It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. After reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.
“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.
My initial reaction?
Indignation, of course.
How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? You know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?
It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.
“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.
My initial reaction?
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, ill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.
So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.
Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. It’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.
I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.
Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.
It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. After 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.
I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.
— humbly submitted by Cityslikr