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.

certainly submitted by Cityslikr


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

not unenthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr


Who’s Out Of Touch?

October 19, 2015

harperford

As the interminable federal campaign draws to a close and our well established liberal media (newspaper division) largely circled its collective wagons around the incumbent Conservative party (some following tortuous paths to get there), one thing becomes clearly evident. If you’re not voting for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, you’re the radical, you’re out of step with the mainstream. You’ve lost your way from traditional Canadian values.

If nothing else, this election has attempted to normalise Conservative behaviour as the old stock baseline. Sure, there were a few mistakes and missteps. Nobody’s perfect. Are you? But ultimately, steady as she goes, no serious deviation from the core principles that have defined this country since Confederation. Above all else, Canadians have fought and died for low taxation and a sound economy. Everything else is suspect.

“But mostly the critics [of the Harper administration] are seething with ideological zeal that warns that today’s Canadian progressives have veered to new extremism,” David Frum tweeted out on Saturday. Opponents of Stephen Harper are the extremists, says the guy who helped cheerlead the U.S. into a misguided war in Iraq that set the Mideast on fire. Yes, we’re the extremists.

As much as we’d like to think we are different than our neighbours to the immediate south, more tolerant, more moderate, more reasonable, in the light of this election campaign and the continued viability of the Conservative brand, we need to rethink that smug point of view. Our conservative segment of the population has drifted farther and farther from the middle of the political spectrum, dragging the centre with it and eyeing suspiciously everyone who hasn’t followed their rightward march. From that relative position way over there, enthusiastically enabling the vanishing of Canada, it sees its opponents and critics as the ones out of touch, out of step with their Canada. Radicals. Extremists.

So be it. Accept the fact that at this juncture in our history, we must consign a quarter to a third of our voting population to intractable conservative fanaticism. My party, right or wrong. A faction living quite comfortably in its no longer veiled racism and bigotry, happy at war with information and history, defiant in denying the inconvenient realities of the world around them. One time fringe thinking now mainstream conservative thought.

We need to stop catering to it, to cease trying to woo it or appeal to its better nature. There’s no such thing as a Conservative better nature. That died a long time ago.

You can’t ignore it but you can isolate it. 25%, 33%, that’s still a minority, healthily so, in fact. It’s not enough to govern properly but it is ample enough to disrupt the proceedings.

When Stephen Harper hooked up with the Ford Bros. for a campaign rally on Saturday night, it was a full and frank admission that this was all it was about, all it had ever been about. Disruption. Governance mayhem. Disregard for anything and anybody not holding to their narrow and dim world view. All of them feeding into and off of our worst instincts, asking nothing more from us than our hatred and fear.

Supporters and apologists tried to make that appear as normal, standard practice, conventional wisdom, plain ol’ common sense. You don’t think so? You disagree? You’re out of step with the rest of us. You’re out there, radical, extreme.

To believe that, though, is to admit that you don’t trust numbers, that basic math is an unreliable source of information. Somehow 25%, 33% makes a majority and dictates what constitutes the mainstream. The rest? Deluded, suffering from a simple case of Harper Derangement Syndrome.

It doesn’t add up but it never was supposed to. A stubborn wilfulness sits at the core of conservative thought belief these days. That’s why it’s so hard to engage. We need to stop trying. It only lends credibility where none is deserved.

radically submitted by Cityslikr


Not So FAST

October 15, 2015

It’s not unusual for me to be out socializing, dinner or drinks, and have the conversation turn political, and asked, with a side of rolled of eyes, if I still think John Tory will be as bad a mayor as Rob Ford. rolledeyesIt’s an especially laughable claim in the face of the revelations now leaking out from the book written by Ford’s former chief of staff, Mark Towhey. Nobody could be worse for Toronto than Rob Ford.

My concern was never about personal decorum, however. I never suggested that John Tory was going to turn out to be a street level gangster, send lawyers, guns and money, the shit’s just hit the fan. Obviously, he represents a clean, shiny face in the mayor’s office.

It was always, to my mind, about governance. And I still hold firm on my insistence that Mayor Tory could ultimately be as bad for Toronto’s future as Rob Ford. How? Because John Tory might just get things done, and not necessarily things Toronto needs getting done.

Lost amidst the noise of Towhey’s book, this little group had its coming out party this morning. FAST. Friends and Allies of Smart Track. Take a look.

An advocacy group established to help inform and educate the public about Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan, the transit plan he campaigned on, his signature platform item. Or, through a Rob Ford lens, John Tory’s Scarborough Subway.

FAST is an advocacy group full of lawyers, former politicians and a couple of Tory 2014 campaign teammates including Tom Allison, that campaign’s manager. sockpuppetThe group’s colour scheme matches the blue and green of John Tory’s campaign material. FAST echoes much of the Tory campaign talking points.

But, rest assured, there is absolutely no involvement in FAST from the mayor’s office.

FAST is just another grassroots group of concerned and well-connected citizens with a Bay Street office.

What FAST most assuredly isn’t is a group heavy with much transit expertise aboard. You’d think that’d be one prerequisite when you’re slapping together carefully curating your grassroots transit advocacy group. Somebody, anybody, to help inform and educate the public on the merits of this particular transit project, SmartTrack.

Especially since, in its current form, SmartTrack is this amorphous campaign pledge that is awaiting vetting and fleshing out by city staff. It remains a figment, as abstract a concept as it was when John Tory pitched it more than a year ago. There’s no meat on the bones, the bones themselves, theoretical.

Yet, now here’s this group, rallying around the void just ahead of when more substantive reports emerge about SmartTrack’s viability, treating and talking and cheerleading as if it’s already a thing. Lobbying it into existence. Daring city staff to step forward and deny it.steamroll

This is what I’m talking about when I say that a Mayor John Tory will not serve this city any better than Rob Ford did during his time in office. What we’re witnessing right now, just like we did with the Fords and their most excellent Scarborough subway adventure, is the politicization of public transit planning. It’s the exact opposite of everything this mayor claims to stand for. It isn’t reasonable. It isn’t rational. It isn’t prudent. It’s pure politics.

What’s more, why I’m still holding to the claim that Tory will be worse for us than a Ford, there’s every reason to suspect he’s going to get away with it.

suspiciously submitted by Cityslikr


How Not To Be A City Councillor, Part 2

October 14, 2015

Here’s basic transit planning math. Get higher order public transit = Get higher density. That’s the only way it can work out in any sort of realistic economic sense. simplemathYou want subways or at-grade rapid transit? More people just come with that territory.

Or to put it another way, a robust public transit system needs people to function fully. People are attracted to fully functioning public transit. One follows the other. The other follows the other one. Like a Lays potato chip, you can’t have just one.

That basic equation seems to elude a startlingly high number of our city councillors however. Councillors in Scarborough want a subway to travel up a stable, single-family home residential street. When and if (always a big ‘if’) such a project arrives, the same councillors want nothing to do with the density that needs accompany it.

The latest skirmish in this I Want/Don’t You Dare battle has surfaced in the Eglinton-Bayview part of the city. Here comes the LRT, very likely, probably in the next decade, and moves are afoot to start developing along and near it accordingly. holdthephoneIntensification, in other words. Density, yo.

Just hold on a second. Hold on to your horses, pard’ner. Not so fast.

“Councillor Jon Burnside is not happy with Metrolinx officials after recently discovering the government agency had purchased property on Bayview Avenue that may be used for a residential development above an LRT station.”

Residential development above an LRT station? Whoever’s heard of such a travesty. Not if Councillor Burnside has anything to say about it.

Councillor Jon Burnside became aware of the deal when a resident on Bayview notified him that the transit agency had purchased a double duplex immediately adjacent to both the McDonald’s (at 1785 Bayview Ave.) and the property south of that, also owned by Countrywide Homes.

Acccording to Councillor Burnside, the deal could enable the developer to push for a taller development beyond the nine storeys allowed by the official plan.

Meanwhile, residents are already fighting a 19-storey proposal across the street at Sunnybrook plaza.

Not only is the local councillor concerned that new development above the LRT station might contravene the city’s Official Plan, he also suggests that the provincial transit agency has a vested interested in building higher, bigger because it was profit per square foot of development. cllrjonburnsideBeware development. BOO! Beware government agencies. BOO!

Councillor Burnside’s demonization of both Metrolinx and the development industry is on full display in a couple columns he’s written over the last couple months in Leaside Life News on the Eglinton-Bayview LRT station. “Can we trust Metrolinx?” the councillor wonders in the September edition.

The benefits of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to our city have been mentioned many times over, but what is less clear and even less welcome are the consequences to our community. The biggest issue we currently face is intensification along Eglinton, namely, enormous condominium development.

Intensification means consequences, a word wrought with negative connotations. Metrolinx and their development buddies are out to screw with Ward 26 residents, imposing on them ‘enormous condominium development’. How big? No one knows yet (or no one’s saying) but we could be talking ‘upwards of 20 storeys’, the councillor intones. There goes the neighbourhood, sitting as it will be along a major transit hub.

Councillor Burnside even undermines that idea, putting higher order transit in quotations. “Higher order transit”. So says the devious Metrolinx and their sneaky development buddies.

Then in October, the councillor follows up, confirming his suspicions. “I found Metrolinx duplicitous,” he writes. This wasn’t about the agency striking a deal to simply build an LRT station but with “… a clear motivation for maximum density and would likely back it up with the rationale that their job is to promote transit-oriented developmentpitchfork[italics mine] as if that would be the end of Leaside as we know it. Maximum density, transit-oriented development straight to hell in a handbasket! Or, as Metrolinx calls it: “Higher order transit”.

“I will let you decide whether or not you think Metrolinx is a neutral bystander or a government agency that could do irreparable damage to our community,” Councillor Burnside signs off, establishing a poisonous atmosphere between his constituents in the ward he represents and the official body in charge of inflicting “higher order transit-oriented development” on them. Get out the pitchforks, folks! The gubrment’s coming!!

I’m not suggesting that Metrolinx or any official agency be given a free pass and automatic benefit of the doubt as to their motivations and transparency. People much more informed about Metrolinx than I am, and certainly more so than Councillor Burnside, keep constant vigil with a wary eye as to what exactly they’re up on various projects. As it should be.

But this flagrant indulging, encouraging even, of such malice and mistrust is unbecoming, to say the least, of an elected official. protestagainstTo undercut a major transit project, one of the biggest and most important in these parts for decades now, simply to score cheap local political points shows Councillor Jon Burnside to be unfit for public office. But hey. That’s never stopped anyone from occupying space at City Hall before. I mean, Toronto elected someone like that as mayor not that long ago.

There is a good, necessary, spirited debate to be had about the kind of impact that will happen on neighbourhoods and communities as the Eglinton crosstown makes its way across the city. Obviously, Councillor Burnside isn’t prepared to be part of that. Despite his claims to the contrary, he’s not looking out for anyone else’s interest aside from his own.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr