning to our face, but we’ve seen this movie before. A conservative government collapse followed by a big Liberal sweep. 1993, federally. 2003, here in Ontario. Over the past 22 years, we’ve had Liberal governments in Ottawa for 13 of them. Liberals have ruled Queen’s Park for 12 of the past 20 years.

Whatever challenges we face, whether it’s income inequality, precarious employment, a lack of affordable housing, a precipitous infrastructure deficit, none of these have come about by the neglect or purposeful scheming of one man or one party. None of it happened overnight. Much of it occurred under a Liberal watch.

This morning, I am relieved. Last night’s outcome could’ve been so much worse. That’s hardly the edifying feeling one might like to experience with a much desired change in government. But, once again, I guess it’ll have to do.

itlldo

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